Supporting Adolescent Cognitive & Socioemotional Development

Santrock (2013) suggests that one manner in which to support adolescent’s socioemotional development is to “help adolescents better understand the nature of differences, diversity, and value conflict”.  As a classroom teacher, I approach this in different ways.  I try to find diverse texts for us to explore, to increase ethnic relevancy in addition to student interests, etc.  I think this has a two-fold purpose: 1) to ensure we as a class are respecting all cultural backgrounds with importance and 2) to increase students’ worldview and understanding of not just similar, but also differing, perspectives.  At my previous school, we had a weekly ‘Cultural Competency Corner’, which provides short-term goals or objectives, food for thought, or a to-do to ensure we are embracing differences on campus.

In terms of cognitive development, Santrock (2013) suggests we can ‘break down the barriers between school and work to reduce the high school dropout rate’.  Last Spring, my then-school not only focused on career-readiness (as an alternative to college-readiness) through the vocational program, they tried to provide real-life experiences for students outside of campus.  For example, they expanded the ‘Career Internship’ program, an elective course that students can take seventh period, to allow students to receive a paycheck instead of being limited to an internship, as long as classroom criteria, such as observations and so forth, are met.  There was already an early-release program for students who needed to work, but that created graduation issues due to being short on credit requirements, or work shifts creeping into additional school hours, increasing truancy rates.  The new program showed students that the school recognized their need to provide for their families and the responsibility exhibited through their full-time job, but also provided a structure and support that tied it to their academic performance and helped them achieve at school.  In essence, ‘home life’ and ‘school life’ are no longer competing entities.  Students must maintain a passing GPA to remain in the Career Internship Program; so, many students begin to make more efforts in their regular courses to ensure they were reaping the dual benefit of the special program.  Within the classroom, I continued to encourage relevancy of material.  I had a particular group of students that predominantly planned to enter the welding or automotive fields after graduation, and see school as disconnected from those goals.  So during our unit on Transcendentalism, instead of focusing on passages from Emmerson and Thoreau, we read ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft’.  Students are more willing to encounter academic challenges if they understand that you care about their interests and are making efforts to engage them on a personal level, instead of based on a checklist of standards or a traditional script.

Earlier this year, I was involved in another situation which showcases that there are many people, not just teachers and parents, who can provide a support network for adolescents.  At a parent conference for a struggling student, his boss (the owner of a hardware store) attended.  She recognized his potential in the company after graduation, but also became privy to his lack of academic motivation, so she tutored him on-the-clock until he was able to turn around his grades.  I saw such a positive difference in this student over the course of just two weeks, and it was amazing that someone cared in that manner.

Santrock, J. W. (2013). Children. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

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