When Things Don’t Go as Planned

by Madison Werley

The foundation on which Open Doors was founded is that learning is enjoyable when done by choice, and that teens should have the option to pursue whichever passions they desire.

Our staff believes that those who take control of their education will get much more out of it, which is the guiding principle behind everything we do. We are here simply to assist the teens in their pursuit of education. Sometimes this means through teaching, yes, but more so our staff serves to guide, ignite, support, motivate, and inspire our members. We like to challenge the teens, to push them to be their best and help them make important connections as they explore their desires.

In theory, this all sounds great, right? I wholeheartedly support these ideas, and get inspired myself just thinking about them. But sometimes, it’s a real challenge to put this theory into practice.

Dr. Seuss had it right! At Open Doors, we believe teens should have the power to decide which way to go.
Dr. Seuss had it right! At Open Doors, we believe teens should have the power to decide which way to go.

As someone with an educational background unlike the kind that happens here, I often need a reminder that our members are, ultimately, self-directed. This means I must accept that some of the things exciting and inspiring to me can have the opposite effect on our teens. This means I must accept that sometimes the members will want my help, and sometimes they will simply want nothing to do with me. This means I must accept that the control is not mine, and that the teens have to power to say yes, or to say no. And all of that is not only okay, but encouraged here at Open Doors.

The past few weeks, Rebecca, Jacob and I were planning a mid-winter change of events. We wanted to create a week to switch things up, have some fun, and spend quality time as a group. After a lot of brainstorming on Rebecca and Jacob’s part, we decided on the idea of “Masquerade Island Coup d’etat,” a playful way to remind the teens of the power they hold here, and to hopefully get them to work together to create the atmosphere they want for Open Doors.

After a lot of planning between the three of us, including creating a new game from scratch (not an easy thing to do!), I went into the week with some excited jitters. I was so hopeful that everything we worked on would go over well with the teens, and that they would have fun and bond together like we hoped.

In our created game, Jacob and Rebecca got to try on some good looks.
In our created game, Jacob and Rebecca got to try on some pretty good looks.

Well, to make a long story short, nothing went quite as we planned. Our game did not go over well, our plans for Wednesday fell through altogether, and the whole week looked different than we intended. And yet somehow, at the end of the day Thursday, Rebecca, Jacob and I looked at each other, exhausted but relieved, as we realized the teens may not have followed our plans, but instead they took their own path to team-building and working together.

See, the teens really know what they’re doing here. They’re a group of motivated and talented kids, and they know what they’re good at and what they enjoy. These are things that we, as a staff, know and accept, but sometimes we just seem to forget. While we had the best intentions with our plans for the week, we were leaving out an integral part–what the teens really wanted.

But it all worked out. Why? Not because we had it right, but because the teens had it right. Our teens understood the purpose of the week, and though they strayed from our original plans, they found their own way to that point with little need for our guidance, staying true to their self-directed nature.

“Masquerade Island Coup d’etat” was exactly the reminder I needed. There are always exciting and powerful things happening here at Open Doors, even though they often look different than what I am used to or what I expect. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

This post is part of our “Our Stories” series, which aims to explore the personal experiences and journeys of Open Doors’ members and staff, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

‘Snow’vember Happenings

This month, we had a first for Open Doors–a snow day! And in November, no less! Amidst the unpredictable Michigan weather, however, our teens have still found time for some fun, hands on learning. Check it out below:

Our teen members enjoy the homey feel to our space.
Our teen members enjoying the homey feel to our space.
The duct tape class is creating a homemade hammock--made entirely out of duct tape!
The duct tape class is creating a homemade hammock–made entirely out of duct tape!
The artist and his work: a fun, one-of-a-kind centerpiece!
The artist and his work: a fun, one-of-a-kind centerpiece made by one of our members!
Another view of the centerpiece. Isn't it great?
Another view of the centerpiece. Isn’t it great?
One of the classes offered at Open Doors is Zentangle, a relaxing and meditative form of art.
One of the classes offered at Open Doors is Zentangle, a relaxing and meditative form of art.
Our members are the greatest!
Our members are the greatest!
The finishing touches on the duct tape hammock!
Time for the finishing touches on the duct tape hammock!
Madison and the interns hard at work! Who needs a desk, anyway?
Madison and the interns hard at work. Who needs a desk, anyway?
Fun with light and shadows.
Fun with light and shadows.

As always, if you would like to see more, please join us at one of our open houses, held the second Monday of every month. Or contact a staff member. Or simply stop by. We would love to share what we’re doing with you and your teen!

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Fall 2014 — Classes And Open House!

(Save the date:  Open House on Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m.  More below.)

We’re so pleased to start our Fall 2014 Semester with some amazing teens.

Love these amazing teens.
Yes, even this guy.

During this first couple of weeks, the teens can attend any class they want — this helps them judge whether a class is a fit for their learning goals or not.  Then we can settle on a schedule for the rest of the semester.  Options for classes include Mechanical Autopsy, Film Studies, Powerful Possibilites (a Political Science class), and more. (Click on a class below to see the full title.)

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Film Studies with Bruce Winegar.

We have teens from very different backgrounds, and so we’ve already had opportunities to talk over differences, clarify everyone’s comfort zone, and reach out to make amends.  It’s not always easy, but at Open Doors, resolving communication issues is a major part of the learning.

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Talking LEGO after the Mechanical Autopsy class.
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Brian Leugs, instructor, looking wise about Mechanical Autopsy.
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Rebecca Kirk, Director, crafting and talking with teens on a chilly September day.

Our next Open House will be Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m. — come see for yourself!  We’ll be hosting in partnership with our neighbor Continuum Healing and their potluck dinner.  You can tour the center, ask questions of the staff, look at example learning plans, and see our members’ work and class materials.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Teen Shares of the Week

In yesterday’s post, we shared a wonder-filled poem, and asked if you had shared something amazing with a teen you care about that day.

But as we were reviewing our last week at Open Doors, we remembered that our teens have shared some pretty amazing things, too.

Like this:

And this:

And this, found by a Brony member:

New wonders never cease when you’re surrounded by a bunch of creative and fun teens.  Come find out for yourself, or support our teens.