As our students move through their school years, they are making some of the biggest decisions of their lives: Should they focus on their education or slack off? Is college the right decision for them? If they decide to go to college, which one should they attend? Should they stay sober or try alcohol, smoking, or drugs? Should they accept or reject Christ?
Unfortunately, students often begin resisting help from teachers, parents, and other adults right at the time in their lives when they are approaching these big decisions. As students mature, they want to make their own decisions and take control of their own lives. This is an essential step in their development toward responsible adulthood, but it can also lead to resistance to outside help.
The key to helping students be open to advice while making decisions is to give them the skills to process the advice themselves. Putting them in charge of deciding what to do with the advice removes the feeling that accepting the advice is letting someone else make their decisions.
Ella Banks provides several strategies that can be useful for students as they process advice. Ideally, when processing advice they should:
- Be aware of their goals and needs
- Let go of defensiveness and really listen
- Be aware of who is giving the advice and why they are giving it
- Divide feedback into helpful and unhelpful pieces
- Realize that they can learn something even from bad advice
For younger students, it can be helpful to introduce these strategies as they arise naturally in the classroom. For example, when a student says something should be done differently in your classroom, you can talk with them about how their ideas fit (or don’t fit) with the goals of the classroom, and point out that they should consider their goals and needs when considering the advice that people give them, just like you think about the goals of the classroom when considering their ideas.
Unfortunately, for older students, direct instruction of this kind can face the same resistance that you are trying to combat. However, older students are often more open when they are presented with general information, so presenting the strategies within an activity and having students discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy can be helpful. For example, you could have students read Ella Banks’ article, then divide the class into groups and have each group present a skit demonstrating one of the strategies, then explain what they see as its advantages and disadvantages.
By helping students develop strategies for dealing with advice, we can help them listen to advice while still taking ownership of their own decisions. This will encourage them to listen to adult advice, to think critically about advice they receive from peers, and to make wise decisions. Taking the time to help them in this area can have benefits in the classroom, in their home lives, and in their advancement toward a successful and responsible adult life.