Some Encouragement for Educators

Some Encouragement for Educators

We, at Teen Life, love the local school. Over my six years with the organization, I’ve been on what feels like hundreds of school campuses and interacted with the women and men who create these learning environments. They have a hard job and it seems like everything is changing – always! Whether it’s new students, students leaving, policy changes, administration changes, shifts in educational standards – whatever it is – our educators exist in a dynamic work environment. Literally it’s something new every day.

And for those tasked with the social/emotional health of students, things can become more complicated. In order for a child to learn, they need to have basic needs met, and one of those is safety. We sometimes view safety as shelter from physical harm, but it absolutely stretches into emotional and social safety. A child needs to know they will be supported and given the things they need in order to engage in any kind of learning process. Those counselors and interventionists are tasked with a big job – especially considering the pressures put on them to keep struggling kids in their classrooms.

As another summer looms large, let us remember the rest and rejuvenation ahead for our educators. The rigors of a school calendar can be draining and push people to the limit. In our religious tradition, we find the practice of Sabbath on a weekly basis to create intentional time to rest, rejuvenate, worship, and play. In the scriptures, we find examples of longer sabbaths where the people took a rest from their work for extended periods in order to let their communities rest.

The summer break was originally put in place to allow families to have their kids home on the farm for harvest, now it is just a way of life. But I believe it allows for a natural rest cycle to happen not only for the students, but for educators as well.

So if you are an educator reading this – take advantage of this time! Here are a few things to think about:

  • Make a plan for your rest. Yeah, I know that seems counter-intuitive, but there is something about having some goals set to make you a better person on the other end of the break. What books do you want to read? Where do you want to go? What projects have been pushed aside? What Netflix needs to be consumed?
  • Do you need to say “no” to anything this summer? Are other people trying to take time away from your break? Obviously say “yes” to the important things, but depending on what you need, you might have to say “no” every now and then.
  • Ask yourself, “How do I want to be better after this break?” Do you want to create a new habit? Learn more about something new? Achieve a goal? Write that down and put it somewhere that you will see it.
  • Stay off social media. Not much else to say here.

 

Educators – you have earned the break. Thank you for loving our kids and pouring so much into their development. Thank you for creating welcoming environments to an ever-diverse student body. Thank you for dealing with difficult parents, the bureaucracy of public schools, and the politics of this day and age.

Teen Life loves our local school friends! We will see you in August!

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
The Girl Who Could Not Lift Her Head

The Girl Who Could Not Lift Her Head

I looked around the circle of students seated around the table and saw little eyes staring back at me in anticipation. All of these students were from different parts of the world and had arrived in America as children of immigrants and refugees. None of them spoke english, and for the most part, none of them spoke the same language. Maybe it wasn’t anticipation in their eyes but more of a fascination of an english-speaking white dude like me who had no idea how to interact.

As I looked around the table, I saw one student whose eyes were not on me. In fact, we couldn’t see her eyes at all. She had her head down in her arms and didn’t speak. While all of the other students seemed excited about being in one of our Teen Life groups, she was not. She wanted nothing to do with it, or so I thought. In a lot of other situations, I would have pressed a little harder to get her to participate. But this time I didn’t for some reason. I felt like something was going on in her life that she needed to just be in the group – on her terms.

So week after week, I would meet with this little “mini United Nations” of students, and we would muddle through trying to communicate and understand what was going on. Did I mention there were seven different languages represented in that group? So as you can imagine, the challenges were immense! And that little girl still didn’t talk.

Maybe they just enjoyed seeing me struggle. Perhaps there was some respite in the idea that a privileged white American like myself was at a disadvantage. I’m sure it was entertaining to see me try to relate to students who had either moved to America because of persecution or to find a better life. But little by little, we started understanding each other. And, little by little, that girl started to raise her head. While she didn’t participate much, every now and then, we would catch a smile.

We would do activities like “fist to five”. This one is easy – just ask someone any question and they get to answer using the numbers 0-5 to tell you how they feel about it. “Fist” is the worst (or zero) and “Five” is the best. So I could ask them, “How is school going today?”, and they had an easy way to answer – by just using their hands! More importantly, I could ask them what would have to happen to add one number to their answer. That’s where the good stuff started happening. And as the weeks went on, our little girl finally started to talk.

It turns out my little friend had endured significant emotional, sexual, and physical trauma in her life – unspeakable things had happened to her in her home country. She spoke Swahili and went by what I believe was a pseudonym. It doesn’t sound like she had much safety in her life, but she found it in our group by simply being there and listening – not being forced to do anything she didn’t want to do.

I remember the last day of group. I had a tap on my shoulder, and I turned around to a little girl who had her hair done up and a really pretty dress on. She said, “Hi Mr Chris!!” At first I didn’t know who she was. But then I realized it was my little friend from group who, just seven weeks earlier, could not bring herself to make eye contact with anyone. She was walking with confidence and seemed excited about the world she was coming into.

Later I found out she has become a leader at this little international school. She would give tours to new students and families to welcome them to this school that had made such a difference in her life.

Some of you connected with Teen Life might not fully understand the impact of what we do and how our incredible volunteers make a difference in the lives of students year after year. Stories like this abound as our groups offer safety to students who need a place for support. We are unique in this space and how we do it.

And, the demand is growing. We have new school districts in new cities contacting us asking, “How do we get these groups on our campus?” In order to fulfill these requests, we need your support. Consider donating to our spring fundraiser as we build our funding to meet the needs of our community – and to help others as well.

Giving is simple and your dollar goes a long way. Please click the link below to make a donation!

 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
On Taking People Seriously

On Taking People Seriously

Over the last few years, I’ve grow to be a huge fan of the band The Avett Brothers. For a while I didn’t know a ton about who they were – I just loved how their music sounded and pretty much had them on repeat at our house. In fact when one of the songs comes on the radio, my two year old daughter shouts the title at the top of her lungs. Yeah, we might have a problem…

Recently a documentary was released on the Avett Brothers called May it Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brotherswhich I highly recommend. What struck me about the documentary was the relationship central to the band – the two brothers who are the primary singers/songwriters. They are four years apart and, well, brothers. How do they make it work? Most sibling-based bands don’t really last because, well, they are family. Families fight. Bands fight even harder. When you mix them, they typically don’t last very long. These guys have been doing it for almost twenty years!

So why have they stood the test of time? Well, I’m sure there are many reasons, but there was one specific scene in the documentary that told the story for me and got me thinking more about how we interact with teenagers.

The scene started with the younger brother sitting in the studio hammering out a new song, but he had gotten stuck on some of the lyrics. But what made this scene work is the older brother taking the song seriously. It was striking. It was obvious the younger brother was proud of the song, but really wanted the older brother’s finishing touches – even his blessing in a way. After the older brother listened to the song itself and understood what the song was was about, he was able to help the younger brother figure out the best path forward, and the two of them ended up creating an incredible song.

And in so many ways, this is what helps a sibling band – one that on paper is destined to fail – last almost twenty years.

And I believe that this idea is something that creates a protective factor for a teenager – adults who take teenagers seriously.

For most adults, teenagers are so easy to dismiss. I hear all the time people say, “Oh, they are just teenagers!” And sometimes it’s really hard not to take that stance.

Teenagers tend to be:

– Moody

– Unpredictable

– Inconsistent

– Hard to pin down

– Always trying new things

– Pushing back or against

– Contrarian

That is a lot to handle for so many of us. It is much easier to just dismiss than to actually engage. But, I think that is where we miss opportunities with teenagers. What if we took them seriously? It doesn’t have to mean they are right or they need to be corrected. Even if we think what they are going through is rather silly or unimportant – it’s still their stuff.

And, what has it meant to you when someone older or wiser takes you seriously? Maybe they thought what you were going through was rather silly or unimportant. But they still listened. They still empathized. They stayed and heard you.

My guess is it made all the difference for you.

And my guess is it will make all the difference for the teenager in your life.

So the next time a teenager is sharing something about their day or a problem they might be facing – take it seriously. It might surprise you how well they respond – and come back to you again.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
For the Thin Times

For the Thin Times

Recently I was indulging my inner nerd and took in The Lord of the Rings – since it’s on Netflix right now. There was a quote from Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of the movie right before he left the shire to go on his final adventure:

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

These words can resonate with most people, and I could say many times in life would relate to this, but I felt an especially strong connection to the sentiment. It’s really a vivid description of what it feels like to have yourself pulled in multiple directions – you feel thin, stretched, incomplete, and a little scraped for extra measure.

Like so many others, we feel like there is not enough to go around. But for me, there is a deeper, more difficult issue at work. And, I think it was at work in Bilbo as well.

The context of the quote was Bilbo wanting to escape his hometown and not deal with the things he knew he needed to engage. He wanted to finish his book, do his own thing, and he perceived his hometown as an obstacle to any of that. So, he conjured up excuses so he could escape – in dramatic fashion to boot (I’d love to have a magic ring like that).

That’s the problem for so many of us. We get truly overwhelmed or overstretched because we are actually just avoiding the things we need to be doing. In fact I’d go so far to say a lot of the things we think are keeping us busy are not even real or true – just something that keeps us distracted.

You want proof? As I’m writing this blog I have found numerous ways to distract myself from actually getting this done. It’s not that I dislike writing, but to create something like a blog takes work, concentration, and dedication – all things that are easily neutralized by a peek at Twitter.

Ok, I’m back again. So what was I saying? Oh yeah – distractions….

You see, just like Bilbo, I do feel stretched but I need to be honest with myself about what that actually means. Do I have too much going on? Or are the things I have in my life all important enough to keep around? The truth is if I eliminated some of the things that keep me distracted, it would force me to actually engage in more important, meaningful work.

Bilbo probably needed to stay in his hometown, deal with his family issues, and just write his book. As Seth Godin puts it, maybe we don’t need more butter – we just need less bread to spread it across.

Teenagers are on the front lines of feeling thin. Many have 7-8 completely different subjects to deal with every day at school, let alone the social and emotional pressures of adolescence. And, they are kind of thrust into it. So many report feeling anxious and frustrated with their situation and will start to struggle.

So for them (and us), how can we feel less thin as we navigate a complicated world? A few ideas…

  1. Find your space – whether it is an outdoor walk, time to read and reflect, a good workout, or prayer time – and make it a priority. These are the times where priorities begin to shift because you actually have time to think.
  2. Quit or suspend one of your social media accounts. Wait, what? Yeah, give it a try. Don’t worry, it will be there if you have to break the glass and pull the lever. Those things never go away. See how it feels to live without a Facebook account for a while. You might actually like it.
  3. Examine what is actually keeping you busy vs. what actually needs to be accomplished. This takes honesty and time but would be worthwhile. Make a list, a Venn diagram, something that works for you.

As loving adults in the lives of teenagers, we need to communicate a sense of peace in the chaos. Yes, we have so much going on, but we also have the opportunity to model what it looks like to know what is truly important – for the thin times.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Generosity Changes Everything

Generosity Changes Everything

I recently finished a business book, which not to brag, is a pretty big deal for me. Just finishing a book, not the business part. But the fact it was a business book is important and has my mind spinning about how I interact with people and help our readers interact with teenagers. The book, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, is essentially a networking book. While that sounds stale and uninspiring, the motivating force behind his book and world class networking skills is what has got my head spinning – generosity.

Now, I’m probably a few weeks late on the generosity post, but this goes way farther than presents. Ferrazzi posits any relationship and connected group of relationships (a network in this case) is best when done from a standpoint of generosity. That is, when seeking out a new relationship or even finding someone who can help you must start with what you can do for them. This seems upside down (which as I’m getting older seems to be where all of the good stuff is), but it makes a lot of sense. If I’m seeking out someone who can be of help to me, I will likely get that help much more freely if I have something to offer them – especially when it comes to people of influence. Everyone is wanting something from them, but if you have something you can offer them that is helpful and timely, they might choose you to build a relationship.

Reading this book also got me thinking about another highly influential book in my library – Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. Dr. Chap Clark did a research study at a large California high school to get a reading on teen culture as well as how they interact with adults. The book is stunning because it paints a rather grim picture of adolescents really being on their own when it comes to adults. What Clark dubbed “The World Beneath” encapsulates a hidden subculture of teenage life where teens live and function without the help and guidance of loving adults. 

So, why are there no adults? Dr. Clark theorizes that since the mid 1960’s, adults have increasingly withdrawn from teenagers and become more protective of what they have. Institutions like public schools, civic organizations, and even churches have become adult institutions that teenagers have to exist within. Fewer and fewer adults interact with teenagers for the joy of doing so. For Dr. Clark, a lot of adults have trouble relating to teenagers in a way that is not corrective or directive.

There is a lot more to this book than what I am describing, but suffice to say it made an impact on how I interact with teenagers. I want to be someone who a teenager can see as a safe place to talk, think, explore. I try my best to help them think and encourage them to make a good decision based upon what they know. I don’t walk in their shoes. I don’t know what they go through. But, I can help them think.

And that brings be back around to the generosity stuff. I believe if we start from a stance of generosity when we work with teenagers, our relationships will be so much more robust. But, we need to think a little more about what they need. And, that is where this generosity stuff gets good. If we are willing to give of our time, our resources, our experiences, and our people, what an amazing impact we could have. If we were generous with patience and grace (both of which teenagers need in abundance), we would stand out as someone who could be trusted.

You see, teenagers need more than your advice and direction. They need your generosity. What would it look like to be more generous with a teenager in your life?

(Another great resource on generosity can be found in a recent Michael Hyatt podcast found here.)

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.