Last weekend, I was in a circle of friends who gathered to honor a 17-year-old young man’s transition out of high school— into the great beyond. Over a two-hour period, I watched James move from initial discomfort to delight and relief as he was recognized for the passage he was making. As James was showered with reflections about his unique character and qualities, as well as the successes and challenges along his path, he reminded me of a tree in springtime suddenly breaking into blossom. And, experiencing this transformation in him, I was struck again by how important it is for our young people to feel seen, known, and supported by family, community, and schools as they make their monumental developmental leaps.
Whether our children or students are moving into or out of elementary, middle, or high school, we can support them with meaningful structures that acknowledge their passage. When we intentionally “mark” these shifts and authentically speak to the growth and resilience we see in our youth, they feel a deeper sense of connection to themselves, their community, and the world around them.
So, in the whirlwind of graduation activities and end of year events, you may want to consider how to create opportunities to witness the young people in your life and appreciate them for who they are and for the gifts they uniquely carry. This kind of event or experience often serves as a moment in time young people can look back on and reference as they go forward into the next stage of their lives. Our words of appreciation and honoring are like seeds that grow in the hearts of those we acknowledge— long after the event has passed.
Activities to support young people in transition:
- If you are a parent, gather together friends and family members who know your child and design a ceremony of some kind to acknowledge their passage. Consider having each person bring a small object that represents the growth they have seen in this young person and create an opportunity for people to speak to this growth.
- If you are a teacher, create opportunities for students to reflect on their growth and change and share this with you or the class in writing or speaking activities.
- Ask young people to explore their own strengths and reflect on how they have come through the challenges of their lives. This helps build resilience for the future. (If appropriate, as parents or mentors, share stories about challenges you have overcome or how you have navigated transitions).
- Consider ways you can create opportunities for students/children to authentically give and receive appreciation— in written reflection, art, or speaking practices like council.
- With all the busyness of the end of year, look for windows to incorporate reflection, quiet, and pause. This will support our children to more deeply acknowledge and integrate the changes and shifts that are happening for them.
- Validate the whole range of emotions that arise during transition times and support students with practices that help them manage their emotions (mindfulness, time outdoors, self-reflection, etc.).
Below is a series of questions about transitions that can be explored through writing, reflection, art, storytelling, councils, or community circles:
- What are you leaving behind? What aspects of yourself as a student and person do you no longer want to carry with you?
- What aspects of yourself do you want to bring with you, or grow, or expand, or reclaim as you move into this next phase of your life?
- What important events happened in this last period of your life? (i.e. 5th grade, high school, etc.)
- In what ways have you grown and what have you learned?
- What opportunities for growth are there for you in this next phase?
- What concerns do you have about this next phase? How might you be stretched and tested?
- What qualities do you want to cultivate in yourself in this next phase? In other words, what kind of person do you want to be in this next phase of your life?
- What obstacles might get in the way of that?
- What resources do you have or need to have (inside yourself and in your family or community) that can help you overcome these obstacles?
- What commitments do you need to make to yourself and others to support this next phase of life?
See page 125 of our book, The 5 Dimensions of Engaged Teaching, for more on this important topic.