What my teen taught me about teaching organisational paradigms

This weekend my 15 year old son had a birthday party.  The party was a success but the lead up to the party was fraught with arguments and heated discussions – all around the level of effort and organisation required in the lead up to a party.

To say Mr 15 is laid back is an understatement.  He has a very relaxed approach to everything he does. He’s not lazy, he does his school work, devotes time to several extra curricula activities and has many hobbies, he just a less is more type of guy.  This was reflected in his level of engagement in the party organisation.  As far as he was concerned inviting his friends was the only organisation required.

Actual fire from party

Actual fire from party

He was clear about what he wanted.  A fire in the backyard, chilled, casual and the theme:  trackies and daggy jumpers. Says it all really.  Every attempt his father and I made to discuss any level of organisation was meet with the teen standards: frustrated sighs, shoulder shrugs, eye rolls and my personal favourite, “whatever”.

His resistance to any level of organisation was in complete opposition to my need to be organised. Having had 1 or 2 parties over the years, I understood what is required to host a party, and lets face it, those pre-teen birthday parties he’d had seemed to magically happen without any involvement from him.

The resulting arguments lead to threats of the party being called off unless he got involved and helped with all those things that he deemed to be unimportant for his party, like seating, gazebos, fire wood for that all important backyard fire, etc, etc. His response. “This is so far from what I wanted, you guys are just trying to force your organisational paradigm onto me and my party.”

This is not the first time he has used this line.  He tried it when we were cleaning out his room a year ago, and I have to say, both times I was conflicted by this response.  On one level my heart swelled with joy that he knew what a paradigm was and the appropriate context in which to use it. On another level, I became aware of the level of anxiety this was creating for him.  For me, being organised is the only way to alleviate the day to day stress of teaching, working full time, … life. But does it create anxiety for others?

At school, when I try to teach my students how to be more organised, am I creating more anxiety for some of them?  Is my push to organise my HSC students making their HSC year more stressful.  I know that my organisational paradigm works, I have seen it help students to achieve their potential, but is it worth the anxiety that it may create initially?

I did organise food for Mr 15’s party, cooking is my thing.  You come to my house, I will feed you. I organised the type of food, the prep, the cooking and distribution. I went ahead with the warm apple cider (non-alcoholic) and hot chocolates with marshmallows, in spite of his protests.  He did thank me for this later, only after all his friends commented about how great the food was.

His father did clean out the garage, organise seating, firewood, gazebo, tarps for the ground, blankets, and hammocks to create that chilled, casual atmosphere he was longing to create.  He did thanks us for organising this for him, but only after he saw how cool it all looked.

Mr 15 could see the benefit of my organisation paradigm after the event, but does it justify the anxiety it created before hand?

As I have pondered these questions this long weekend, (isn’t it nice to have an extra day to ponder) I have come to the conclusion that the anxiety is worth it.  Pushing students to challenge themselves creates anxiety. The unknown creates anxiety, new and different creates anxiety.  That anxiety often leads to a deeper learner and a paradigm shift.  What I will do differently in my classroom (and at home) is explain the anxiety better, discuss why it exists and what it may lead to.


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