Our educational system hasn’t just been disrupted by the pandemic. It’s been shaken to its core.
Despite the hard work put in by teachers, students, and parents, many kids have found it harder to engage through online learning. Diminished social interaction has left students feeling lonely (and parents feeling overwhelmed).
Many students started to ask “What’s the point?”
Many parents weren’t sure how to reply.
What we’ve seen during the last few months is that when the facade of school gets stripped away–the classroom structure, the testing milestones, the constant competition and comparison to others–what’s left may not seem particularly meaningful or valuable.
Our school system runs on an achievement-based model: students are told that if they continue to achieve, they’ll continue to win. They’ll win the college game, and then the career game, and then the life game.
But on some level, we all know that this story is tenuous at best, misleading or even harmful at worst. It’s important to do well in school. But if your student is only focused on jumping over the academic hurdles thrown in front of them, they might be disappointed to learn there’s really no finish line–and no gold medal awarded at the end.
The pandemic has exposed underlying problems in education, not created them. Right now, families have an opportunity to step back and examine their attitudes and beliefs about education. Once the education treadmill restarts, many students and parents won’t know how to get off.
What works is to seek, and follow, internal motivation instead of (perceived) external rewards. Curiosity is key. It sets students on a path that is interesting, meaningful, and encourages a lifelong love of learning.
Here are three simple steps to help students tune back in to curiosity:
Step 1: Connect with curiosity. Your student might think of curiosity as interest, passion, desire, or questioning. What’s something they want to learn more about or experience, either for the first time or more deeply? Try using Signet’s Top 10 Tool to brainstorm ideas.
Resist the urge to judge your student’s interest, and refrain from asking questions like “Where is this going?” or “And what would you do with that exactly?” The pursuit is more important than the content here.
Step 2: Plant the seeds. Once your student knows what they want to pursue, let them choose how to pursue it. This phase is a bit of a rabbit hole, and that’s okay. Your student may stick with their original interest, or they may move on to something else that lights them up. Both are great.
They’re learning to learn: seeking information, synthesizing different resources, making their own decisions about how to spend their time. Consider how different that is from their usual academic environment!
Step 3: Find deeper meaning. The most important thing about this step is that it’s not time-bound. Your student can take as long as they like to find something that resonates strongly with them. If they never find “that one thing,” that’s okay too. Celebrate your polymath for their varied interests and allow them the freedom to fluidly move between them.
If your student does deeply invest in one area or activity, keep in mind that some pursuits become careers; others become hobbies. Finding enjoyment in both arenas is valuable.
When your student is tuned into curiosity, they’re energized by their activities. Their time is spent deliberately, and hours of effort feel well-spent. That’s how you know they’re finding meaning. And when you combine that meaning with the many valuable skills traditional education does provide, you get a recipe for a well-lived life.