It’s that exciting time of year again – the start of school. I like the feeling of bustle and optimism that a new school year brings. It’s a time for fresh starts, a burst of activity, and for many, an end to the boredom that can creep up on kids by the end of summer (though that’s definitely not a bad thing! Boredom has its benefits.)
However, let’s think about how to be busy in a positive way. As I mentioned in the article, “busyness for the sake of busyness” doesn’t necessarily mean that kids are finding fulfillment in any given activity. Any form of engagement has to be “purposeful work,” something that gives kids a sense of importance, pride, and mission.
Good teachers have known this for years, and try to navigate kids through content and testing that can sometimes seem mundane or irrelevant. (More on the homework and worksheet wars here….the comments may be as interesting as the article.) I was recently back in Idaho, where I was fortunate enough to go back to the Lake Pend Oreille School District, as well as the Bonners Ferry High School. Whether teachers are working with students who have learning challenges, or highly gifted students, the quest is the same: finding the right mix of instruction (both in terms of curriculum design and interpersonal communication) to instill motivation, interest, passion and pride in learning. How do we help students find a sense of meaning and purpose in their work? How can teachers most effectively use the resources they have to help students, particularly those with ADHD, executive dysfunction, or, as questioning adolescents, a sense of existential malaise? In the latter case, unless we understand the honest search for meaning that underlies much of what seems to be “defiance,” we miss an opportunity to bridge the gap between dropping out, or tuning in.
Parents can also be on the front lines in helping focus their child’s activities in a positive way. Too many activities – “busyness for the sake of busyness” – can be a mask for an underlying anxiety, and doesn’t allow kids to attend to the important developmental task of writing their own script for what is important in their life. It might be better to be a bit bored, than over-engaged in thoughtless projects. As the school year begins, we can plan to use the excitement and energy to propel students forward, while being careful not to create a situation where the thrill of September leads to melt-down in December. If it requires a light hand with course selection, project lists, extra-curricular activities, and homework expectations, so be it. Planning ahead to give students a realistic amount of time and energy for projects and activities that are personally relevant and meaningful is important, and open time – free time – even time in which to be bored –might be a counter-intuitive, but effective, means of supporting student success. (Just be sure to keep that free time open and “unplugged.”)
Here’s to a great 2016-2017 school year!