Adolescence is a time of profound biological, cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal change. In a synthesis of current research, Simpson (2001) argues that the “quality and quantity of developmental change in adolescence rival that of infancy and early childhood” (p. 30).
To further appreciate the complexity of this dynamic era, Simpson delineates 10 interrelated tasks of adolescence:
- adjusting to sexually maturing bodies and feelings
- developing and applying abstract thinking
- establishing more advanced perspective taking
- applying new coping skills with respect to decision making, problem solving, and conflict resolution
- identifying meaningful moral, value, and belief systems
- understanding and expressing more complex emotional experiences
- forming mutually close and supportive friendships
- establishing key aspects of identity
- meeting the demands of increasingly mature roles and responsibilities
- renegotiating relationships with parents and other adults with an emphasis on the balance between autonomy and connection (p. 31)
Under the best of circumstances, successfully achieving these developmental milestones is challenging, especially for students who have had significant negative academic, emotional, and social experiences at school. Many Spire students have experienced great frustration in mainstream schools, where their academic and social/emotional difficulties were exposed and their strengths underestimated or unrecognized. Consequently, they often refuse new tasks or quickly abandon any task that appears overly challenging. Further, some of our students have endured significant peer rejection, which can result in pervasive mistrust of others and difficulty in taking interpersonal risks.
It is important to realize that emotion and cognition are inextricably linked. Research shows, for example, that positive mood increases one’s attention, creative thinking, and effective problem solving, while negative mood decreases attention, comprehension and memory. In addition, each time a student learns new information, a memory is created for both the information learned and the emotion associated with that new learning. Therefore, pairing positive emotions with new learning can foster a student’s excitement and confidence for learning. This speaks to the value of our passionate, patient, and innovative teaching team whose expertise and enthusiasm for learning can engage reluctant or struggling learners.
Furthermore, The Spire School’s “Know Thyself” curriculum was created to assist our students as they overcome past negative school experiences and develop an array of skills necessary to meet the tasks of adolescence and young adulthood. Essential strategies that we discuss within a context of a supportive, educational environment include:
- Executive function skills — to help organize and manage school projects such as goal-setting and time management strategies
- Coping and stress management skills
- Strategies to regulate troublesome emotional states
- Social skills, such as conflict resolution and anger management
- Skills that involve self-regulation and maintenance, including self-care, confidence-building and self-advocacy
In an effort to help our students to extend these skills beyond the walls of The Spire School, we emphasize active collaboration with parents and professionals involved in our students’ lives. As a unified team, we can help to pave the way for students’ academic and life success.