Awesome Whitney asks: “I have a question about ADHD. I get what you are saying and believe people should focus on their passions. As an educator I see kids who have ADHD or at least traits of it and teachers try to find creative ways to teach them. But what about certain requirements if you choose the traditional school setting? Are you saying the kids don’t have to focus on subjects they hate as they are not passionate about it? Like math for example. To graduate they need 3 years of math in my state and to get into a 4 yr college, they must have a C or better in Algebra 2. So….what is the best way to approach this LOA-Style? The bottom line is I hear what you are saying, want everyone to focus on their passion and get into the vortex but sometimes we have to do things we don’t like (focus on subjects we don’t like) in order to get the diploma/apprenticeship/job, etc. Is the answer that they should get into the vortex prior to the dreadful task? Like when you focus on the feeling of a clean house and then you are inspired to clean toilets?”
Hey there Awesome Whitney,
Although I’ve written about overhauling the Education system, it’s obviously not realistic to expect all the teachers and students to just drop everything and just abandon their schools. Just as I don’t tell someone who hates their job to just quit (if you don’t have the belief that something better will come along shortly, this would be a VERY stressful move), I won’t advise all parents to homeschool or unschool their kids. And while it’s obvious that a huge shift is happening in terms of education, what can teachers and parents do RIGHT NOW to help their little ones who are still part of the current system?
Quick note: I’ve covered ADD and ADHD in other posts, so I’m going to answer this question in terms of what you can do for ALL students in the current school system. These techniques will, however, work for kids with a lower tolerance for focusing on crap they don’t care about (“ADD”) as well.
Check your assumptions at the door
The first piece of advice I have for you is a general one – stop making assumptions about what these kids have to do to be successful, or even what success looks like. Not everyone has to or even should go to college. For decades we’ve told kids that if they get a degree, often any degree, they’ll be guaranteed a “good job”, and security for life. Not only is that blatantly not true anymore (was it ever?), but more and more economists are realizing that the debt incurred by getting an often useless degree cripples people for life, and the entire economy with it. We’re basically creating indentured servants. Some people have to go to college – doctors, for example. But most jobs in business and commerce don’t actually benefit that much from those 4 expensive years. Work experience is much more valuable, and companies are starting to realize that, especially when it comes to “New Economy” jobs like technology.
Another massive assumption is that security (which can no longer be guaranteed) equals happiness. It doesn’t. In fact, most people give up the idea of living a fulfilled life in exchange for feeling safe (they don’t have to, but the belief that they do is prevalent). Kids today are rejecting this idea more than any other generation before them. They will rebel against the notion that working for 40-50 years in a job that makes them want to kill themselves is any kind of worthy goal. They often still remember that they’re supposed to be happy, that they’re supposed to be passionate, and they reject anything and anyone that tries to convince them otherwise.
So, when you go to give advice to a student about what they “have to” do in order to be successful, make sure you’re not trying to instill an outdated belief in them. I understand this will not always be easy – parents are afraid that their kids will “fail”, and want to give them every chance possible. And good grades, a college degree and nice, safe, stable job are seen as the way to do that. But this is just simply no longer true.
How important are academics?
Unless you’re talking about jobs in academia (like scientists or teachers), no one really cares what your GPA was. No one has ever looked at my “permanent record” (do they still use that scare kids?), or asked me what classes I took in college. Why? Because outside of academia, no one cares about what you pretended to learn about, memorized the night before the test, and promptly forgot a couple of days later. What people who want to hire you ultimately want to know is what can you do? What do you actually know? How can you best help them?
And notice that I didn’t use the term “employers”. I truly believe that the economy we’re moving into will be largely made up of independent contractors and experts, knowledge workers and business owners. Even “employees” will be more independent, often working from remote locales, paid not for how many hours their butts are in seats, but for their actual contribution. A person’s value in the work place is no longer determined by how many facts they know, but rather by their ability to continuously learn, think creatively and innovate.
The kids in school today are going to be working in professions that haven’t even been invented yet. We cannot keep preparing them for a working world that isn’t serving us NOW, much less in the future.
Why am I telling you all this? How can this possibly help you prepare kids for a future you can’t see? Of course, there are more specific things you can do to help pave the way for their future, and I’ll share some of them with you in a second, but the key is to approach all of this from a place of flexibility. You have to allow for the fact that when a child tells you that he doesn’t see any need to learn a certain subject, he might just be spot on. He may well not need to learn that particular topic (I can think of tons of stuff I “learned” in school that I’ve have NEVER used…). In that case, don’t lie to the kid, feeding him the same old line you were fed: that you’ll need this stuff later. You know they probably won’t.
But what about the stuff they WILL need?
“Ok,” I hear you saying, “but what about the core subjects, such as reading and basic math? They’ll definitely need those skills.” And yes, you’re right. But we have to differentiate between skills and topics. What’s the difference? Well, skills are what you need in order to understand and learn about topics. Reading, writing, and basic math, are skills. History, Calculus, and Biology are topics. If you can read, you’ll be able to learn about any topic that’s been written about. If you can ask good questions and communicate effectively, you can collaborate with others to delve deeper. If you can write well, you can share that information with others who might also be interested. If you can understand basic math and think logically, a whole world of understanding opens up to you. When you teach skills, you’re teaching kids HOW to think. When you teach topics, you’re often teaching them WHAT to think.
Skills based education
Now, I realize that as a teacher in today’s education system, you only have so much control over what you actually need to do in the classroom. But whenever possible, I urge you to teach kids how to learn, rather than focusing so much on WHAT they need to learn. And I advise parents to do the same. If a child is instilled with the knowledge that he can learn anything he wants, he’ll be set to succeed at anything he wants to focus on for the rest of his life. Too often, our educational approach does the opposite. Memorizing data for a test is not “learning”. In fact, real learning can’t in the absence of interest. There has to be a desire to learn what is being presented.
Think about it: children learn to speak, to walk, to draw, to use their little hands and fingers, to roll their eyes at their parents while texting, all without ever taking a class on any of that. How? They see those around them modeling this behavior, and even more importantly, they have a strong desire to learn these skills.
When you engage a child’s (or adult’s) interest, learning happens pretty much automatically. And this is the key to bridging the gap for today’s kids.
Can you get kids interested in school?
Kids are very interested in learning. But they’re often not interested in school. This is because, as I explained above, school often isn’t about learning. But it can be. And if teachers and parents work together, it can be done.
The following techniques can be applied by both teachers and parents. But even if the parents, for example, don’t want to play along, you can still make a huge difference in the educational journey of a child. The same is true if you are a parent and aren’t too happy with your child’s teacher. And no, the answer is NOT to go and rip your kid’s teacher a new one.
Step #1 – Clean up your own shit
Well, you knew this was coming. First and foremost, if you’re having trouble with your students or kids, figure out what’s being triggered in you and then clean that up. If they’re making you angry or frustrated, that YOUR shit, not theirs. Don’t make them responsible for what they’re simply mirroring back to you. If you’re going to influence anyone positively, you can’t do it from a low vibration. So, you have to own your shit. Sorry, but there’s just no getting around this. Some of the beliefs that may be blocking you will be covered below.
Step #2 – You are NOT responsible for the child’s success in life
Yes, I know. This one is really hard to hear, especially for parents. But the fact is that you can’t control the reality of another person. No matter how much you care, you can’t guarantee that a kid, even YOUR kid, will turn out rich, secure or even happy. Not only will trying to do so mess up your own vibration (your worry does not serve you or them), but you can actually make it harder for them to find their alignment. When you look at a child with an attitude of “there’s something wrong with you. You’re not going down the right path. You have to change. I’m worried about you, etc.”, you’re messing with their self-worth, EVEN if your concern comes from a place of love.
Understand that your children are powerful creators. They are on their path just as you are on yours. And as infinite beings, they’re going to be just fine. In fact, this generation is destined to change the world, so they’ll be more than fine. They may not take a road that you would’ve taken, or that you would’ve chosen for them, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. If you can see them being fine no matter what, if you can hold that vibration for them, you’ll do more to influence them to success than pressuring them about their grades could ever accomplish.
Mind you, this is not to say that you should ignore any signs of trouble and just pretend it’s not happening. If your child, for example, is horribly unhappy at school, you should definitely address that, but not by making that unhappiness his fault, or by asking him to conform to a system that makes no sense.
Step #3 – Be honest
I always cringe when I hear people say something like “Sometimes you just have to do things you don’t want to do.” Well, I call Bullshit. This is NOT a part of the time space reality construct we live in. We made that particular little nugget of cow dung up, ourselves. There is, from the Universe’s point of view, NEVER a need or even a good reason to do something we don’t want to do. So stop teaching that to the kids, will you? They don’t believe you anyway and it just messes with your credibility.
You may think that you have to do certain things in order to get what you want, but that’s just a belief. The truth is that you simply don’t know HOW to get what you want without doing what you don’t want to do, and you’re WILLING to make that sacrifice. What if your kids or students aren’t? Can you really blame them? Now, again, as a teacher you’re going to be limited in how much of this you can talk about (there are always ways…), but you can certainly model it. And you can get kids to use their massive creativity to figure out solutions.
For example, instead of saying “you just have to put up with that”, tell the kid what needs to be accomplished and challenge them to figure out a way of getting that done that’s more fun for them. And then let them do that. Don’t insist that there’s only one way to achieve world domination. Your way may well not be the best way.
Step #4 – Let them game the system
Let’s face it, a lot of what we do these days is ass backwards. It’s not efficient. We’re drowning in bureaucracy and limiting beliefs. And today’s kids REALLY don’t want any part of that. When we tell them how to do something and rigidly hold to that, we limit their ability to think creatively. They want to develop shortcuts. They want to game the system. This may, to some, sound like cheating, but it’s not. It’s smart, is what it is. Because, here’s thing: you have to know how the system works before you can game it.
For example, if a child comes up with a better way to get a correct answer on a math problem, let them do it. I’m always amazed at how we insist that there’s only one right way to get the right answer. It’s almost like we’re more concerned that they do it our way than that they get the correct result.
When I helped my brilliant nephew with his math homework one day, I was a bit surprised to see that he’d gotten a lot of his answers wrong. He’s awesome at math, so this made no sense. As I watched him try again, I realized that he was attempting to apply a system to the problems, one that allowed him to do less math and get the answers faster. I thought this was just awesome. I applauded him for his ingenuity, and told him that I would always support him finding shortcuts. But I also explained that you can’t game the system until you understand it (you can’t find a solution until you understand the problem). So, he then did the work the “traditional” way, until he fully grasped the concept. Then, I showed him a secret trick to getting the answers faster and by doing them in his head. Coolest. Auntie. Ever.
Step #5 – There’s value in knowing how the current system works. Even if it’s broken
Today’s kids are growing up in a world that’s very structured, much of it badly. They have to bridge the gap between the old world and the new world. And in order to do that, it’s actually quite valuable to understand how the old system works, even if it totally sucks ass. As long as you’re honest about the fact that this old system no longer works and is on its way out, and the fact that you’re frustrated with it, too, you can explain to your children and students that this is the only way we know how to do something today. Then, encourage them to learn that way so that they can improve upon it.
Learning how to navigate the old world comes in very handy. These kids are going to change the world from the inside out (as are all of you reading this…). They will be the employees and employers. They will work in and run the companies. And they will do so very differently. But because they are the ones bridging the gap, they will need to know what it is they’re changing. Once they understand what doesn’t work, they can reinvent it. The key here is to not insist that the old way totally works. Again, lying will get you nowhere. Be honest about this and allow them to reinvent their world, and you’ll find that you’ll get a lot more cooperation than if you insist that some things just suck and that’s the way it is.
Step #6 – Teach them how to make it fun
And that brings us to our final step which, although the easiest to implement and quite powerful on its own, is exponentially more effective when combined with the previous 5 Steps. So, even though you might be tempted to just implement this one, I’d advise at least considering adopting the whole suite. They go together so well and they make a nice gift set. Ha.
You’ve probably heard people give the advice to make learning fun for your kids. And that’s great. I don’t want to discourage that. But I think it’s actually more important to teach your kids how to make things fun for themselves. You see, while we don’t need to actually ever do anything that we don’t want to do, sometimes we want a result to which we can’t see a joyful path. The only path we can see is one that sucks. Conventional belief would now say that we just have to go down that path. But the new world thinking would poop on that idea and then do a little neener-neener dance.
When you’ve identified a destination and can only see a painful path that leads to it, find a better path. This is a skill that can change a child’s and an adult’s life.
When you feel like you have to do something you don’t want to do, first ask yourself WHY you are willing to do this thing. What will it lead to? Keep asking that question until you actually get to an answer that feels good – something you actually want.
Next, ask yourself how you might get to that result in a way that’s much more fun.
- Envision yourself having completed the END task with a big smile on your face. Don’t worry about how that happened, just see and more importantly feel it. Ask yourself “What if there was a way to accomplish this that was super fun?” Sit with the feeling for a few minutes until you feel well and truly better. If you have time, let it go and wait for a solution to come to you. If you don’t have time to wait, you can use the following points to help you discover a solution. This is, however, best done before hand. The night before works well, and you can make this a bed time activity for your children, or an end of day activity with your class (for the next day).
- Can you tie the activity to something you’re really passionate about (like learning to read by studying a book on hacking your favorite computer game)?
- Can you make the activity more interactive? For example, can you make a game that includes running, finding things and building stuff to teach a topic or skill?
- Can you use technology to make it easier (automation!)? Encourage your kids to use their techie tools to make something easier or more interesting for them (a good challenge adds fun). Are there apps or computer games that can help? And hey, your kid might just come up with something new and become the next Steve Jobs.
The key is to challenge your children and students to be part of the solution. What would it take to make a class more fun for them? Things such as contests and competitions can help a bit, but you’ll find that simply allowing them to use their creativity, have a voice and be in on the solution will inspire them much more.
The truth is, school sucks, at least when it comes to the current educational system. Let’s just be honest about that, including to our kids (the secret is out. They know it sucks…). But that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. Parents, teachers AND children can work together to create solutions from the inside out. If we talk honestly with our kids and make them part of the solution, if we respect their right to hate the current system (who doesn’t?) and their desire to change it (which is also our desire), we can become their allies, instead of just a representation of the broken, old world.
And, on a final note: lighten up. Know your kids and students will be ok. Focus on the best version of them, the happy version of them instead of the compliant version, and above all, don’t ever make them responsible for how you feel.
Now, are you ready for the pop quiz? Ha.