We are off and running . . . the school year has started well, we had a wonderful curriculum night on Tuesday and will have our 11/12 curriculum night next Tuesday. Sports teams are working hard, play rehearsal has begun and students are experiencing their first week of X-Block classes.
You have successfully launched your students into the school year, so what comes next?
How do you support your high schooler this year? And what does support look like as your students build independence? As teachers who spend our days with teenagers, we have a few thoughts that might be helpful as you navigate the year with your students.
1. Ask, but don’t interrogate. It is important that we ask our kids about their day. Many times, all we may get back is “fine,” but if we keep asking, at some point they will have something they want to talk about, and we will be present for them when that happens. As you
know well, our kids are sensitive to being mined for information, versus being asked because we care about them. If you have questions about school, a teacher, homework, please feel free to reach out to your student’s advisor for answers, which can help reserve your conversations with your kids for truly listening to their experiences as they want to share them.
2. Narrow the scope. Asking a teenager a question like “How was your day?” is a good starting point, but often yields “good” or “fine” with no further detail. For us (as teachers and advisors) we often follow up with “I would love to hear something you found interesting today” or “How’s it going in ### class?” Providing students with a more focused question most often yields a better conversation where they start to share their experience. This is also important to do when students make big statements like “Everything is hard!” or “NO ONE knows what is going on in this class!” Following up these big statements with specific questions can help you start to break into the frustration and overwhelm.
3. Offer support. Often, kids share about frustrations at home because it is the safe space for them to do so. As parents, it’s easy to jump to solutions and try to fix the problem, but many times our kids just want us to listen and to validate their feelings. Useful responses that we often use as teachers and advisors are “Thanks for sharing that with me-that does sound frustrating” or “I’m so glad you told me about this–how can I help?” No matter the direction you go in the conversation, the “How can I help?” question is critical. It helps us value student autonomy and ability to problem solve for themselves, while recognizing that they are still developing and refining these skills, and may want some back up. Asking this, rather than jumping to offering solutions keeps students, and their agency, at the center of the conversation.
And finally, remember that the best help you can offer high school students is to partner with them in working out a problem, rather than solving it for them. Helping them learn to read through their email so they aren’t missing information, or craft an email to a teacher to discuss an issue, or set up a meeting with their advisor are all important skills for them to develop.