Mistakes are the foundation of all learning opportunities. It is completely unrealistic to believe that any of us will make it through a single day without screwing up at least once. The definition of experimentation is making mistakes until you find the solution for that particular scenario. There are major blunders, which at the time, feel insurmountable, and there are others, as Bob Ross so famously, and patiently, pointed out, that are “just happy little accidents.”
When I hear, during a mentoring session, or even a casual conversation, that someone suffers from the fear of making mistakes, I go on high alert. The usual justification for their phobia is that they will look conspicuously inferior, childish, or utterly ridiculous, and someone will probably yell at them. This usually means that not only do they dread them, they will go out of their way to fabricate stories to explain to themselves and others why something happened. These tales often involve placing blame on someone else. After a while this pattern becomes such a habit, that even they can’t distinguish between what is real and what they have made up. It becomes a vicious cycle of burying the dislike for oneself, by making excuses for failure, while holding onto reasons to dislike the person or circumstance they are accusing.
I will be the first to admit that over this life-time a good proportion of my errors have fallen closer to the massively horrible end of the scale rather than the adorably cute, little mishap side. Overwhelming doesn’t begin to describe that heart stopping, gut wrenching, over the top feeling of hopelessness when you realize what you have done. The first instinct is to hide in shame and find someone or something to blame is hard to resist, until you remind yourself, in that stern inner voice you reserve for these particular occasions, that you are human. Your job is to make mistakes and learn from them. The first step is to own it. Stand up and declare, woah, I seriously f**ked that up! The next step is to sit with it, be patient with yourself, examine all the deep, dark corners, which can then, and only then, be followed by reparation to whomever may have been hurt by your actions, including yourself. Fix whatever needs to be mended, whatever that requires, and then, most importantly forgive yourself and move on, more enlightened than you were before.
Taking responsibility for the errors – all of them - using them as stepping stones - is not only healthy for the process of growing as a human being, it is essential for building positive relationships.
How, then, do we teach young people that making mistakes is actually the most important part of their education? What can we say for them to believe: there is nothing to fear, it is OK to mess up, and we actually expect it to happen pretty frequently, when they have already learned from other places and people that the opposite is true? What monumentally seismic, internal shift has to occur before they can comprehend and let themselves off the hook?
Providing a safe, caring environment filled with a supportive community probably tops the list of external conditions. However, is that enough? What else do they need to shake that all-consuming fear?
Considering that changing societies rigid standards for perfection is a bit beyond our scope of influence, the best we can do is offer unconditional love, reassurance, encouragement, and transparency, by modeling the exercise of taking responsibility.
We expect our students to take charge of their lives and education – when, fear instead of curiosity drives that process – the decisions they make are safe ones with no margin for error, or, for that matter, growth. Learning to fly without the net is essential. Go - Jump, Leap, Dive into your next adventure. We expect you to make mistakes, but remember, as long as there was no malicious intent, we are here to help you own it, without judgement, and assist in cleaning up the mess.
(Yup, the title is a nod to the inspirational T.T.)
This is a seemingly valid question for an educational organization. What exactly does love have to do with learning? In a word - everything! Research, as well as anecdotal evidence shows that when caring, kindness, compassion, giving, receiving, respect, trust (as highlighted in last week’s blog), empathy, and appreciation are not only present, but actively modeled, they serve to tear open the sealed off and scabbed over internal place, in each student, where an innate desire to learn then has the opportunity to take up residence.
At DRC, we don’t need endless studies to tell us that providing an environment filled with affirmation and genuine affection, along with an endless supply of open-ended opportunities for exploration and discovery is required to instigate the natural curiosity needed to unearth deeply buried passion and aspirations. We witness this phenomenon in a myriad of small ways that bring along moments of both euphoria, as well as intense pain, which show up as points of excitement and crisis, in the midst of all the other happenings every single day, and take an enormous amount of energy to manage.
Even though we have a specific time set aside for each of the older students (12-19 yr olds) to meet with their mentor (me) every week as the formal place for them to share their vision of the future, brainstorm ideas for ways to explore their interests and passions, talk about the things that worry them, discuss ways to move forward when they are stuck, get help putting together a portfolio and transcript, and set goals, both incremental and life vision - we find that these individual sessions are actually an infinitesimal piece of the mentoring program.
In DRC’s multi-age, and open environment, students are surrounded by all those diverse discussions and activities that spontaneously crop up all day long, as exhibited below. At any given point during the day, there are usually between five-eight kids and at least one, if not two, adults standing around the kitchen island – making food, eating, listening to music, looking stuff up on their phones, and sharing stories. I have realized over the past couple of years that DRC actually replicates the practice of the family dinner, which has been documented as one of the most important factors in raising happy, well-adjusted children, who are able to relate to others in positive ways because they have learned by developing real relationships with their parents and siblings.
Yes, we are family. One that is authentic, dynamic, and constantly changing – breathing in and out with a life of its own.
The new ten-year-old student, who is totally surprised that I didn’t call him out for goofing off in the chill-space. The two new teen cousins who throw clay at the art table for hours on end and “mop” the floor as only two teenage boys can. The thirteen-year-old who spends most of his time in the basement shop and asks for $3 from the petty cash fund to go to the thrift store to purchase a couple of jackknifes so he can work on a yet to be defined project. The fifteen-year-old who tells me that she thinks she wants to become a baker so I contact two local bakeries to set up interviews. The same teen who returns from visiting a friend at SUNY Canton for lunch with a huge grin on her face exclaiming that she is definitely going to college, probably next year. The thirteen-year-old, who has not previously used DRC in a meaningful way, asks me to do his mentoring session in the music room to listen to him play the three songs that he has written at home and asks me to help him figure out how to record them. The genuinely talented teen who is trying to figure out exactly who she is and speaks of the permanent mask she wears. The eight-year-old who has discovered a passion for cooking and makes amazing sausage and gravy one day and mashed potatoes the next. The eighteen-year-old, who indulgently, and ever so patiently, takes on the role of Uncle C., as the others have labeled him, writes his name in Runes on his arm with pen and spends every free moment researching Viking History and super-heroes, and developing costumes and props for cos-play. The fourteen-year-old who was deathly afraid of reptiles, but held a lizard on his chest during a presentation and later proclaimed how proud he was of himself. The tween who is in the middle of intense family crisis and requires unlimited emotional support. The young child who draws amazing characters from cartoons and tells the stories of the world he has made up where they all live together with him. The two teens who work through hurtful comments and behaviors, discovered by one of them, in an emotionally charged confrontation that could have ended disastrously, but instead became a time that they were both proud of themselves. The teen who experiences moments of extreme anxiety and leaves the Center for a short-time to walk it off. The six-year-old who weaves his way through our space watching and listening intently, all the while bouncing on his toes and fidgeting with a toy in his hands and then heads to the music room to figure out how to play the keyboard and guitar at the same time. The fifteen-year-old, who sits in the chill space with headphones firmly planted over his ears, listening to music and watching random You-Tube videos, and one day presents two of those videos (each 20 minutes long - one motivational, the other about music theory) during a mentoring session, with a detailed explanation that proves without a doubt this kid is indeed going to be better than OK. The teen who hides his brilliance in his sketchbooks and is afraid to share his talent with anyone.
We have discovered that providing this space, this caring, supportive, respectful community, where all of that and more can happen, requires not only an abundance of time and energy, but an intuitive, natural skill-set that cannot necessarily be taught through an official or even traditional professional program. Loving and mentoring these kids requires listening to, and understanding, their stories - the traumas, big and small, all the experiences throughout their childhoods that have shaped who they are. In addition, we do all this without feeling sorry for them or allowing them to use those experiences as excuses for not moving forward in a positive direction.
This is mentoring in its rawest form. It is gritty and real. There are equal moments of heartbreak and elation. It is definitely not for the faint of heart or for anyone who expects that they can control any situation by simply making rules. This is all about love – pure and simple.
We are assessing the forecast for Tuesday. There is currently a winter weather watch posted. We may decide to reschedule. You can keep track of all the amazing items on the website. We will keep you updated, as decisions are made. Thank you!
In a world driven by competition, criticism, and, yes, distrust, an open environment where everything is built on, the antithesis - trust, kindness, and respect - is utterly foreign to all who enter. Culture shock is not an uncommon reaction for those who chose to stay. The people who invite those initial and inevitable sensations of unease, disquiet, and disorientation to erupt, and be dealt with, go on to thrive. We have discovered that the folks who resist and try to bury those feelings, surrender to the discomfort, before they have a chance to assimilate, and often return to the familiar world that they had sought to escape in the first place.
To be trusted involves the unshakable, persistent, overwhelming belief that:
At Deep Root Center, we believe all of those things about every single person who joins us. And, we expect that over a period of time, with encouragement and compassion, our students will come to trust themselves, too. Because, at the end of the day, without trust, self-directed education, intrinsic motivation, and the innate desire to learn will not survive.
I freely admit, there are moments that I struggle, mightily, to hold onto this foundational belief, especially over the past two months, or so, when we were dealing with some pretty big “stuff,” which adversely affected the entire community. This is when I actually said, on two separate occasions, “I will always trust you, until given a reason not to.”
Holy Hell - seriously - those words came out of my mouth? What about, you get to make mistakes and learn from them? What about the very first point, everyone deserves to be trusted? No wonder, there has been discord! I now realize that those words spoken in moments of pure, unadulterated frustration have had a negative impact all on their own. Because, “Without trust, self-directed education, intrinsic motivation, and the fundamental desire to learn will not survive.”
This is the moment that I can (need to) use that intersection, where mistakes, profound realizations, and apologizes meet, to begin to rebuild a couple of relationships. I firmly believe that the cornerstone of respect we hold for each other will allow this community to thrive, all while honoring all of the mistakes, mine included, with their inherent opportunity for learning, and to continue to be the place, where everyone knows what it feels like to be trusted – no matter what.
The DRC Board has been crushing it! Don't miss out on your chance to score some fabulous items they have acquired from generous NoCo businesses and individuals, for this year's Silent Auction, which is bigger and better than ever. Check it out!
And, then purchase your tickets here! We'll see you there!
Guess what, the old-timers are right, we actually did get more snow and cold here in the NoCo during my childhood, in the '60s and '70s, than we do now - climate change is, indeed, a thing (even though it doesn’t feel that way today as a snowstorm swirls outside my window, while I write this). Back then, we also had cars that were built like tanks, and there were not nearly as many of them on the roads. Not to mention that there were far fewer obligations and activities to get to, and hardly any overly aggressive, angry, impatient drivers.
We also had Danny B, the weather guy on WWNY in Watertown and Byrd B at WPTZ in Plattsburgh (North Pole, Burlington) standing in front of chalkboards with the low-pressure lines (I remember, they looked like little triangular flags on a curved line) drawn on (yes, with chalk). These guys were our versions of local celebrities (Danny even had a Saturday morning kids show), but let’s be clear – they really didn’t have the tools to know what the hell was going to wallop us 24 hours in advance – never mind 3-4 days before hand. And, I don’t think either of them would have known what a polar vertex was even if it hit them upside the head.
Sounds cheesy, or, maybe even like an excuse, but it really was a simpler time, filled with prejudices and biases that were accepted, without argument, as normal. It was an age when most women stayed home with their children, men were out earning the family income (and, were welcomed home with a kiss on the cheek and dinner on the table), I was told that “boys will be boys” and that I should behave like a “lady” and obey all adults (call them: Mr., Miss, and Mrs., please), no matter what. Gloves and hats were worn in church – except by the boys who had to take them off as a sign of respect. Books were an absolute luxury (of course, Amazon didn’t exist); with the exception of the collection of “Little Golden Books” at my grandparent’s house, I had a total of five (well loved – to the point of falling apart) “chapter books” my entire child/teen-hood. Looney Tunes, Merry Melodies, and Hanna Barbera took over the Saturday morning airwaves with “violent” cartoons. There was no ethnic diversity up here to speak of, and let’s not forget that the only references to LBGTQ were putdowns in Junior High, behind the teachers’ backs. Nixon and Watergate occupied my parents for months (or so it seemed), when they devoted an inordinate amount of time to watching the hearings on our little black and white Zenith TV in '74. Even in that context, I, personally, had no idea what Watergate was - besides the pistachio pudding and Cool Whip “salad” served at holiday meals – until I took a History of the 20th Century class at Cazenovia College, ten years after the fact, and watched All the Presidents Men.
Before the Vietnam War protests, most folks didn’t believe or even understand that they had any “power” to change governmental process (except for voting), but even then, the protestors were labeled, “those crazy (no good, slacker, stoned) hippies” by the majority of the population. We were a country brainwashed and held hostage by clever propaganda devised during and after WWII that hid the multitude of atrocities executed by the US Government. They said, it was all in the name of combating the spread of communism. Indeed, it was an era when the news was delivered to our living rooms in a ½ hour long series of soundbites, interrupted by commercials, painstakingly chosen for our consumption. My parents and grandparents got all their news either from the Watertown Daily Times (of which I delivered for 6 years) or the above-mentioned television stations; although, for a while, all we were only able to watch was CTV or CBC on that little black and white. They firmly believed, as gospel, everything Walter Cronkite of CBS, Chett Huntley and David Brinkley, and then John Chancellor of NBC, told them in those nightly reports.
Therefore – No! As a citizenry who has, 24/7, access to media (over-flowing with a new brand of propaganda), quite literally, in the palms of our hands, we are not alarmists or wusses, as we have been accused. We are merely responding, accordingly, to life in a completely different era: where weather updates, including a radar map, are accessible to even the least scientifically minded, where the words “friend,” “like,” and “follow” have a whole new meaning, where “digital” doesn’t only refer to a type of clock, and where even the youngest of our kids are very aware that equal rights, civil rights, social justice, drug, gang, and gun culture, hunger, homelessness, lock-downs, and, yes, hashtags are “a thing.”
And, more importantly, we live in a time where there are a host of ever-evolving technological advances that completely change our reality on the daily. Instant connection is the norm. Time has undeniably sped up and there is no going back. Which in no-way means we have to throw out the old technologies and stop using them – we, simply, have to acknowledge that being receptive to change, builds the connective place where respectful dialogue and hard work meet to make positive transformations.
Meanwhile, there are folks who relate to the world as if it was still 1974, resisting and raging against social reform and change, while living in their cozy little bubbles made possible by all of those convenient modern technologies. Their perceptions of reality are derived solely on the illusion that our underlying culture has gone unchanged for the past forty-five years. As demonstrated earlier, we are light years away from what we were, even, fifteen years ago. We no longer have the luxury to claim innocence or naivete.
To insist, today, in 2019, that everyone make life choices based on societal norms of the '60s and '70s is irresponsible and down-right dangerous. This is how inbred radicalization begins. If we are going to move forward (survive) as a culture (or, a human race), beside embracing change with a completely open-mind, we also need to supply this generation with a toolbox filled with, not only the latest technologies, but, natural curiosity, confidence, kindness, empathy, and the courage to take on all of the challenges, instead of ridiculing them and insisting that they behave as if nothing has changed since we were children. Then we need to allow them to use all those tools (again, without, contempt) in the vanguard, as the change makers, creating positive, outside the box solutions for a healthy, sustainable society.
Please plan on joining us February 12th from 6 -10 pm at the Buccaneer Lounge for the DRC Shiver Me Timbers Silent Auction. Check out the items on the website (the list is updated almost daily) and purchase your ticket here.
If you would like to donate an item to the auction - please get in touch!
What do you like? What makes you happy? What are you excited about? What are you curious about? What are you good at? What do you want to do today, next week, or ten years from now? How would you like to use your talents to help others? How can we (DRC) help you get to where you want to be? Whoa? What? Slow down! Over the years, after encountering that particular look of, “what the hell have I gotten myself into?”, more times than I would like to admit, I have learned to pace myself and let our new students settle in for a few weeks before I bombard them with the thousands of questions I would like to ask, during our very first conversation.
Because, I know, without fail, after a few weeks or even months, they will begin to have questions of their own, like: “So, what am I supposed to do?” “Is it really OK if I spend my days drawing, cooking, playing guitar, writing a story, talking and socializing, taking long walks, pounding on clay, messing around in the shop, playing outside, etc.?” Or, the big one, “What if I get behind?” And then, I watch their expressions of pure astonishment during a mentoring session, when I tell them first off, there is no such thing as “being behind” and that, yes, this is hard, but I will always trust them to make good choices. Then it abruptly changes to utter terror, when I also explain that I will always be available to support and guide them - nevertheless, I expect they will always ask for help when they feel themselves struggling, tell me what support they need to move forward, and how (what) they are feeling. That is the instant when they fully comprehend what it truly means to be totally in control of their education, as well as their life.
And, that is the critical moment when they either pick up the gauntlet and accept the challenge, or mentally (and/or literally) pack their bag (backpack) and head back to the comfy place (because self-direction is not what they assumed) where they will always know what is required and where someone (an authority figure) will always tell them what to do next.
The kids who give themselves permission to flounder, relentlessly and bravely, through that period of self-doubt and indecision come out the other side stronger, more self-sufficient, and happier, because they have faced down the fears and discover that they really are excited about exploring the world on their own terms.
Oftentimes this process is protracted and painfully obvious to anyone watching from the sidelines, but occasionally it isn’t. We don’t even know that the student is going through the intense self-questioning period, until they have already decided that the effort is too scary, and, simply, not worth it to them. They never told us they had doubts; they never asked for support; they never gave us the slightest, little clue that they were thinking this was too difficult and that they were not up to the task. Then they go back, with very little warning, and leave a gaping hole in our community. These are the moments that break my heart - when I begin to question myself: Why didn’t I see this coming? What hints did I miss? How could I have prevented this outcome?
Then, after I take some time to castigate myself, I come to the realization that they, actually, have learned something from us. They are taking charge of their education, just not in the way I thought they would (should). They are using their free will to do what they think is best for them. Yes, indeed, this (self-directed education) is hard and it is not for everyone. There are some people who are not up for the task and that is okay - as long as they find what makes them happy and are able to move forward positively. That is all I wish for anyone.
A shout of thanks to the Clarkson students who came out to DRC, yesterday, for their MLK Day of Service. The space is super shiny clean (even the windows), our computers are updated, our wii systems are connected to the network, and all of our books are now alphabetized! You guys are awesome!
Shiver Me Timbers, the 3rd Annual Silent Auction will be held at the Buccaneer Lounge in Canton, Tuesday, February 12th, from 6 - 10PM. Please plan on joining us for a fun evening of competition and camaraderie for a good cause. Admission tickets are available on our website or at the door.
The board is seeking donations of goods and services for the auction. If you have something you would like to contribute, please get in touch.
All contributors will be recognized and thanked publicly on Social Media, the DRC website, as well as the local media.