navigating life as a student (or anything else)

NOTE: A blog about self-image is percolating, and will be out in a while. It will include a reveal of the aura photo I had taken in Sedona recently. In the meantime. . .

Below is the first post I wrote for my Morris Tutoring blog in 2010. We were attempting to recover after the 2008 recession, and out of desperation I reluctantly wrote this and one other post. I fretted over both obsessively, convinced that writing blogs was akin to rocket science, then stopped blogging entirely until the next slump in 2019. At that point, I enlisted the help of my friend Ken, and between the two of us, we managed to produce one post almost every week for over a year. There are some gems among them, and so now and then I’ll post one. Clearly, this one was geared toward parents and students, but I continue to return to this model when thinking through relationships of all kinds.

I’m grateful for the practice I got writing MTA posts over the past year. Turns out writing a blog is not as onerous a task as I imagined. I never balk at a chance to talk, as those of you who know me would attest. As it turns out, writing is just another way of talking, with the enormous advantage of being able to edit before blurting.

Life as a human being can be complex, confusing and overwhelming, so I love learning about ways to make sense of people’s social behavior (including my own).  David Kantor’s four-player model of the roles that people play as they interact with others is, for me, one of the most useful.

A psychologist who specializes in understanding systems and communications, Kantor came up with a framework to use in analyzing and improving interpersonal interactions. He was specifically thinking about business teams that need to work together, but I have found the model useful for many other settings. I often use this paradigm as I examine my own relationships with family members and friends, and when I observe the interactions of others.

Kantor noted that individuals take one of four positions as they interact with others.  They may be movers, followers, opposers or bystanders.  Very simply, movers initiate, followers (obviously) follow, opposers challenge and bystanders observe (or sometimes just opt out). [See the link above for more explanation and a list of the upsides and downsides of each position.]

This is not like a horoscope or a magazine quiz.  The idea is not for a person to say, “I’m a ________.” Ideally, a person learns to be comfortable in all four positions and to be flexible enough to move among them as appropriate for each situation that arises.

I have occasionally explained this model to students (generally ages 12 and up) when I see that their behavior is not allowing them to get what they want – good grades, parental approval, close friends, etc.  The framework gives us a vocabulary for talking about their situation and figuring out how the way they are behaving affects the outcomes they get.  (Younger kids may not be able to understand the model and see how it applies to them, but it’s useful for parents to think about as they watch their children grow and develop.)

Successful students take on the mover role with enthusiasm when it comes to academics. They also need to be followers at times.  We educators and parents hope they do so only when they have good role models to follow: trusted teachers, coaches, student leaders and peers.  It is crucial that they also be able to oppose, to speak up when peers act in ways that are inappropriate or destructive, or to express divergent opinions in class discussions. The bystander position is called for in situations like listening to a teacher clarify a point for a classmate: the bystanding student is not a part of the conversation so they stay out of it, but if they’re paying attention, their reflection on what’s being discussed may contribute to their understanding of the topic being discussed. Allowing others to have the teacher’s attention is a positive (and courteous) way of being a bystander.

Adolescents often see the world in absolute terms.  They classify themselves and those around them as permanently playing one role or another — sometimes because they do!  In high school, my daughter would say things like, “Well, of course he gets good grades, he’s [insert name of another student].”  However, problems arise when students get stuck, find a comfort zone in one or two positions and feel unable to move freely into the others.

As tutors, we commonly see students “get stuck” in the bystander role.  They desperately want to “be in the driver’s seat” — sometimes in a literal way, as getting a driver’s license is usually a high priority — but they are reluctant or unsure of how to take control of their lives when it comes to academics. Similar problems arise for students who are good at following others’ leads, but not at initiating action. The challenge of finding one’s own voice and strength can continue well into adulthood.

Born movers, however, sometimes need to work just as hard to learn when and how to follow or bystand.  If they don’t, to use the metaphor above, they become backseat drivers!  And of course, parents and teachers all know the frustration of being around an adolescent who is stuck in the opposer role.  The lucky ones know what a relief it is when it turns out to be a phase, not a lifestyle.

Using Kantor’s model as a way of understanding ourselves and helping children to see their tendencies objectively is not meant to solve problems, but to clarify them.  Learning to recognize and get beyond our instinctive tendencies is part of maturation. I’m still getting there. . . how about you?

PERSONAL REFLECTION: I tend to most naturally take the role of mover or opposer. That has not always been true. Socially, until college, I was more of a follower or bystander, but as I matured (very slowly, I might add), I grew more aware of my power.

Now that I am mostly retired, I am experiencing the relief of playing more a more passive role. I continue to move and oppose quite a bit (just ask Richard), but retirement has taken away the need (or compulsion) for me to be constantly moving and occasionally opposing. I’m more willing to follow or bystand. It’s been great.

A couple of my latest puzzles — the one on the left was devilish AND I managed to lose one piece. I’m working on the quilt one right now — it’s delightful. My dreams will be full of color. . .

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