Tuesday, 14 June 2011
It’s interesting that all children – whether they are toddlers or teens – tend to simultaneously need opposing things. For example, they need structure and predictability, yet they also need a considerable amount of freedom. Without structure, there’s chaos and kids tend to do nothing at all, yet without freedom, there’s a stifling of creativity and imagination. Similarly, they need high expectations and a little pressure/stress so that they really push themselves, but they also need a safe and nurturing environment where they feel comfortable taking risks and failing. They need guidance because when left completely to their own devices they tend to flail and flounder, but at the same time, they also need to be given choices and left to themselves so that they think creatively and learn to make their own decisions. They need teachers and parents who are simultaneously firm and nurturing, who are at once both “hands-on” and “hands-off.”
The more I think about it, the more I realize that achieving this balance is an important part of being a successful teacher. And it is not always easy. For example, I often wonder about how prescriptive an assignment/project should be? And how democratic should my classroom be? How do I find the right balance between guiding students and empowering them? And what about the effect of grades: how much should I consider a student’s feelings/self-esteem when I grade a paper or give feedback on a project? How do I find the right balance between pushing a child to work harder and helping a child maintain his self-confidence and self-esteem? How much to critique/push versus how much to praise?
Similarly, as a mother, I find that I’m constantly trying to find a balance between holding my children close to me and letting them go. I’ve been trying very consciously to give my six year old son more freedom. And I’m trying hard to give him the time and space he needs to play creatively on his own in any way he chooses. Yet, I also want to make sure that he gains exposure to organized sports and music, and I want to help him improve his reading skills, so I enrol him in classes and work with him on his reading at home. What’s a good balance though? How much structure? How much freedom? As a mother, I find this balancing act particularly interesting because it has such an emotional dimension to it. Should one be a “free-range parent” who encourages lots of creativity and risks, sometimes at the expense of safety, or should one be a “helicopter parent” who hovers and protects, thereby squashing independence, creativity, and risk-taking? Obviously, the answer is to be somewhere in-between. The mothers I admire most are the ones who are simultaneously very involved in their kids’ lives but also very relaxed and chilled out about their kids. They know intuitively when to let go and when to hold on, when to encourage risks and when to provide safe support.
So, both in my teaching and in my parenting, I think I need to continue to seek balance between contradictory and opposing forces.