Providing Support Versus Enabling

In a workshop this past week, I discussed how it is essential to create conditions where students and adults find ways to learn for themselves.  I believe that we can get caught into the trap of “spoon-feeding” where learners think something is not necessary to learn unless it is explicitly taught in a step-by-step process.

One participant made a critical point.  Is there a fine line between supporting and enabling?  Of course, we want people creating their solutions, but we also want to put them in situations where they are encouraged to do so.  I thought a lot about this and read several articles on the concept and this quote on “Supporting vs. Enabling” in relation to children:

So let’s start with a rule of thumb: support should always empower your child to move forward toward greater stability and more independence. Support will acknowledge difficulties yet not eliminate them. It’s about working with your child as he learns to overcome obstacles, manage his fears, and build confidence for the future.

As I think about this, the problem is that when people do not feel supported in education, this may lead to an environment where one might only do what they see is necessary.

So how does “support” look? 

Support means that when you take risks in pursuit of serving your students, someone has your back.

Support means providing time and mentorship to grow.

Support means adding to the person and not always adding to the plate.

My mentor taught me that there is a balance of pressure and support. If we pressure too much, people may fold. If we support too much, people may not take ownership over finding their way.  The challenge is that there is no clear distinction of when to identify each.

If we want to figure out how people can feel more supported to be successful, here is the easiest way to find out; ask them.

I am not sure where the balance of “enabling and support” lies, and I am still wrestling with the question from the participant.  What are your thoughts?  How can we better support educators in their growth and learning, while ensuring that they have the freedom and flexibility to create their way?

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