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.

An Ode to the Handy Person’s Secret Weapon

As nearly everyone knows, duct tape is like a secret weapon when you’re trying to fix things.  It’s also becoming the medium of choice for many artists and crafty types.

“I don’t believe in a lot of things, but I do believe in duct tape. — Miles Straume on LOST

“Duct tape is like The Force: it has a light side and a dark side and it binds the galaxy together.” — Carl Zwanzig

“Man, I love duct tape. I love how it tapes. I love the sound it makes. I love saying it. Duct tape. Duct tape. Duct tape. Duct tape. Duct tape. Duct tape…” — Deadpool

When one of our new members came in with a set of duct tape armor she had made herself, we loved her creativity and independence.



Everyone had to get in on the duct-tape-armor action:


Gotta see for yourself how we create such a safe space for teens to explore and be all of who they are?  Give us a call or come to an event.  (Bring your own duct tape!)


Free! Natural Learning Talk

Come on out to Open Doors this Thursday (tomorrow) and hear a free talk about natural learning and how it works.  Amy Carpenter Leugs has spoken at the Toronto Unschooling Conference and at the We Shine Unschooling Conference in upstate New York.  Now we have a chance to hear her in Grand Rapids.

Natural Learning:  Can We Really Learn without School?

All teens and tweens are great learners, if they can build upon their strengths and interests. Featured speaker Amy Carpenter Leugs is a former teacher and the mother of three boys, ages 10 – 19, who learn without school. How is it done? Can teens succeed in life without school? Come join us at this free event and find out. Light snacks will be served, and we’ll have some fun, too!

Thursday, March 20, 2014, 7-8:30 p.m. at

Open Doors Center for Self-directed Teens | 1324 Lake Drive SE, Suite 1 | Grand Rapids MI 49506

616.965.6968 | opendoorsforteens@gmail.com