Opened Doors: Week 3

What’s Your Problem?

As a teacher of teenagers, I have the opportunity to hear problems voiced daily:

“My brother smashed my phone”

“I don’t read, so I couldn’t do the homework”

“I don’t have a pencil”

“So-and-so broke up with me/my best friend”

“My parent was working, so I had to watch my younger siblings”

“They are having fish sticks for lunch, and I didn’t bring anything else to eat.  I HATE fish sticks!”

Then Matthew West came out with this awesome song: Do Something

A fabulous idea hit me, and each grade now has a theme that we focus on for the entire year.  My 7th graders focus on destinations — where they are and where they want to go.  9th grade is Dare to Dream and we write a lot of “real world” things like resumes and college applications and budgets.  8th grade had Do Something as their theme.  Second term, we spend a day or two listing the different problems they see in their personal life, their community, their nation and then their world. This project is called 99 problems and it looks like this:

After this is filled out, they are told to think about what breaks their heart, or what is the problem that most influences them or makes them the maddest.  They do research on that problem — define it, describe why it is a problem and who is/can be effected by it, when did it become a problem, what agencies are out there doing something about it already, how can people help.  Then I challenge them to DO SOMETHING to solve their problem.  They take do their project and then report back to the class about what they did.  It’s amazing how the complaining goes down in those classes for the rest of the year.

John Ortberg says, “We are defined by our biggest problem . . .  people with small souls have small problems.”

So, I ask you.  What is your biggest problem?  What is breaking your heart?  And what are you going to do about it?  “Do you have a problem worthy of your best energies, worthy of your life?”

Chapter 5 is a call to simplifying your life so all the energy goes towards solving the big problems.  People don’t like to make decisions.  Next time you go out to eat, or go to the grocery store, watch how difficult it is for (you) people to make a decision on something they are unfamiliar with.  We are afraid of making the WRONG decision, and this is something small!  What do we do when the decision is life changing?

Choosing drains us — our emotions, our energy, our passions.  Simplify!

I watch my 8th graders once they have picked a topic that is honestly and truly dear to them.  They get tunnel vision, and I get excited!  In the research part, I get told interesting tidbits of information, personal stories of how what they just read is true to them, hope in their voices as they describe what they want to do for their project.  As they step through those opened doors, they bring a passion with them that is contagious.

“The greater the door, the greater the call for wholeheartedness”

Whole hearts are put into the research.  And when we get to the project, WATCH OUT WORLD!  Some of my favorite projects include:

Animal rights activist who volunteered at an animal shelter for a weekend

Drug abuse topic who wrote a love filled letter to mom begging her to change

Suicide prevention who printed off notes of hope and encouragement and passed out 100 cards over the course of a week.

Depression sufferer who decided it was enough, and finally got some help


As much as I wish success for all of my students all of the time, not all of them do fabulous work with this project.  Until reading Chapter 6, I didn’t understand what we weren’t doing right.  It boils down to this: their problems are too small.

John talks about needing a high self-awareness (tuned in to your own thoughts and feelings; know your talents and abilities; recognize your strengths and weaknesses) and a high world-awareness (what is happening in the world around you) in order to be a Change Agent.  My students who don’t have good self-awareness or are too busy with the small problems (like not getting enough video game time last night) don’t do well in this project.

I have noticed that the ones who enjoy this challenge are wholeheartedly invested.  And then they go on to Do Something Else!  When we move on to the next unit, they are seeking ways to improve themselves or the world.  I had one year that the kids got so fired up, we did a class service project for the other two semesters as well!  My teacher heart sang with pride that year.

My question to you today is this: What is your problem?  And what are you going to do about it?  Visit Write About It about it for the free templates to get you started.

1 thought on “Opened Doors: Week 3”

  • Again – you have given me much to ponder ….. I admire the way you can meld you heart & mind, then focus on solution(s)
    Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)