Trust, as you have probably guessed by the themes of the last two posts, is at the very core of the Deep Root Center philosophy. In previous pieces, trust was explained as a theoretical concept; this, the third post of the trilogy, will attempt to define trust as we practice it in our everyday world.
The concept of trust at DRC is probably most visible and easily explained through our mentoring process, which is always happening on multiple levels – both casual and formal.
I routinely tell every DRC member, “I will never tell you what or what not to do!” My relationship with each student is built on unwavering trust and based on listening, supporting, nurturing, and fostering each of them to achieve intrinsic motivation, along with whatever he/she desires.
Most of that mentoring occurs organically as we negotiate our way through each day. We are feeding our individual creativity, interests, and passions through each interaction, conversation, or interchange while conveying our mutual respect for each other. Every class, game, project, and social exchange provides the opportunity for a continued dialogue that is relevant to every single person in the room.
I also meet with each student member once a week for a formal, regularly scheduled (or at least that is the plan) conversation. These can last anywhere from two minutes to a full half hour depending on the specific needs of each individual that particular week. I play several roles during these formal meetings: a sounding board – I listen very carefully, to the words and the body language; I brainstorm suggestions and ideas, based on my observations; I offer feedback on their progress, I provide a conduit to the broader community to find resources for their projects or classes; I keep their plan documented in a mentoring form; I act as their personal cheerleader, and most importantly, I am learning when to stay quiet (see: “Have a Popover Froggy”) and step out of the way to follow the student's lead.
This past week our mentoring sessions, once again, nearly got lost in the shuffle of our chaotic schedule. On Thursday one of our thirteen year olds reminded me that we needed to meet. I think he was feeling like he really needed that one-on-one time to work some concerns out. When we finally sat down that afternoon, he told me that he was feeling a bit worried because he has all these fantastic ideas, creates amazing plans, starts the projects, and then does not follow them through to culmination.
During this particular session, he was requesting guidance and concrete suggestions,because he was feeling frustrated and was not able to figure this out on his own.
First I wanted to reassure him, so I offered this analogy: he is like a little hamster who has been stuck in a cage, doing what he was told, and running on his little wheel, without getting anywhere, for seven years. Now, that cute little hamster is frantically racing around because there are so many possibilities to explore, and he is just so dang happy to be free of the confines of that cage. He laughingly agreed and we proceeded to look at all the projects (there were a lot) that he has started, chose two that he wants to complete, defined where they fit in terms of subject matter in his academic plan, outlined the steps he needs to take, and set a realistic schedule for completion of both.
This simple course of action alleviated his feelings of frustration and defeat, while allowing him to still be fully in charge of his education.
The first weeks (or months) that kids are freed from the structure of school is always interesting for them, as well as the adults in their lives. They suddenly have all this freedom and are waiting for an adult to step in and say, “ha, fooled you!” or “OK, you are feeling lost, you should do X, X, and Y.”
This phenomenon happens at varying levels (often depending on how long they were in the traditional system), and plays out in a multitude of ways with each individual kid exhibiting different behaviors. For some it looks like the conduct of that delighted little hamster, others feel completely overwhelmed which often shows up in their demeanor as ambivalence, boredom, or outright complacency, and a few have no visible reaction at all. These are all legitimate and reasonable responses after being initiated into this “revolutionary” concept of self-directed learning.
One of our fifteen year olds is a classic example of one of a student who completely understands the concept of independent learning (and has from the very beginning). When she and I meet, my job is to listen, transcribe her ideas and plans into her mentoring form, offer suggestions for tutors or internship sponsors, provide the resources for projects, and then stand back to cheer her on. She has already been involved in two internships, studies osteology at the SUNY Potsdam Physical Anthro. Lab with a student intern, and is designing our After-School Program, along with the other group classes she is involved in at DRC.
Another 12 year old is still feeling completely stunned after being with us for just a few weeks; he happily hangs out with the other kids, participates in group classes, has completed some art projects, and is just taking time to breath. I have not heard him express any specific interests or passions, yet. In time, he will let me know how I can assist him and then we will watch him take off.
These are just a few examples of how our everyday interactions offer me new opportunities to observe, listen, nurture, play, get messy, and learn, because I am not concerned about controlling the outcome of any student's project, class, game, or internship. We are all trusting and encouraging each other to be our best selves, because together we have created a place where all thoughts, ideas, emotions, and suggestions are considered unequivocally important and valid.
Here are three ways you can financially support Deep Root Center!
Check out the DRC Dessert at the Blackbird Cafe! One dollar of every dessert sold goes toward the Deep Root Center fee reduction program. Go to Blackbird have a delicious meal and save room for the DRC dessert!
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