I recently spent a few days with a group of 6th graders teaching a unit on puberty. On my first day in the classroom, the kids were nervous, anxious, apprehensive and giggley!
If giggley is not really a word than I'm suggesting it for addition to the dictionary, as I encounter it in the first few minutes of every 5th, 6th and 7th grade sexuality education class I've ever taught.
We start with a general discussion about growing up from a kid to an adult. We play a rendition of childhood game, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, where I ask the kids to tape the physical changes that happen during puberty on the appropriate gender symbol. Yes, more giggley!
We move into a discussion about testosterone and estrogen, sperm and egg, periods and ejaculation followed by the emotiional changes that happen during puberty. We end with an "anxiety check". The kids tell me they feel more comfortable and that maybe puberty class isn't so bad after all.
We split the class into gender groups and meet with each separately. What happens next is always amazing to witness. A portion of our time is spent talking about periods for the girls and erections and ejaculation for the boys. Even the kids who were obviously uncomfortable on Day 1 are interested and engaged. The kids ask great questions and eagerly listen to the answers. Once their curiousity about their own bodies is satisfied, they begin asking more specific questions about the physical changes that the opposite gender goes through.
The next step is a conversation about why boys/girls act the way they do, followed by a conversation about crushes and relationships. There's also some discussion about parents and why they seem to be so annoying, but the kids are much more interested in themselves and their classmates.
We have one more day together. I ask each gender how they would like to frame our last day together. Unanimously the kids tell me they would like to ask each other some questions to gain understanding into why boys/girls act the way they do.
I start the day with an "anxiety check". Everyone is feeling pretty comfortable. I recap the process they had been through over the past couple of days. What happens is amazing ... very similar to what happens with adults in a healthy environment where they communicate effectively and respectfully.
The kids learn about themselves first; why they did what they did, felt how they felt. They ask clarifying questions and identify their support systems. Then they learned about each other; asked questions, identified similarities and differences, and asked more questions.
A significant amount of time was spend on one theme. Why can't "they" be more like "us"? The boys wanted the girls to be more like them. The girls wanted the boys to be more like them.
Simple answer ... as much as we are the same, we are different. And that's a really cool thing, if we can learn how to appreciate the differences and work with them instead of against them.
As I reflect back to my time with the 6th graders, combined with the work I do in the middle and high schools, as well as the work I do with adults as individuals and in groups, the same theme prevails.
Why can't they be more like us? Why can't they see things the way I do? Why can't they do what I want them to do? Why can't things be the way I want them to be?
Its funny ... these 6th graders asked the same kinds of questions that parents ask of teenagers and teenagers ask of parents. That teachers ask of students and students ask of teachers. That employers ask of employees and employess ask of employers.
Summarized into one overarching question, "Why can't they fit into our box of what we think they should be, think, feel and act?"
My answer, "Let's think about what that would be like if we were alike? All living in the same box? All thinking the same way? All acting in a way that others thought was the right way for us? None of us being who we really are?"
There may be peace for awhile, but not for long. Soon souls would start to scream. We are here to live to our fullest potential; to be the best we can be; to share our purpose and essence with the world. And we can't do that thinking, doing and being what someone else wants us to think, do and be ... no matter how old we are!
Perhaps a more important task list is in order for all of us. Similar to the process these 6th graders went through over their 3 day unit.
Keep the focus on ourselves first. Ask questions that help us know ourselves better, even if there's some anxiety or embarrassment about asking. Explore other people's perspectives. Find out why they think and feel as they do. And why? Pay attention. Enjoy the new level of understanding self and others. Find common ground. Explore connection around that common ground. Commit to action. Be accountable for our own part of the process. And look for purpose and meaning and connection and a way to serve others while being who we are.
I loved my experience in the 6th grade. I loved witnessing their journey of self-discovery. I loved that the anxiety level of the class around the topic had dropped significantly and everyone was engaged. I loved watching their behavior toward each other change based on new information that led to a new understanding of themselves and those around them.
I love that, even though I'm an expert in my field, I never stop learning ... every day I learn!
Just as I love my time teaching in the classroom, I love coaching. It is so satisfying to facilitate the discovery process and lead individuals and groups through blocks tto identifying common ground, to action steps and to a place of achieving results and attaining desired outcomes.
Transition on Purpose