Building superheroes: power, freedom & responsibility

You say you don’t want the responsibility? Guess what? People like us…we don’t get a choice. ~ Peter Parker

power, freedom & responsibility

Spider-Man: power, freedom & responsibility

One of the current favourite lounge room anthems in my house is ‘Superheroes’ by The Script. It’s about struggling through adversity into strength: turning “the pain into power … That’s how a superhero learns to fly”: .

How do we encourage our own children and students to fly and to build resilience, grit and a sense of individual responsibility for their own flight?

I recently stumbled across a Twitter chat which was around the topic of ‘learning differently’. It seemed to be focused on students who were considered high risk, high needs or ‘different’ learners. Having worked with students with cerebral palsy, students considered ‘at-risk’, and in mainstream and not-so mainstream classrooms, my reaction was: but we all learn differently from each other. So isn’t trying to address ‘learning differently’ just addressing the needs and contexts of all of our students, whatever those are? Can’t we help all individuals to grow and fly in ways appropriate to each of them?

My own approach to differentiation and independence-building is often one which allows student choice and self-direction, which in turn lets me work with students in more individualised ways. Maria Montessori said that a teacher’s greatest mark of success is when “the children are now working as if I do not exist.” If students are to fly, they need to be able to get there on their own. How can we help build their superpowers?

my three superheroes

my three superheroes

Voltaire’s line ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ was made famous by Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben. It is a line I borrow from when reminding students of their responsibilities in the classroom and in their own learning, adapted for my purposes (and also reflecting the sentiment of something my parents used to say to me):

With great freedom comes great responsibility.

In other words, the more freedom of choice a student has, the more they are expected to act responsibly. As students prove their self-managing, self-motivating, independent capacity for action and thought, so they will have more freedom, and the responsibility that comes with that.

Students tend to connect with and remember that line, maybe because their first reaction is one of correcting me, telling me I have the line wrong; they know it from Spider-Man and they defend the original. Yet they are also reminded that they need to earn their freedom by proving their capacity for self-directedness.

I discovered, after using this line for years, that Eleanor Roosevelt did actually say that “with freedom comes responsibility.” She asserted that freedom requires that we grow up and carry our own weight. Being free-choosing, free-thinking, free-acting citizens of the classroom or the world comes with the responsibility of being thoughtful, ethical, independent individuals, traits often modelled by superheroes.

How do you remind your children or students of the responsibilities which come with freedom? How do you enact your own duty as an educator or a parent? A duty expressed by Hargreaves, Boyle and Harris in Uplifting Leadership as a “lasting legacy” of raising others up, so that, when we step aside “the good work should still go on”?

How do you help your superheroes find their power and learn to fly?

Do you know what is the greatest gift anyone can receive in his lifetime? The greatest gift we can receive is to have the chance,  just once in our lives, to make a difference. ~ Dr Strange talking to Peter Parker