I was born in Canada, but at the age of 8, my parents moved back to Greece. There, I grew up in a small village. I didn’t speak the language when I entered the 3rd grade. Living in a small village of 1000, we grew up without any real restrictions. The village watched over us. At a very young age, I gravitated towards people who inspired me with their stories. When we moved back to Canada, 9 years later, I was in grade 11, and I quickly realized how different life was here. I had lost the “village” that shaped me and had such an influence over me. Looking back now, I was desperate for connection, and I found that in teachers, mentors, and colleagues.
Because I wasn’t involved in sports, and I was not only hesitant, but unaware of opportunities in high school, I flew under the radar, not realizing my potential till after I began my undergrad and then my teaching degree. I am not unique in my situation. I have taught for 16 years and I teach students like me every day. With classrooms overflowing, teachers’ course load and workload expanding, programs being cut, it is easy for any student to underachieve; worse off, they never really get to realize their uniqueness and envision their future.
At home, parents make tremendous efforts to involve teens in activities that instill leadership and resilience, but, if you’re like me, an extreme introvert who preferred to do art, write, and think for long hours, those leadership, resilience, and personal growth skills won’t come till later in life. Parents, of course, are the most influential role models in someone’s life, but teenagers face so many challenges at school, on a personal level, and at self-regulating, that it can put a strain on their relationships.
When I lived in my village, I was more receptive to other family members, or friends, offering guidance, than I was receiving it from my own parents. I needed a different perspective and I needed to feel like I had the ability to navigate my own life. Teenagers challenge the status quo, and I did just that myself. But, because I was part of a community, I learned how to form relationships and be open to guidance and challenges by others. I learned to trust my own intuition. I found my voice.
I believe that a child can’t be raised solely by one or two adults. It takes a village. This is why the school system serves for more than just educating children, it serves to form relationships and grow as a being. When I started doing my own personal work, in my masters in leadership through the Indigenous ways of knowing, I started to wonder how would my life have been if I continued to have access to a community or the access to the knowledge we have today, and better yet, how empowered teens would be if they were given the chance to develop leadership characteristics and attributes at an early age, either through their family circle, school circle, or community.
What I’m doing here is nothing new, I am simply targeting an audience that I am very skilled in communicating with, teenagers, and I am the vehicle between thought leaders and their unique experience. I empower teens and their families to create a road map for success by teaching successful leadership strategies that are applied in the workplace, and I combine it with the Indigenous ways of knowing, rooted in how to unpack their own personal narratives and help teens find their voice through personal storytelling. I share knowledge from my own experience, from experts in the field, and our community, to empower teachers, teens, and families to strategize towards success. In a sense, I am your village.
The lockdown and school closures was as traumatic for teachers, as it was for students. Teachers were either sitting in empty classrooms, or at their kitchen tables, staring at their virtual classrooms on their screen that, most of the time, had only their reflection on it. I felt unable to reach out to my students. Slowly, they started falling off the radar, unable to learn on their own without support. There was no better time to reflect on the power of relationships in learning.
Teens experienced tremendous pain. They missed their friends and teachers. Relationships are fundamental in learning and thriving. We know this all too well when students are being bullied, excluded, or have unhealthy home environments. They are unable to learn. Trauma impedes the learning process. This reinforced my firm belief on how powerful relationships were in learning; to feel seen, heard, valued, and safe. Of course, I spent weeks and weeks on the phone, considering I had 120 students, and even though we spent most of the time chatting about the world and life, it made them feel like they still had a connection to their school family.
Parents were taking to social media to find resources, and so I created a Facebook group where I would do just that. I flooded the page with resources I gathered from my colleagues’ pages. Of course, as you can imagine, this was also overwhelming for parents, who were working fulltime from home. So off I went to create more specific support materials. I started sharing videos or tips for parents, which I called “home coaching,” and I started writing the Teenacers blog. This shift required me to start listening to what the parent struggles were. I joined many parent groups on social media and I started paying attention.
My growth came from being able to support teachers and parents, as much as I support their teens. I think this was when it all came full circle for me; the village circle, the Indigenous ways of knowing circle, the importance of community. It was a shift I didn’t anticipate, since most of my work was academic and leadership coaching with teens, I have now shifted to guiding the teachers and parents along this journey as well, and cooperating with other organizations and individuals who are eager to help coach teens in becoming empowered, resilient, and successful.
How has Teenacers changed and adapted since I began and how do I think Teenacers will adapt to future changes and the younger generation?
When I started out, my sole purpose was to help teens. I met with parents at the start of our journey, and then updated the parents regarding any concerns that arouse. Over the last few months, I’ve realized that helping teachers and parents must be part of the equation. When teachers and parents have some concrete tools and scripts to implement with their teens, they feel empowered. Imagine it like a parent-teacher conference that has gone really well, and you wish you could talk for a little while longer, past your 10-minute time slot. When everyone is on the same page, only then can learning and personal development take place. This is how my work shifted into coaching teachers and parents.
With our current situation, the ability to meet face to face has become very difficult. Therefore, my work for the time being is shifting to teacher, teen, and parent group coaching. I am also beginning a series of interviews where I will be showcasing experts in their field and how they can help teens achieve success, and I am working with teachers to prevent burnout. I am imagining it as a virtual mentoring platform. A chance for experts to showcase their knowledge and influence parents, teens, educators, and youth leaders in order to shape the way we teach, communicate with, and inspire teens. My mission for the future goes back to the Indigenous ways of knowing; storytelling, teachings, and mentorship. A great quote by Frederick Douglas sums it up, “It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men,” and we are all in this together at Teenacers.