I’m finding my students are in this weird place of wanting to be challenged but also are prioritizing time with their friends and having fun. As many educators and teachers are aware, it’s important to keep a pulse on the mental health of our young people. We want to encourage students to have fun but still make sure they are reaching for the stars and not taking the easy road. (Is the easy road really all that bad?) It’s about knowing when to push, how hard to push, and knowing when to take their cue to pull back and give them space. It’s a delicate balance.
I don’t have any magic solution for knowing how to do this the “right way” but I hope I can offer some insight. From recent conversations with students, many of them appear to be more grounded while at the same time many express being stressed about not knowing what they want to study in college or what they want to do for a career. When I hear this my first response is to give them permission not to know what they want to do. They are 16 years old! I know a lot of 40 year olds who are still trying to figure that out. Give them space to experience some joy, explore the many career options, and trust that with a little guidance, they’ll figure it out (eventually) and on their time, not ours.
High school is a good time for students to explore not only their academic interests but also investigate other interests and ideas of the future. This article from Edutopia calls it Futures Literacy (FL) and suggests that we ask teens to “imagine what they think the world will look like in 2050.” This allows students to expand their imagination about the future and builds new skills according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Futures Literacy is seen as a skill that everyone is capable of like reading and writing. According to this article, there are many benefits of FL such as innovation, resiliency, and strategy. It’s an interesting concept and one that I believe can help students develop new skills as they begin to think and plan for their future with excitement and JOY. According to UNESCO, “without images of the future that inspire hope and foster collaboration there is a high risk of despair and war.” That quote sure makes me want to get my students excited about the future in positive ways!
Some ways I encourage my students to explore their interests are through job shadowing. There is no better way for someone to learn about a career than to see it firsthand. Another common theme I’m hearing from my students is that they enjoy hands-on learning. I’m not sure if this is because during COVID sitting in front of a computer wasn’t their ideal setting for learning but many tell me that they would rather be doing experiments in a lab or collaborating with their peers in groups projects or classroom discussions than sitting in front of a computer listening to a talking head. Job shadows don’t need to be an all day commitment either. Just a few hours observing and talking with professionals who work in a setting that a student is interested in is great exposure to allow them space to dream of their own future. And who knows, it may inspire a little innovation or stratgey to do things differently, using some imagination.
While I do believe it is still a delicate balance of knowing when to push or pull back, it’s more important to offer students space and encouragement to explore and dream about what the future holds. Encouraging such dreams also allows for vital student ownership of the college process.