It has been 2 months. We’ve spoken once. We’ve instant messaged three times. My daughter is completing volunteer work in South Africa out in the Bush working in conservation for part of a gap year post high school graduation. During our short exchanges she radiates increased confidence and a fierce sense of independence. I rejoice yet I also feel a sense of loss. It’s our goal, as parents, isn’t it? To help our children go out on their own and become productive, independent citizens of the world. However, it’s also heartbreaking to let go.
Walking the dog at night just isn’t the same without my daughter. The heart-to-heart talks and shared secrets are a thing of the past. And I’ll forever miss that. But, more importantly, my daughter is developing into an amazing human being with thoughts, opinions, and passions of her own. She doesn’t parrot me. She is her own person and that is wonderful to see.
Recently, on the playground at school a parent told me her daughter has been resisting the overseeing parental eye claiming, “Mom, I’ve got this. I’m doing it. I know what to do” and to the mother’s surprise, her daughter has been completing homework successfully. This Mother finds it difficult to “let go” though and truly allow her daughter the freedom both to succeed and fail on her own. This Mom still insists on reviewing that essay and forcing her daughter to make changes even though she realizes it’s time for her daughter to take responsibility of her assignments and accept consequences for her imperfect submissions.
Several students are sitting casually in my classroom during a break. We’re chatting about life and they ask me how my daughter is doing in South Africa. I share what I know. They are somewhat in awe and the majority expresses a desire to do something similar when they graduate. Except for one high school pupil whose shoulders droop and smile wanes, “Even if I wanted to do a gap year, my parents would never let me”. I admit, I was a bit stunned. I wondered, “At what point will this student be permitted to make decisions independently? At what point will the path of choice as an adult be granted?”
That preparation for my children began long before high school graduation. We attempted to give them as much say as possible and within reason with regard to the direction their lives went. And yes, they made decisions sometimes that we weren’t exactly keen on, however, in the end; their lives have been their unique journey. They have developed into remarkable and interesting adults with their own tastes, views, and interests. None of them are products of our wishes or projections of our hopes. They have forged their own paths and have discovered talents and passions that have formed their careers and who they are as adults that could have only happened by them pursuing their dreams instead of ones we might have imposed on them.
As teachers we face the same need to “let go." The Fun Night my Going Green Group hosted a few weeks ago is a classic example. As I previously wrote, it was a night organized by students. And believe me, there were times I wanted to just take over! However, my colleagues and I restrained ourselves. We gave the guidance and let the students choose whether to follow our lead or to do it “their way”. Fortunately, despite the imperfections of the evening, those who attended had a fun time and the night was successful. When our student organizers were asked to reflect on the evening and how to make it better they all commented, “We should have been more prepared” and then they outlined how they would do it differently next time. And there will be a next time! – in April. So we’ll see if they did, indeed, learn. In listening to them reflect and outline the changes they’d make, I realized how important it was to let them get to this point on their own. It was so much more productive than had we become more controlling and insistent at the front end in our desperation to make the night a “perfect event”. Yes, “letting go” was, indeed, the correct choice.
In the classroom as well, “letting go” has its place. In letting go of rigid expectations with regard to homework, more learning might take place. Recently, in one of my high school classes, I decided to give the students more freedom in how they manage outside preparations for class. Instead of homework assignments I gave suggestions for managing reading and studying from their text following class activities on the topic. Their “homework” was not graded nor would it be the same assignment for everyone, as they would each select their own method and their own focus of study. I decided to give a “reading quiz” that wouldn’t count towards their grade (as it was a surprise) but would help them assess how well they processed information from the text and give me an idea of how well they were learning the material. I made the quiz quite tricky; with the intent to expose any oversights and weaknesses in their approach. To my surprise, they all exceeded my expectations! They each then shared with the group their study techniques and then spontaneously reflected and assessed their own approach. Each one indicated how they could do it even better, without any prompting from me. They were taking ownership for their learning.
Today I challenge us all to discover areas in our lives where we can or maybe should “let go.” I think we will find that the children we are worried about will thrive.