Friday, June 10, 2011

Carrots and Sticks...Building Organization from the Inside-Out in Kids

It's that time of year, Spot. Deadlines abound! I know, I know...projects, final papers, exams. It's all a part of your life. You are not the only one, though, Spot. I'm running around like a chicken myself. (And I know that's probably not PC to say!)

I've got the China Museum projects, sixth grade mysteries (which I'm sorry to say are a little myterious to me!) and a whole host of other administrivia I've got to get done in the next ten days.

Most of the time, I'm pretty good at pacing, but sometimes the leash just gets away. With students, this can be a horrible thing. Yesterday, for example, I sat with a mom and talked about all the strategies we've put into place to bring her twelve year old up to speed. We talked about difficulties in focusing and of course other professionals talked about the usual 'executive functioning' problems he could be having too. He gets overloaded, then motivation becomes a problem as well.

The truth? More and more kids are looking a bit disastrous these days. Kids are over-scheduled, parents are over-scheduled too. But I think that just is a bit too simple for me. Ownership and accountability are the carrots that usually work. And some good explicit training is what will get them there. Last week, I had a gentle, whispering conversation with this particular young man. I asked him who he admired/saw as successful in class. I told him to study all that the successful student he stacked his books, what his locker looked like, etc. But, I made sure to tell him to do this silently, the mentor student doesn't really need to know. After all, confidentiality is the key. This week, we'll talk about all that he observed.

Often, schools are asked to use external rewards, behavioral/organizational checklists to pull a student along. I can honestly say that does not work, for the same reason Daniel Pink highlights here.

Kids who struggle organizationally are frequently diagnosed with ADD/HD as well. They need to see that carrot...munch on it, and feel it deep down inside. No hokey adult-directed schemes ever seem to get them there. So now...I'm taking the short cut, the honest road, and letting them learn who they are and how they learn, and how to witness the ways to compensate for their needs. I know this, because I've lived it. And Spot? I'm not trying to get too personal here. But. I lost both my parents by age 11, so I've had to teach myself practically everything I know. I was an awful Brownie, a horrible Girl Scout, and I could never find my socks or my blouse or the beanie I had to wear on First Fridays at school. In other words, I was a disaster. But then I learned to simply watch...and follow...and learn. And then, I created a structure for myself, so I could do it all over again. (And Spot? What was the point of that beanie on first Friday, anyway?!)