Your Role in the Classroom

We all have our demons. And, the battle against them is for keeps. Defeat can mean a life of mediocrity, regrets and missed opportunities. Victory, on the other hand, can mean a life worth living. This inner battle, however, is unending. Neither your age, income, nor the heights of your success matter. If you breathe, you must battle. But, there is no course, school or accredited program that teaches us how to outmaneuver, outflank, and outwit our demons. There are great books and role models. Yet, we know that the best way to learn something is to do that something. But, how do you teach your students to fight their demons by getting them to fight their demons? If you are intent on the fundamental transfiguration of your students, Rewilding may be for you. However, if you think it’s for you, you’re gonna have to reimagine your role in the classroom. Here’s how:

1. Cede the Center

With all those young faces listening to your words, taking notes, and nodding their heads in approval, the classroom is your stage. I know. It is exhilarating.  But, you have to give it up. It is the project that brings everyone together, not you. Step out from behind the podium and walk away from the blackboard. View your students as partners, collaborators and co-creators instead of receptacles to be filled with your expertise. Leave behind the protective cover of theory and abstraction and step into the realm of uncertainty and immense complexity that is reality. And, just a heads up, once your work with students begins, there will be moments (probably many) when things do not turn out as planned. Embrace these moments by getting out of the way. Do not give into your instincts. Do not try to fix these moments with your relative expertise. Leave them to your students. They are opportunities for your students to step up and lead, gain the self-confidence of independent thinkers, and earn their agency.

2. Let Them Fail (and let it hurt)

Your students must face a real risk of failure. I am not talking about a bad grade on an assignment kind of failure. I am talking about failure that makes their heart ache and leaves a mark. This kind of failure arises when inadequate preparation, mediocre effort, and the lack of follow through hurts others (other students, partners, collaborators and even the communities with which you work). Do not protect them from the full weight of their failure. Yet, here is the rub. Since you all have your name in the game, you will want to. If they fail, then you fail. And, you do not like to fail. So, you will want cover for them. You cannot do this. The best way to commit yourself to not doing this is to design “I Do Not Know” into your syllabus. If something has to be done and you do not have the answer, then only your students can do it. They have to deliver. And, if they do not, then others may get hurt. If others get hurt, that is on them. They need to feel their failure.

3. Create and Defend a Culture that is Demon Proof

The aforementioned level of accountability will animate all the demons in their arsenal – self-doubt, self-sabotage and self-reproach. Steven Pressfield calls it the “Resistance.”  You must train them to take on their Resistance. You do this by co-creating a group culture that is resistance-proof, developing a core set of values that guide your thoughts and actions, articulating those values via storytelling, and grounding those values in your community’s mythology (the heroics of earlier cohorts of students). You are your community’s historian, keeper of the flame, knower of what has come before. And, since we all fear failure, you will no doubt need to be defend your community and its culture against those within your community who would rather lash out, demoralize and disrupt community dynamics than face their own fears. So, you will need to be acutely aware of verbal language, body language and relationship dynamics in your classroom.

4. Walk the Coals with Them

You are asking your students to enter into a classroom unlike any other. One that is (most likely) outside of their experience. They will struggle to adjust. You will need to encourage them along. You do this by sharing your own stories of struggle and failure. They need to know that you fight the same battles. They need to know that you are not all-knowing. And, they need to know that the pedestal they may have placed you on is shaky and in need of daily repair and constant attention. You nudge, encourage and cajole them to move forward into the mist of ambiguity by being vulnerable. Taking on your demons together binds you together. It is a rite of passage. You’re building a family. You’re building a tribe.

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