Taking Charge

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
James 1:2-6
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“We’ve all got problems.”

The phrase above is one that we’ve all heard before. While it gives us a sense of empathy (let’s face it, we’ve all said it or thought it at one point in time), the fact of the matter is that this statement never actually solves the problem…but that is the goal, isn’t it? We can’t stop at acknowledging that our problems exist, we need to discover how to solve our problems.

As a middle school faculty administrator, I have the blessing and responsibility of helping your child learn to use the tools at his or her disposal to solve school-related problems. Now, some problems fall outside of the typical realm of “school-related problems;” however, all solutions follow a common thread: personal ownership. In order to solve our problems, we must remain in charge of those problems. To adults, this concept is quite logical, perhaps even rhetorical. But a middle school audience on a given day does not have the personal experiences you and I have had in our lives. The typical middle school student at St. Thomas’ is just now experiencing those tough, no-end-in-sight problems for the very first time. They may bring good intention with them, but these children need guides to help in finding the solutions they seek. This guidance comes from home and from school. It’s our teamwork that helps your child tread the treacherous path of middle school and find the stars along the way.

In order to build on my point, I’ll start with the negative. Think of any classroom or inter-student problem: when they are exposed and handled incorrectly, the situation starts feeling like a merry-go-round. The person with whom a student must connect in order to address the issue is in the middle; yet statements, gossip, and (let’s face it) some whining start spinning that merry-go-round faster and faster. Gravity pulls the student far from the place he or she should be (the center, or heart, of the problem) and towards the furthest reaches of the ride before sending them tumbling to the ground.

Whew! Even talking about this wild ride makes me dizzy. As coined by a fellow teacher, we often find ourselves in spin control: students find what they think to be the path of least resistance via gossip and sideways glances because it puts their concern out in the open. But out in the open doesn’t solve the problem. Often this “out of control” situation goes home before teachers even know it has started. Thus, assumptions are made and frustrations begin to boil.

Now let’s look at a better option. Let’s revisit the merry-go-round: the best choice to survive the nauseating centrifugal force is to move towards the center of the wheel; the center holds the solution. Students must learn to navigate through the spinsters while fighting gravity in order to get to the middle of the ride. In relation, this effort to get to the heart of the issue requires guidance from school and from home. While there are many methods, the first step comes from us as adults:

We are no longer the solution to our children’s problems.

Reading this statement is like ripping off a Band Aid…trust me, I realize how scary it sounds. But our need to control the situation often gets in the way of empowering our children with the tools needed to solve the problem themselves. Notice I didn’t state that we don’t know how to solve our children’s problems, nor did I say we are no longer a part of the solution. To be clear: you may have the very tool needed for your child to muscle back to the center of the merry-go-round; for this reason you can be an advocate and a counselor for your child. The demand is the same of our teachers. But our children need to be the ones who use the tools given to them by you and me. It is from this effort they learn to master the spinning world around them.

Though the merry-go-round can prove treacherous and delicate, there is a roadmap to taking on these concerns. Here is what I have related to student groups this year and in the past in regard to concrete steps to navigate from problem to solution:

  • Pre-Step: Solving a problem during a class (when it is presented) can be tough. Students and teachers both need to focus on the curriculum plan for the day, so if a problem can be “tabled” for a short while, the teacher/student should do so.

  • Step One: After class is over, a student should explain his or her frustration to the other party involved. While this effort may not work instantly, it will initialize the conversation.

  • Step Two: It is wise to return to the conversation with all parties involved to solve the problem. I would expect “coaching” to occur between step one and two (from parents, other teachers, etc.), but that still leaves the student in control.

  • Step Three: In the case of school problems, I would expect students to come to a homeroom teacher or to an administrator so that they may explain frustrations. Teachers know other students or teachers well and can help find a solution.

This map is in no way flawless; times will exist where the solution that is finally realized is not what a person may desire it to be. This is a “life’s unfair” situation that happens to all of us. But at least, in the case of school, we can explain our reasoning for a solution rather than leaving a child feeling neglected. Further, by taking command of the problem, students may discover a middle ground along the way.

Solving problems is an acquired skill for middle school students; they have spent their entire life depending on someone else to fight for them. Mixing the complexity of a child’s academic effort with their own maturity presents an opportunity to hone this new skill. It doesn’t always work the first time, and that is why the skill is developed during grades 6-8, and not expected. Remember, the first step falls to you and me to “let go.” We will catch them when they fall, and when they brush the dust off we will talk about new strategies to get back on the merry-go-round and try again.

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