Hello everybody, welcome to episode 83 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino and we’re here to talk about those damn kids again. We’ve got a great question today about how to motivate teenage students and encourage teens to think more deeply in times when they probably have…ahem…other things on their mind. Without further ado, let’s sit back and listen to today’s question.
QUESTION: “Hi! I am curious: How can I continue to motivate students/teens I feel like I no longer resonate with? Even though I recently graduated college, I feel there is a large disconnect in teaching what matters and finding a space for my students to think critically about words. How do I approach teaching deep thought in kids who don't want to have to think? Thank you!”
How Do You Change the Way Others Think?
All right, another question has come in from a teacher! I love that. This is a great question to mull over, it’s a bit different from the one we answered a few episodes ago on how to help a student reach their full potential.
So let’s take a look at it and take another crack at reshaping our youths – or “utes” as Joe Pesci would say.
So I don’t know exactly how much friction you’re feeling over this matter. I don’t know how at odds you are with the kids who are unresponsive to your attempts to help them think deeply. But whether this is really grinding your gears or you’re not bothered by it, if your goal is to get them to think deeper, it’s not a battle you’re going to win by holding your ground.
Changing the way kids (or adults for that matter) think is not something to be done by force or with bitterness, if you will. It’s the same story for parents, right? Think back to your teens a few years ago. Did any healthy, lasting changes come from getting strong-armed? Probably not. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a guardian, a counselor, or anyone who has the task of shaping young minds, I think there are only two variations of how it can be done successfully.
And the first way is to resonate with them, which you say you no longer do. That’s not going to hold up if you want to have a successful teaching career that really leaves a mark on these students. It’s your job to re-resonate with them, which you’ll get more comfortable with as your career continues, don’t worry. This isn’t impossible.
Getting Back in Touch with Yourself
Look, saying you no longer resonate with them means that you once did, and it wasn’t long ago. I know there’s a lot of change between high school age and your first few years out of college (change I’m sure you’re proud of making), but just because you have new priorities doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten where you were at 5, 6, 7 years ago and therefore where your students are at.
It’s nice that you’ve outgrown that mentality, and maybe they seem so foolish now, but they won’t learn if you aren’t meeting them on their level.
So you must get back in touch with that side of yourself. Reflect on what drives teenagers (the need to fit in, getting comfortable with their bodies, developing identities separate of their parents, stressing about college and career choices, etc.) and use these things to relate to them. Since you’re young yourself, they’re much more likely to listen to you because the landscape hasn’t changed as much as it has for their middle-aged teachers and they’ll inevitably see you as more of a peer. That’s a gift you have right now, so use it until it runs out.
Translate your messages into their language. Facebook for you in high school is TikTok to them. It’s all the same feelings, they’re just using different vehicles. Use this information to speak to your old self. Getting into the habit of doing this is a sacrifice teachers need to make not only for their students, but for themselves. Be patient and responsive to how they evolve each year helps you to properly relate to them, educate them, and in turn it helps you see them more fondly rather than as subjects.
The Power of Stories
There’s a friend of mine, and all-around wonderful person named Perry Mandanis who’s an esteemed psychiatrist in Connecticut. He actually hosts a wonderful podcast called Couch Stories which I was recently a guest on that talks about the power of stories and how they’ve helped both him and his clients retain messages and become more resilient because of it.
And we were recently talking about how difficult it can be to work with young men, as they’re usually very uncomfortable dissecting and expressing their feelings. But he told me of how he always finds a way to help them understand what he’s trying to tell them by framing his advice in relatable terms.
A go-to he mentioned was illustrating the importance going to therapy by comparing it to the gym. He said, “Think of therapy as a gym but for your emotions. You go to one session, it hurts afterwards, but you come back stronger and prepared to handle more weight and dig deeper”. You can use the same type of methodology with your teens. You know what they need, and you know the power of words.
Don’t be afraid to structure your teachings with them like this.
Motivate Teenage Students: Be a role model
In addition to speaking with them through a lens they understand, another tool for yourself and fellow teachers, parents, counselors, coaches and whatever to use is exemplifying the behavior you hope they adopt. ESPECIALLY if you’re well-liked by your kids, they’ll be apt to replicating it.
So if you can get on their side by resonating with them, and generally being one of those teachers that kids like rather than hate, the example you set in your behavior will speak volumes. Think deeply in class. Break down your thought patterns about certain things for them the way you’d like to see them do. Perhaps integrate mindfulness into your routine. This will be especially available to you if you happen to teach English or History, as you have that much more opportunity to break down the behavior of certain characters or historical figures and encourage the students to step into those shoes and maybe explore how they’d react in the face of similar, big decisions and/or dire circumstances.
Mindfulness: Out of the Classroom
Finally, I understand that this could all be a bit out of your jurisdiction depending on what you teach, what the school allows, and the fact that you’re not a counselor, but who’s to say you’re restricted to your classroom? If the school allows it, maybe you could create a separate club or program out of the classroom that really hones in mindfulness and helping kids explore pressing subjects more deeply.
I think it’d be especially beneficial if you took some of those topics mentioned earlier and made them the focal point and gave the kids a space to navigate those confusing changes without distraction or social pressure. A program like that would get the right students to flock to you if it’s something you and the people in charge were interested in.
In summary, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone in terms of the lessons you’ve learned for yourself and the lessons you’ve been instructed to teach. As you reflect back on the teachers that changed you, I’m sure they all went against the grain somehow while not crossing any lines. And I’m sure you can clearly differentiate their approach from the approach of more bland, disengaged teachers. Be that same unique presence for your pupils when you think about how to motivate teenage students. You already have what it takes.
Miss, I appreciate you sending that question in. It was a great one, and I hope it helped.
Should you decide to take my advice, hopefully quarantine allows you to do so in a timely fashion. But at this point it might have to get shelved till the Fall. Either way, good luck to you and thanks again. Everyone else, go ahead and submit any questions you have about things you’re struggling with that you’d like answered on the show.
Email your questions to advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
We’ll take your questions there and help you out. Cool? Thanks for being here everyone, hope you had as much fun as I did, and until next time.