Free Advice Girl
Lisa Podell, Free Advice Girl chatting away with someone in Washington Square. Here’s how her site describes what she does: “Free Advice Girl sits with an open presence, ready to talk to anyone who approaches. Any question, asked with genuine curiosity is grounds for discussion. “How can you give advice on any topic?” Free Advice Girl doesn’t tell anybody what to do or what to think which allows for limitless possibilities.”
By Kay Feathers QuailBellMagazine.com
Last week we explored how to give advice without giving advice: one of my favorite topics!
What’s so gratifying is to see these students walk into The Advice Project, carrying with them their life stories, challenges, and what they are often told are “distractions,” and to have a learning space where they can take on new skills to effectively address what’s actually happening within the context of their lives.
I have always loved teaching lessons based on honoring the student as the expert, their lives as the content, and building from there. Through this lens, each student offers a wealth of data that, with this curriculum, can be utilized into the lesson.
Memorable classroom moment: The students had just learned the difference between open-ended and close-ended questions. Each student took turns asking me an open-ended question based on a real life experience I needed advice on. It was a bold move, but I had never seen better listening, engagement, empathy, and application of the newly learned skill as I had on this day, week 4 of The Advice Project.
This week, The Advice Project focused on personal dreams and actions we can create to achieve them. We also explored the challenges that hold us back.
“Class, what are some obstacles that stand in your way of getting what you want on a daily basis?”
Obstacle #1: Just then, a student entered the classroom in tears expressing there had been a physical altercation between two students. The girls immediately huddled around their friend with concern. Meredith knew exactly how to respond and class quickly continued.
“Yes, the subway being too crowded or delayed is a great example of environmental obstacles that get in the way on a daily basis…”
Obstacle #2: A teacher entered the classroom to announce the upcoming talent show and, as a way to increase interest, proceeded to ask the students what talents they were going to share. Again, Meredith did not appear phased by this distraction and quickly regained the focus of the class.
“Fear of not being good enough is an excellent example of how our emotions and fears can hold us back from taking action.”
Obstacle #3: All eyes turned to the square glass window as a student knocked on the door to excitedly shout “Happy Birthday!” to one of the students in our class. Meredith firmly told him to keep on walking and then class continued.
In a flash, the 30-minute class was over. What happened to the meticulously orchestrated lesson that Meredith and I had spent hours developing? I felt that tinge of disappointment and began to doubt the success of today’s class. But then I thought back to the content of the lesson, which allowed me to shift my thinking.
When we define success as to whether something went “as planned,” we set ourselves up for failure. Obstacles are going to happen and when they do, we have the opportunity to choose how we want to respond.
So did the lesson go as planned? No…and that’s OK! Were the students able to identify a goal, create one action to achieve it, and name obstacles that stand in their way? Surprisingly, in 30-minutes…Yes! I attribute much of this success to Meredith’s choices in the face of these challenges.
When you are clear about what you want and committed to that goal, it will inform the choices you make in the heat of any unpredictable moment. It wasn’t the path we intended but we still achieved the goal of the day and that, my friends, is success!
THE ADVICE PROJECT: WEEK 1 OF 8
Today marks the completion of Week 1 of The Advice Project. I am bursting with both excitement and intrigue at what these next two months will bring!
I have always been passionate about education and exploring ways to create lifelong learning in the classroom. To see Free Advice Girl lead me back into the school to team-teach with innovative educators such as Meredith Towne-Devito, and to create curriculum that explores topics such as advice, communication, identity, advocacy, goals/dreams and storytelling, is a higher-level gift to which I am most grateful.
When Free Advice Girl, the documentary was released, I was hesitant to share such a personal story for fear of how others would judge me. But I was in good hands with Team Blink as they did a fabulous job in depicting a sensitive story in the most respectful and mindful of ways. In the past year, I have heard from numerous individuals about the positive and powerful results that have transpired from them watching the documentary, that my confidence has only strengthened. And today was one of those days…
Today was the first time a group of students watched the documentary. Talk about terrifying! Students are known for stating their opinions, loud and clear! I witnessed these 9th grade young women, who have been bubbly, talkative, and at times distracted, sit quietly and engaged for the duration of the film. Without being prompted, comments and dialogue filled with curiosity, honesty and openness transpired amongst the students…
-I like seeing you give free advice because you can tell it makes you happy.
-That happened to me…
- Yeah, I keep getting into that same situation with guys. I don’t know why it keeps happening.
- Did you press charges?
- Nah, she didn’t have to because they were able to resolve it from having a conversation about it.
- But if she couldn’t move on from it, then she may have wanted to press charges.
- It’s cool to see you took back your power and chose to leave.
This conversation confirmed that what Team Blink has created, is indeed a catalyst for powerful and transformative conversation. Students have so many stories to share and in the exploration and reflection of these stories, there is much to learn and discover about how they want to navigate through life. The goal: The Advice Project will be able to create an entry point for lifelong learning and do so in the classroom (while aligning with the Common Core!)
I can’t wait to see what unfolds in Week 2!
Dear Free Advice Girl,
I’m a painfully shy person, always have been. I’m almost 30 years old and have had two serious relationships. My ex was very dominant in our last relationship. He always told me what to do and how to act. In fact, intimacy turned into a set time and place. My current boyfriend, who I’ve been with for six months and who is absolutely amazing, has pointed out how shy I am around him. He wants me to feel more comfortable. The problem is, I don’t know what to do, what I’m ‘allowed’ to do because I honestly don’t know. I don’t want to be shy anymore, especially with this person that I love and trust. It’s time to get over it, seriously. However, I don’t know how.
Getting Past Shyness
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Dear Getting Past Shyness,
Thank you for sharing your story. It’s completely normal to feel shy in a relatively new relationship, especially when you’ve experienced something so dominant in the past. It sounds like you’re adjusting to being with someone who accepts and encourages you to be yourself. This is a wonderful shift that’s taking place!
It reminds me of when I stepped into my first acting class in college and the teacher said, “I want you to do whatever you want for the first ten minutes of class.” We all looked at each other, some with confusion, some with excitement and some with sheer panic! No one had ever given me that much freedom to choose what I wanted to do before. In school, we were often told what to do, and what rules to follow in the classroom. And now, here we were, being given the freedom of choice! Freedom is only so liberating, if we know how to utilize it and have the courage to embrace it.
So, the great new is, you have this newfound freedom. Now, how to use it! What will really help, is to take time to heal and break free from who you were in your past relationship, so you can get to a place where you love and accept yourself and then feel comfortable trusting and sharing that with others. But it starts with you first!
What’s your advice?
Dear Free Advice Girl,
I’m a full time student at a community college. It’s my final semester of college and I’m failing one of the subjects that I need to pass for my major, otherwise I’ll have to take the whole semester all over again. Should I take a break for a year or two from school then try to go back or should I push through and go for my career goal?
Girl who can’t sleep because she’s up studying
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Dear Girl who can’t sleep because she’s up studying,