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Valuable Experiences in Decision Making

School by nature is a mini society in which students learn through experience valuable life lessons and social skills. One of these valuable life lessons is decision making. Every day, students are faced with decisions: “With whom will I make friends? Will I work hard today? Will I participate in class? How will I react to my friends’ teasing? Should I follow the group or choose my own path? How will I manage my time?”

Recently, I have been asking myself how much or little guidance students need to make these decisions. The answer is without hesitation: very little. It is very important that students learn to trust in themselves. We are in a day and age when we give students increasingly more direction, and they have less freedom to make their own choices, as well as their own mistakes, and learn from them. More than ever, the adults in their lives tell them what to do and how to think. As a result, they often feel helpless and turn to adults expecting precise answers, instead of trusting that they can find within themselves the resources they need.

When faced with making a choice, students can come to us with a precise question such as, “What should I do?” Instead of coming up with a precise answer or a specific plan, we should empower them to come up with their answer, and find their own path. To do so, we can answer their questions by another question such as, “What do you think? What are your options? Do you see other options? What seems to be the best solution for you? Why? What are your motives for choosing this path? What could the outcome be for you and others?”

The education that students receive at home and at school is a sufficient moral compass to guide them in making good choices. Their parents and teachers hold them accountable for their actions, expect them to be trustworthy and respectful, and teach the importance of hard work and the value of making the most of each opportunity. Because students are armed with these values, we should be careful not to tell them too often what to do and how to do it.

Redirecting them when they make poor choices is very important, but letting them choose their path first is even more important, as it builds their experience in making decisions, as well as their confidence and trust in their own abilities. The whole purpose of an education is to have enough knowledge and experience to be free. We provide students with knowledge, but too often we deprive them of the experiences they need. We cannot expect them to become adults by controlling the way they make decisions. When we trust our students to make their own choices, we are most often pleasantly surprised by their choices. We might not have come up with the same solution, but it is clearly the best solution for the student.

- By Barbara Greiner, Head of School

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