What Unschooling has taught me about Coaching

This talk by a 12 year old is, well, simply, inspiring. My main take away is how much I can learn from children…

For many of the reasons (that the video illuminates) about the wonderful way the young human being, kids, are naturally in the world, we have decided that we would pursue Unschooling as a way of life while our children are young.

As you might have guessed our children don’t go to school. It’s a decision we came to as a family over the course of a long journey that started 10 years ago when our twin daughters were born. They did go to school, as did their younger brother, but they don’t go to a schooling environment any more.

They did. In fact the journey to the place we are now where they don’t go to school took a few years, several steps and much head scratching, reflection and anxiety as we parents had to slough off our conditioning and fears.

It was easy for me at one level. I am a coach. I specialise in working as a recovery and wellness coach. This means that I am interested in working with people looking for or in recovery from some kind of severe health challenge or behaviour that is damaging their well-being. Now the word coach means lots of different things too many people so I will set it out briefly like this.

Our coaches believe that the most powerful and important agent for developing wellness and recovery is the person themselves. That they are the experts in their own lives. As well, we believe that if they can reactivate or deepen their natural curiosity for who they are, the world around them, why they think the way they think, how they make choices and what they learn from the impact of those choices then this will be a powerful force for making the changes in their lives they are looking for.

We believe that human beings are always in a state of change and that this change and growth is one of the most critical aspect of relationships.

And I have observed that when many people say they wish to help you they may mean it but what they really want to do is provide you with what they think is their best answer to your problem as they see it.

We believe that people (especially adults) do not like being told what to do by others. How to live their lives, what to think, how to behave and what is important to them in their lives.

This seems to me to be a fairly accurate description of kids.

They are endlessly curious, learn through a mix of interaction with the physical world, relationships with people, each other. Are constantly changing and growing, are emotionally free and changeable.

And don’t like being told what to do!

So in my day job I spend all my time considering these things and their impact on how people develop their wellbeing and recoveries and how so many of the qualities that seemed to work for people were so like the qualities of children.

No surprise then that I started to notice a decade ago when I started a family that what seemed to be such a powerful philosophy for the coaching programme I was developing was almost entirely opposed to how education seemed to be offered to children.

Kids were not be curious unless it was about what the adults wanted them to be curious about.

Kids were to do what they were told and conform to the organisational needs of the school which were meeting the needs, not of the kids, but of the framework the school had decided it had to deliver.

Knowledge of facts, info knowledge was considered the highest kind of  learning and testing the way to establish the success of that learning.  This knowledge was and still is entirely skewed towards facts and statistics. Other kinds of knowledge are treated as less important. For instance you can’t really imagine a school dropping maths from it curriculum in favour of art classes ……could you?

School was an ongoing competition producing endless experiences of losing and winning.

Collaboration seen mainly as a tool to develop winning teams to beat the others.

And emotions were divided up into the ‘good’ ones and the ‘unacceptable’ ones. Pretty soon children learn that all of their being is NOT welcome at school.

In working as a coach with adults I often heard a familiar theme or set of themes. People not trusting themselves. Wanting others to take responsibility for themselves as they did not trust their own intuition and voice. People caught up in a cycle of trying to succeed according to not their own definition of success but the definitions of others and their cultures. When they ‘failed’ they would feel less than, angry and depressed, as they felt they had failed.

People who were caught up in a deep depression about the meaning and purpose of their lives and unable to use a toolkit that all humans have to change it.

Over time I began to see the connection between how we school children and how they see themselves as adults. Mostly people seem to have survived their childhood and school often reported as an ordeal they had to survive.

As I watched my young children struggling to find their feet in schools I saw a light dim in them and anxiety surface at levels and ages where I instinctively knew they did not need to be.

I saw them being drawn into a world where children were divided up into ‘good’ and ‘not good’ based primarily on their willingness and ability to conform, obey and accept something they had not part of building and have no say in changing. They had no voice unless it was a voice of approval for the system.

They began to fear adults. Many people would say that is good. I don’t agree.

At some point I realised that what my children would be experiencing would be in direct contradiction to my observations about how humans and children really are.

The ideas and approaches we use at home together as a family are the same as the professional ideas, approaches and skills I use and teach as a coach. They are knitted into the natural state we are all born into. A state of being primed to fulfil our potential and human purpose if we are able to find the nutrients and substance we need across all levels of life.

As a coach working with someone to support them in their recovery and wellness journey my main role is to be an environment in which they can grow, learn, be present, gain insight, be respected, grow strong and find and deepen themselves in whatever way they so wish and are called to do.

This is the same way in which we hold an environment for our children. And of course we put the roof over their head and hold adult roles and responsibilities that are required of us and which we agreed to do when we started the journey to parenthood.

So our kids are learning all the time. As I still am. As the people I coach are. As we all are. The real question is who’s deciding what we learn? And what do adults need to unlearn?

The answer lies in energy and curiosity. More on that in the next chapter.

From “Unschooling the Kids – Out Soon”
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  • Luke Bakker says:

    Great observations Anthony. Thank God you noticed!

  • Hi Ant,
    I enjoyed the TED Talk – and reading your comments. I very much agree that education should be about ‘….an environment in which children can grow, learn, be present, gain insight, be respected, grow strong and find and deepen themselves in whatever way they so wish and are called to do.’ … and that this applies very much to adults too!
    I think cultivating a daily meditation practice can be very helpful here, as it creates silent space in which we can notice the stories and conditioned responses that can trap us in unhelpful ways of thinking and responding.
    In that clear, open space of just being present it is much easier to notice and drop the stories, to gain insight, and to hear and respond to that inner call from the true self ….
    Simon x

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