Student Development: It’s as Easy as Learning to Ride a Bike

Do you remember when you first learned to ride a bike? If you’re a parent, do you recall teaching your kids to ride a bike? I was reflecting recently with a group of school principals about how much this experience informs us as we lead kids and increase student development.

May I remind you of the phases you experienced?

At first, you were far too young to ride the bike yourself. You were just a toddler, so mom or dad positioned you behind them or strapped you onto their lap, on their bike and took you for ride. It was exhilarating to feel the wind in your face and not have a care in the world. You concluded then that bikes were cool and you could hardly wait to ride one yourself.

Next, you finally got your own. It was only a tricycle, but still—it was yours. You took that little set of wheels out on the driveway and got used to going solo. Of course, it was bike riding on a miniature scale, but you had the experience of mounting it, accelerating, steering it, and braking all by yourself. You were satisfied for a while, but eventually you knew you had to get one of those big bikes.

Then, you finally got one. It was an actual bicycle, with two big wheels instead of three. Maybe it had cool handlebars or streamers or spokes, and it was uniquely yours. There was just one caveat. You were scared to death to get on it. So, one of your parents explained that the way you learn to ride a bike like this one is with training wheels. “Training what?” you asked? Then, you remembered seeing the slightly older kids with them: two extra wheels attached to the back of the bike to prevent them from falling as they learned to ride. Genius. It worked.

Finally, one day, you and dad talked about when he could take the training wheels off the bike. You were feeling a little embarrassed by them—after all, you may have been five or six years old. Dad joined you in the garage and with a tool he removed the training wheels. Suddenly you got butterflies in your stomach. Dad assured you that he’d support you as you pedaled that bike with no extra wheels. It took you a few times and a couple of skinned knees, but you eventually got mastered it. But—do you know what your parent had to do to enable you to master it?

It was a beautiful combination of SUPPORT and LETTING GO.

This narrative is a picture of what we must experience as we lead kids. At first, we do it all. They’re riding on our “bikes” but they get used to what good leadership feels like. Then, they get their own “trike” taking some small responsibility of their own. No big risk, but its important for them to do it on their own. Then, they own a big bike. They take on a significant role but we give them training wheels by offering support and accountability, insuring they won’t kill themselves or anyone else as they lead. Finally, however, they’re only ready to become an adult, a “leader,” when we offer a tender balance of support and letting go. Too much of either and we have an accident. In the end, to increase student development, we must take our hands off and let them “ride.”

One last thought. Once they begin riding their own bike (as a leader), they may go down a road you never intended them to ride on. It wasn’t in your plan. Are you OK with letting them create their own path, perhaps even fall down along the way, and learn what roads are best, without forcing your “map” on them?

May you take this journey with your student, and become a great bike teacher.

Student Development: It’s as Easy as Learning to Ride a Bike