Education Wellbeing

An alternate three Rs for the 21st century?

While the traditional three Rs (reading, writing & arithmetic) were only aimed at the students, these alternate three Rs would serve as an operating system for the whole learning community; students, staff, parents and the wider community.

Relationships – Humans are social beings and as such positive relationships are key to human flourishing. As well as nurturing the skills to develop positive inter-personal relationships, we also need to see the relationship between who we are, what we do, the impact of our actions and how we react emotionally. To be able to do this, we need to be given the opportunity to reflect.

Reflection – We are living in the most stimulating time in history. Having hundreds of TV channels to choose from, social media updates to keep on top of, smartphones buzzing in our pockets we have become enslaved to the technology. We feel guilty if we have any spare time on our hands and as such, we find something to do… like updating your Facebook status to say “just chilling out on the beach.” We have created a world in which we see little value in reflecting on the What, Why and How of our experiences. Maybe that’s why it’s easy to say, “Nothin” when asked, “What did you do at school today?”

Resilience – The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 depression will be the largest cause of illness in the Western World. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and serves as a protective factor against depression. It has become something of a buzzword at the moment in education. Whilst schools do a good job of promoting physical health (PE/health classes, healthy canteens, no-smoking and OH&S policies etc) I believe schools need to be more proactive in nurturing the mental health of their learning community.

To what extent does, could or should your school/organisation value these alternate three Rs?

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Education Engagement & Motivation Wellbeing

Drowning, Not Learning

In his book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar PhD describes one model of motivation that influences the approach a student may take to their learning. He calls it the “Drowning Model”.

“The drowning model shows two things; that the desire to free ourselves from pain can be a strong motivator and that, once freed, we can easily mistake our relief for happiness. A person whose head is forced under water will suffer discomfort and pain and will struggle to escape. If, at the last moment, his head is released, he will gasp for air and experience a sense of intoxicating relief. The situation may be less dramatic for students who do not enjoy school, but the nature of their motivation – the need to avoid a negative consequence – is similar. Throughout the term, drowning in work that they do not enjoy, students are motivated by their fear of failure. At the end of the term, liberated from their books and papers and exams, they feel an overwhelming sense of relief – which, in the moment, can feel a lot like happiness. This pattern of pain followed by relief is the model that is imprinted upon us from Grade School. It is easy to see how, unaware of alternative models, living as a rat racer could seem the most normal and attractive prospect.”

Shahar describes a Rat Racer as someone who subordinates the present for the future, suffering now for the purpose of some perceived gain in the future.

Our culture reinforces this model. At work an employee will  get a salary bonus for reaching an annual sales quota. At the end of a school year, a student may be awarded an A grade, receive a School Prize and be rewarded by their parents. We are rewarded for the result; the end point; the successful completion of the task.

The relief felt at the completion of a task (particular if compounded by material rewards) can be mistaken for happiness – this in turn leads the Rat Racer to accept that the sacrifices he made were worth it. However, how long does this feeling of relief last? How long before the Rat Racer feels the pressure to start the sacrificial process all over again in pursuit of his next bout of relief?

Think of the average student at school. Does your school actively encourage this approach to life?

A quality education must ensure that students enjoy and are rewarded throughout their learning, and not just the sum total of their learning. The  A grade, the School Prize and the reward from Mum and Dad can be pleasant incidentals, but should never be the driving force.

A quality education must encourage students to recognise emotional rewards as being as important as financial or material rewards. In doing this we will discourage the Rat Racer attitude that determines a student will follow a career path because “it pays better”, or “it’s what my parents want me to do”. Hopefully students will follow a path they want to go down, and as such the achievement of their goals will involve less emotional sacrifice. If students are encouraged to pursue their passions and strengths, they will find meaning in the work/study they do. If they find meaning in the work/study they are doing then they will reap great emotional rewards throughout their learning, and not only a sense of relief upon the completion of an assessment task or the HSC.

Education Leadership

How Should We Measure The Effectiveness of a School?

Consider the following students…

Christopher* is a Year 12 student who is on course for a top ATAR. He is likely to be the Dux of the School. However, Christopher has always had issues socializing, and suffers anxiety. It is not clear how he will function outside the structure of a small high school.

David has been in the bottom sets his whole school career. His teachers constantly recognize the fact that he appears to be working to the best of his abilities. However, because of the nature of the school system the best he can hope to achieve is a “C” and sometimes he falls short of this grade. As a result of this he has been constantly reminded that despite his best efforts he does not succeed in the subjects at school. He is close to leaving without any real insight into what he is actually good at.

Sally is a top academic student. She has graduated from School with an ATAR that gives her the choice of courses at University. She is keen to do teaching or some kind of social work but her parents are eager for her to go into the Law profession, and given the capacity to earn more money as a lawyer she elects to study law at University.

Eric is good musician and singer. He has decided to pursue his passion by heading to Nashville in America to hone his songwriting craft. As a consequence he has made it clear that school work is no longer a priority. As well as practicing music everyday, he is working as many hours as possible in his part time job to save for his flight to America. He has agreed to complete his HSC to keep his parents happy, but it is obvious that his heart is not in it. He credits his decision to follow his passion to his Head of House and Music Teacher who have always encouraged him to focus on his music.

The review of NAPLAN and HSC results provides an avenue for assessing the effectiveness of the school. Indeed it is this data that the Australian MySchool website is built around. In doing this the Government imply that this the most important information parents require in determining the appropriate school for their children.

The majority of educational systems are structured from the top down. Universities determine the kind of students they want in their respective courses. The assumption is that a student with an ATAR of 99 will make a better doctor/physio/lawyer than the student with an ATAR of 85.

The issue with determining effectiveness in this way is the inherent impact it has on the teaching and learning at school. It reinforces the antiquated hierarchy of subjects that places a higher value on subjects like Mathematics and English than subjects such as Woodwork the Arts.

As such the student who excels at Drama or Art is not validated in the same way as the student who excels at Mathematics or English.

You could argue that of all the students above; it is with Eric, the musician, that the school has had the most success. He has found his passion and he feels confident in his abilities to pursue his dream.

You could also argue that the school has “failed” every time a student graduates in the same scenario as David. Surely the very least a school should be doing is ensuring that students find something that they not only good at, but are passionate about and can engage with.

With regard to Christopher, as Dux of the School, his exam results will undoubtedly open doors for him, but for how long given his lack of social skills?

And how about Sally? Should the school revel in the fact they have produced another Law undergraduate, or should they reflect on the fact a student has left not being true to herself?

Unfortunately there is no statistic to reflect the Christopher Complex, David Disorder, Eric Effect or Sally Syndrome, on the MySchool website (or anywhere else to my knowledge). If there was, in conjunction with the standardized test scores, parents would be able to better ascertain what the school could offer their child.

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty and everyone in between

What’s The New Kid Like?

“What’s the new kid in Year 9 like?” I asked Mr Jones* the Maths teacher.

“He’s terrible at maths,  he’s definitely not too bright,” Jonesy assured me.

Whilst this is purely anecdotal and certainly not a universal approach to describing students, it is fairly common in my experience. I have asked what the child is like, and I’ve been told what the student is like, and even then, it is a huge (and most likely inaccurate) generalisation of a kid’s intellect.

I find a lot of teachers describe the children in their class by their behaviour or ability rather than their character. Clearly this is the nature of the beast. If you are a teacher on a full load timetable, with thirty-odd kids per class, getting to know them is going to take a considerable amount of time if it is left up to individual teachers to each ascertain this insight of all their students. What is needed is a concerted effort by the staff as a whole to engage with the kids identities and passions and then share this amongst the faculty. Imagine the potential for your lessons if you knew what made your students tick; if you knew what they were passionate about and you worked that into your curriculum.

Instead of classes being streamed by “ability”, why not trial streaming your classes by passions, or character strengths? Then classes being taught by teachers with the same interests/passions etc…

I reckon I might get a more satisfying answer to my original question even if we only did this for one day.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty and everyone in between.