“Because I said so!”

Posted by Anthony E. Steele II on 7/17/2019

Why Why Why 1

It is with great pleasure that I welcome everyone back for the start of the 2019–2020 school year; hopefully the summer months have provided you the relaxation to commence with excitement and enthusiasm! We’ve always valued and relied upon the partnership between our school, parents, and our students. It’s important to not only have great communication, but also to share a common vision and approach to learning. As we prepare to hit the ground running in August, let’s take a moment to look at a particular aspect of communication and synchronize our expectations with the expression: BECAUSE I SAID SO!

Why don’t teenagers listen to us as much as we would like them to? After all, as adults we’ve ‘been there and done that’ and we’re just trying to show them the way. It is illogical that teens don’t always heed our advice, and it can be extremely frustrating when the stakes are high.

They don’t get much higher than when the topic turns to education, career preparation, and readying for responsible adulthood. Unfortunately, in these situations we’re likely to turn more authoritarian rather than collaborative…in a moment of frustration we may even utter the phrase, “Because I said so!”

If we’re going to be effective educators and parents of teenagers with emerging minds of their own, then we need to pop the hood and really understand how this relationship works…or doesn’t work. The stakes are indeed high. And, as adults we will always appreciate this better than youth possibly can because we have hindsight and life experience behind us. Conversely, they have the spirit of youth — a sense of invincibility, endless time to get around to things, and a voracious appetite to explore the world and draw their own conclusions; and trust me, they would rather do that than simply take our word for it.

As adults, we get a bad rap…since birth, we’ve been telling them to eat their green beans, brush their teeth, and let the nice doctor poke you with that big needle. When they’re little they have that propensity to retort with an endless succession of, “Why?, Why?, Why?” And it isn’t uncommon in those early years to reply, “Because I said so!” But there comes an age when authoritarian phrases rapidly become ineffective because they assume the recipient is either incapable or not worthy of an explanation. As teenagers, respect, decorum — and to some degree — fear, allow for some efficacy with an authoritarian approach; however, I have found that collaboration to achieve ‘buy-in’ is by far the most powerful way to influence positive decision making in teenagers. Not surprisingly, most experts in adolescent psychology agree, and we utilize this approach with our students.

Whether you’re a new parent to BVT or a veteran, it is imperative that we keep the triad of parent, school, and student on the same page to achieve our goals and complete our mission. At the very least, it is helpful to know how we will treat your child at BVT, and what we will expect of them from their first to their last day with us.

To start, let’s examine expectations: Our students and parents expect BVT to prepare students to be career, college, and life-ready upon graduation. To get there, all students need to set aggressive but achievable goals each year. It also requires students to take ownership of their futures. There needs to be a well thought out plan, and a commitment to execute it. They need to own it. Everyone knows that schools like ours feature ‘hands-on’ learning, but I venture to guess that few realize that this applies to a student’s career plan as well as wrenches and oscilloscopes. Students need to decide what shops to explore, courses to take, certifications to pursue, right down to when it’s time to stay for extra help and with whom. There will be plenty of guidance along the way, but students are expected to make their choices wisely to accomplish their goals. Part of the process inevitably involves experiencing accountability; in adult life personal accountability is reality, and if one is to be life-ready, one needs to practice it. Students will stumble from time to time, but also learn how to pick themselves up and recover gracefully.

Effectively Coaching Students — The first day students enter BVT as freshmen, I welcome them as a class and declare that we will treat them as adults. They are empowered and simultaneously forewarned that with empowerment comes great expectations and responsibility. This approach sets a tone, and inherently builds a relationship between staff and students of trust, respect, and equality. A partnership is formed. I tell them, “We will show you the path and teach you the skills, but it is completely up to you to do something with it.”

This is likely a great departure from 8th grade life as students knew it. They are reassured that we will guide and support them, but you rarely hear us say, “Because I said so.” It is incumbent on every student to ask good questions, make a solid effort for their own betterment, and do impressive things with the skills they attain. In a nutshell — they are expected to practice personal accountability. The track record shows that they not only embrace this challenge, but also surprise us with their rapid transformation and commitment to their education. Our students have ownership in the process; in fact, they are the major shareholder which puts them in control of their destiny.

To maximize your child’s experience at BVT, consider how you will approach coaching them on the home front. I wish I could say that we won’t have to be authoritarian at times, but that’s not realistic. Nonetheless, I encourage everyone to embrace any opportunity to engage and empower our students to make great decisions for themselves. Try this at home because you know that’s how you would respond best as an adult, not because I said so!