Mentors and apprentices are partners in an ancient human dance, and one of teaching’s great rewards is the daily chance it gives us to get back on the dance floor. It is the dance of the spiraling generations, in which the old empower the young with their experience and the young empower the old with new life, reweaving the fabric of the human community as they touch and turn.

 

Parker Palmer

We live in turbulent times…

Climate change, political divisions, inequality. I look at the news and even in my family over the past few years and see how divisions in beliefs can put us in opposition to one another.

But when I walk into my adolescent classroom and I see an alternative I am always amazed at what I learn from my students. This may sound hard to believe.  Adolescence is known by most as a time of turbulence and unease. However, it is also a period of great potential and creativity as young people move towards independence.

It has been said that humanity is in its adolescent phase…

…and much like an adolescent, searching outward to others to explain what should change. What if we looked at adolescents to guide us through this time of unease with creativity? In what ways might a glimpse into the adolescent brain provide insight about how to move forward?

The adolescent brain is undergoing the largest changes in structure and function since those that occur in the first three years of life. But their brains do not grow by getting bigger. Rather they become more interconnected. The brain strengthens its connectivity to the regions used most frequently and prunes away those that are no longer useful.

Adolescents Give us Hope for Change

The part of the brain that is maturing most is the pre-frontal cortex–the region used to contemplate, and reflect on one’s self, and govern social cognition. Another notable feature of the teen brain is its ability to change. It is the brain’s plasticity that allows it to adapt and change. Just as this plasticity allows teens to craft their own identity, it could also be the key to humans doing the same.

I had a mentor in my life who told me, “you can only take a child as far as you are willing to go.” To me, adolescents offer us this invitation to join them.  Interconnection, contemplation and reflection, and adaptability may be the tools needed in this dance between mentor and apprentice. Switching roles throughout the dance we can allow these young people in transition to guide us through our own.

Please join me in November for our online adolescent symposium – an opportunity for the education community to dialogue about engaging in the transformative dance with adolescents.

Julie Haagenson, TIES Faculty

Adolescent Symposium

November 16-24

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