I’ve come across a thing called Self-Determination Theory (SDT) in my research. Basically, SDT suggests that people are best served when the have three basic needs fulfilled: autonomy, relatedness, and competency. It got me thinking about being a parent and an educator.
SDT is set on the foundation that any one of the basic needs unfulfilled has the power to turn out our lesser characters; bring up anxiety, anger, frustration; cause us to think and act in ways we would otherwise not, or rather not.
I blew past autonomy and relatedness for this reflection, and went straight for competency.
SDT proposes that if you don’t feel competent you don’t feel good.
When I read that, I thought about how frequently parents and educators have opportunities to feel not competent, they’re arguably unlimited!
There’s so much going on in every single moment. There are always forms to fill out, sandwiches to make & cut in triangles, baths to run, teeth to brush, homework to do (I mean help with), plans to make, papers to review, assessments to administer, data to process, progress to monitor, and so on.
Parents and educators have tons to do, and because we serve kids, we want to do every bit of it really well…we expect ourselves to. We expect ourselves to get it all right all of the time, and when we don’t get it all right we tend to be really hard on ourselves. The thing is, no one could get all that stuff all right, all of the time.
In the light of the really critical nature of our jobs and the fact that we have to move so incredibly quickly, it’s relatively easy for parents and educators to feel less then competent sometimes. Incompetent even, and if SDT holds, and feeling incompetent gets us cranky, maybe we should re-frame what competence looks like in the typhoon of child development.
Maybe it’s relative?
Maybe we’re doing an ok job after all? Maybe even a good one?
Walking down the hall the other day a first-grader approached me and asked, “Mr. Berg, do you have a daughter?”
“I do, indeed,” I replied.
Her face scrunched up a bit, a tear squeezed our of her eye and slid slowly down her cheek, and in a bit of a shaky voice she followed up with, “Can you help me with my ponytail?”
I could, I did, and it went really well! Competent!
Then, yesterday, two of my four kids wanted to go on a bike ride to 7-Eleven to get a couple of Slurpees and some chips. This is actually one of my core competencies! It turned out awesome!
We stocked up at 7-Eleven and ate our bounty at the local skate park. We rode those bikes like professional BMX racers. We let the wind blow our hair back, we laughed, and we had a blast! Fun with my children, quality time, spoiling dinner with unnecessary treats, and smiles all around…check, check, check, and check! Competent!
My incredibly wise wife caught me overwhelmed recently, feeling like I was missing the mark in every direction, and so she reminded me that there’s lots of good happening all around me, all the time.
There’s so much positive progress to be found in the lives of the kids I serve at school and at home, and even with the bumps along the way, that’s holistically good. When I remember that, I smile.
When we take the time to remind ourselves of things that we’re doing well we give ourselves a boost of energy, one that might have otherwise been zapped, even if only temporarily, by the importance of what we do and the incredible pressure we tend to put on ourselves.
Parents and educators, next time you’re feeling stressed-out or frustrated, you might consider untangling a ponytail, or even a dinner-spoiling bike ride to 7-eleven, and if you do, you might also consider taking time to recognize and celebrate just how incredibly competent you are!
In it together for the kids!
Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.