Young people of all ages have taught me many things in the past year. Here are five things I've learned (and re-learned!), and why they matter for all of us:
You might enjoy award-winning cinematographer and director Louie Schwartzberg's incredible video piece called "Gratitude." Schwartzberg uses time-lapse photography and the deep wisdom of a young girl to remind adults of the importance of wonder.
2. Kids care enormously about making the world better
Young people also understand that leadership means service. One of our student council members at Stevenson Elementary School in Fridley, Minn., told me what she had learned in her role: "I learned leadership doesn't mean you're always the one up in front. Mostly you're the one working alongside everyone else, encouraging them on."
In 2013, Minnesota was chosen as the first US site to host WE Day, a movement of young people leading local and global change. WE Day and its lead organization, Free the Children (an organization started in 1995 by 12-year-old Craig Kielburger to fight child labor) have inspired 5.1 million hours of youth volunteer service since 2009. Youth in 4-H are four times more likely to make contributions to their communities than youth not involved in 4-H. The work of psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi supports what young people say, "One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself." As adults, we need to support young people in their passionate desire to step up, lead and serve.
3. Kids crave feedback they can learn from.
Kids relish encouragement of their effort, their thinking process and their problem solving strategies. They want more than praise -- they want feedback that they can learn from. Dr. Carol Dweck calls this having a "growth mindset." Dweck is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation and has devoted more than 20 years to researching growth mindset. She tells us that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. A fixed mindset holds the view that your intelligence and aptitude is set in stone-it is a fixed quantity. A growth mindset is based on the belief that your intelligence and basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, and that effort leads to growth and mastery.
One way we adults encourage a growth mindset is by supporting and praising effort (rather than praising fixed intelligence or ability), and helping young people see effort as a path to mastery. Indeed, the skills of perseverance, critical thinking and good decision-making are identified as key aspects of social and emotional learning. In fact, the National Afterschool Association has named SEL as one of "10 Trends in Afterschool in 2014."
For some strategies on praising effort and developing the growth mindset in young people, try this tool.
4. Kids will tell you what an effective adult does to help them grow. Just ask.
Here's what several teenagers told me about how the adults in their lives help them learn/help them grow/help them develop as leaders:
- "They go out of their way to know who I am as a person; they pay attention to things I do. They ask questions and they pay attention."
- "They're passionate about what they're doing or teaching. They're kind; they care about your life. They 'be real' with you."
- "To help me learn leadership? They shut their mouth and try to lead me to the answers by asking questions, not telling me what to do."
- "They have to have expertise. They get you engaged by making it interesting. They are knowledgeable so they CAN be interesting."
- "They give me opportunities to lead."
5. Pay attention.
Young philosopher Ferris Bueller had it right: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
Csikszentmihalyi's research on 'flow' supports this importance we must place on being attentive in all of our interactions, our work and our play. It is what leads us to mastery. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Drive, speaks of the "eloquent example of children." As an educator, youth worker, coach or parent, how do you pay attention to this eloquent example?
What have kids taught you recently? How will that make you better in your role in 2014?
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