What inspires me is moments like today when I get asked my opinion, as though it was important.
Over and over, we have heard from young people that they want and need adults to listen to them and show signs of caring about them. Many young people we spoke to in the course of creating this module identified this as the most important thing adults can do to facilitate youth empowerment.
A good deal of our power and influence as adults resides in this need. While it is often distorted in our society through adultism, and though it shifts and changes as young people grow and develop, this fundamental need remains a constant from childhood through adolescence, and often into young adulthood.
We can consciously tap into student need for adult support and caring in positive ways to promote their self-esteem, healthy development and agency in their own lives. We can listen carefully to students, accepting their perceptions of their experiences without doubt, judgment or resistance. When we validate their feelings and experiences, young people feel seen and heard. Listening and accepting helps engender feelings of safety, belonging and connection to school.
Perceiving students as whole people, caring about their lives and experiences, recognizing and accepting their perceptions, feelings and needs as human beings are simple and essential ways of sharing power. Doing so validates the core components underlying every individual’s sense of self.
As educators, we validate student needs and show we care and are listening to their concerns in a myriad of ways; for example, by:
- making accommodations to adapt to student needs whenever possible (including accommodating students who face social barriers, who have special learning needs, or who encounter other “real life” obstacles);
- taking time to respond to questions or offer extra help, if requested;
- when students need to talk but we are busy, making sure to organize time for a conversation;
- checking in regularly when we know students are struggling;
- creating opportunities for students to share their thoughts, feelings and perceptions with us.
As students feel truly seen, heard and cared about in the most essential and vulnerable parts of themselves, their self-esteem and self-acceptance can grow. For students from marginalized groups and communities who have struggled to embrace their identity, an increased sense of self-worth and belonging at school can lead to greater acceptance of their identity.
You feel like adults care and are listening when you can actively see them trying to help you, not just nodding at everything. If they can’t help you they refer to other support and follow up.
Feeling seen, heard and cared about helps create a core feeling of strength. This experience is a pre-requisite and a basis for young people’s empowerment, as individuals and as part of a larger group or community.
Teachers and other school staff members are mandated with an important challenge. We strive every day to juggle our awareness of the collective needs of our student body while caring about and attending to each student as an individual human being.
When adults listen it makes us feel like our voice matters and that we are a team.