A Culture of Courage: Youth Speak, We Listen

By Melissa Patschke, EdD, Director, CEI Coalition for the Future of Education

“Courage is the first of the human qualities, Because it is a quality which guarantees all the others.” ~ Winston Churchill

As educators, parents, community members, why should we listen to youth? It’s much easier to tell them what to think and how to behave. Yet, the world we are preparing them for will only be ours for a brief moment of time. The majority of their performance will be accomplished without us. Now is the time to use our resources to push and lift our youth into a culture of courage that allows for risks, innovation, and exploration (Comstock, 2018).

If we want our younger generations to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and idea authors, then it’s time for them to be heard. If we truly listen, they will be empowered, and we will be informed. By hearing our youth, we will realize the impact of their potential and the future influence of their fresh, intelligent perspectives (McLaughlin, 2018). It takes a tremendous amount of courage to speak up, establish safe boundaries, and challenge the status quo. Our youth require support in their homes, schools, and communities—support that allows them to be vulnerable—which will help them to be courageous. If our youth are willing to have a courageous voice, it’s our role to be sure they are supported and heard (Kaur, 2018).

As a school leader, I understand my own perspective of teaching and learning deeply. Without asking, I wouldn’t know the perspective of our youth in today’s schools. When thinking about what it takes to navigate the trials of our educational system, the concept of courage is well suited. The future of education is dependent on what’s taking place in our schools today. To move forward and do better, we must first understand where we are and what we are facing (Berger, 2017; McLaughlin, 2018). Courage is facing the unknown, the unexpected, and the possibility of failure. Our youth are courageously creating their own journeys each day. In an effort to better comprehend what it takes to be courageous learner, I asked four aspiring leaders to share their unique perspectives on topics related to courage. There is a wisdom and a grace in each message that reaches to assist others in understanding what it means to exist in a culture of courage.


Question: In what ways do today’s youth utilize courage in daily life as students? Response from Mehir Badlani High School Junior from Pennsylvania. Courage is having the confidence to try even when you are afraid or unsure. For many of my peers who are going to school in-person, it takes courage for them to be there. I have heard them say they pause before entering the building. For some of my peers who are virtual, I have heard them say it takes courage just to turn on their camera or unmute, especially because students often feel like everyone is always watching them so they have a lot more pressure than they would if they were there in-person. We had a discussion in class one time about why some of my peers are hesitant about turning on their camera, and they expressed it feels like being stared at by everyone else in the classroom all the time and that makes them uncomfortable. Some students are more comfortable than others. With students both in the building and online, students in both settings have to advocate for themselves; that takes courage. As students, we utilize courage in almost everything we do. Every time someone asks a question, they have to overcome their fear of embarrassment and judgement. In math class, when someone offers to answer a question, they are overcoming their fear of getting the question wrong in front of the entire class. Maintaining good grades sometimes means working hard and giving up sleep when it feels like other kids are having fun. It takes courage, perseverance, and self-awareness to be able to do this. For me and many of my peers, it took courage to take the SAT and PSAT, given our uncertainty about everything and not knowing what was happening around us. For all students, especially now, courage involves vulnerability and the fear of failing. Sometimes in class, the teacher asks if anyone has any questions and usually, I am one of the few students to ask a question, but multiple people unmute and say that the answer to the question helped them. I think courage is an integral part of our daily lives as students, I did not notice it before, but the confidence to do any action, overcoming any hesitation, however small is courage. Courage helps us learn.

Question: What is your advice to students that are dealing with anxiety?

Response from Kaya Payton, High School Junior, New York Anxiety is one of the most common mental health challenges today. In this day and age, dealing with COVID, anxiety in schools is more prevalent than ever before. It is caused by a multitude of things and many times goes undiagnosed. School causes anxiety in many students across the United States. I, along with many of my peers, have dealt with anxiety in the school setting. Whether it be from people judging you or stressing out over assignments that are due, it is incredibly difficult to deal with. The number one tip I can give you is to stop being so hard on yourself. This is easier said than done, however. When you put pressure on yourself, it is hard to allow yourself to succeed. A little bit of pressure is always necessary; otherwise, it is hard to succeed. However, too much causes many people to be stressed to do well and can cause anxiety. School is hard enough as it is, and all of the added pressure does not make it any easier. With COVID, there is even more pressure put on students due to the way we are learning. Not going to school makes it more difficult to learn and there are just so many assignments that have certain due dates. The pile up of all assignments can be very stressful for students to handle. My tip for this is to write out all assignments. By doing this, you are aware of what you have to accomplish, and it is all written out for you. This makes it easier to manage time and the assignments essentially become less stressful which leads to less anxiety.

Take a break from the source of anxiety. This is hard to do, however, mental health is important and must be treated the right way. Taking a small break from school can be scary, but in the end, it is bound to help. Your health will always come above school. Remember that you are also not alone in dealing with this; there are multiple students that face anxiety when it comes to school.

Question: How do large and small leaps of courage help youth to move ahead?

Response from Audrey Choi, High School Freshman, Pennsylvania Courage is something that everyone possesses. Everyone needs it to keep moving forward. There are many ways that people use courage in their day-to-day life. For some, it is as simple as mustering up the courage to walk across a busy street, while others use courage to present a big project for their class. It can be finding the courage to fight for what’s right in the world or to speak up for something that you know is wrong or something that you’re passionate about.

Courage can be found all around you. It keeps you going. Courage helps you to step out of your comfort zone, it helps you to push for what is right, or to watch that scary movie you have been wanting to watch. It is never the same for everyone, but it helps us all to simply keep moving forward to pursue our goals in life no matter what those may be.

Question: What are some courage building strategies you recommend when considering personal achievements and goal setting?

Response from Julia Murphy, College Senior, Rhode Island Fears related to achievement and goal-reaching are increasingly common in our society and education systems that prioritize results and performance. A strategy that I have found effective when I feel like I’m behind the curve or not where I want to be is maintaining a focus on the things that I am doing right and well, no matter how big or small they may be.


Celebrating life’s daily achievements, such as sending the email that’s been on your to-do list, prioritizing time for self-care, or even just making it through a busy day, really helps you feel accomplished and helps you remember that you’re doing your best on any given day. When we celebrate the little things, the big things start to feel much more attainable.

References

Berger, R. (2017, October 25). The importance of academic courage. Edutopia.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. Penguin Random House.

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead. Penguin Random House.

Comstock, B. (2018). Imagine it forward: Courage, creativity, and the power of change. Penguin Random House.

Kaur, S. (2018, June 14). When youth speak the world should listen. Global Partnership for Education.

Mason, C., Asby, D., Wenzel, M., Volk, K., & Staeheli, M. (2021). Compassionate school practices: Fostering children’s mental heath and well-being. Corwin.

McLaughlin, D. (2018, February 23). It’s time for adults to start listening to young people. Huffington Post.