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A resource produced for parents and educators by Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane. 

  • Writer's pictureLourdes Hill College

3 ways schools can better prepare young people for the ‘real world’

By Linda Stade

The relationships, routines, and trusted adults at school are protective factors in the lives of adolescents. Attending school keeps down rates of poor mental health and limits risk-taking behaviours like drug and alcohol use. What then, happens when we suddenly remove the structures of school at the end of Year 12 and young people enter ‘the real world’?

Answer… Students are often academically well-educated but poorly skilled in managing the social and emotional challenges that come with instant adulthood.

So, how do we perforate the line between school and the world beyond school?

Mr John Thomas is the Deputy Principal – Mission at Lourdes Hill College, Brisbane. He says that from the perspective of a school there are three things we can do that will help our young people be better prepared for adulthood:

1. Develop student voice

2. Foster student agency

3. Gradually release responsibility

1. Develop student voice

School communities have changed over the last thirty years. The voice of the educator is no longer all-powerful. The voice of parents has become very loud, in some cases deafening.

In many cases, this is great, as parents have a bank of relational knowledge about their child that can impact learning and care significantly. However, it has also led to a situation in some schools where parent opinion is as important as educational expertise. It’s a work in progress.

In this evolution to shared voice, the group who have been left out are students. Many schools say they listen to student voice, but really, they only listen to the things they want to hear. They ignore the things that make them feel uncomfortable. This leads to incongruence between the real world of the student and the world of school.

A good example is Gen Z’s familiarity and comfort with changing views of gender and sexuality. They value difference, but this view is often not in line with that of schools, particularly that of religious schools.

Mr Thomas, who has decades of experience in leading Catholic communities believes the voice of students in this space is the one we should be listening to. He believes it better reflects the school’s Benedictine values of love, conversation, community, and humility. Consequently, the school is in the process of working with students in this space.

Nobody is saying that students should run the show, however, we need to remember that our kids evolve by having a say and taking responsibility for what they say. Female students and students from minority groups especially, need to learn that their voice is valuable. We do that by listening… and not only to the things we want to hear. There is also a very real chance that we will learn valuable lessons.

2. Foster student agency

“Student agency is rooted in the principle that students have the ability and the will to positively influence their own lives and the world around them. Student agency is thus defined as the capacity to set a goal, reflect and act responsibly to effect change.

“It is about acting rather than being acted upon; shaping rather than being shaped; and making responsible decisions and choices rather than accepting those determined by others.”

This does not mean that students are autonomous and left to make all their own decisions. They need adults to support and coach them. This is especially the case if a student comes from a position of disadvantage and thus starts with a background that lacks agency.

An education that helps young people thrive beyond school allows students to act on their beliefs and take responsibility for those actions. Great education also allows students to ‘get it wrong’. If we stop trusting them because they take a misstep, we stop them from growing.

3. Gradually release responsibility

Mr Thomas believes that schools and parents need to become more conscious and confident in gradually releasing responsibility to students. His opinion that “Students are becoming more resilient, and schools are being left behind” is opposed to the dominant narrative. Generally, we are led to believe that students are becoming less resilient.

Mr Thomas says, “That’s not what I’m seeing. Senior students now have stresses and responsibilities that never existed when I began teaching 43 years ago.”

What are some of those pressures?

  • External exams from Year 3

  • ATAR and the pressure ATAR attracts from schools, parents, as well as from themselves

  • Cars and many travel long distances for education under their own steam

  • The expectation of participating in multiple co-curricular activities to prove their worth to employers and universities

  • VET students take enormous responsibility for their own competencies and education

  • Jobs in more rigorous environments

They also do all this in a fast-paced, media-driven, appearance-based society. Aren’t we all glad we were able to make our teenage errors away from the microscope of mobile cameras and social media?

Mr Thomas argues that schools and parents need to release more responsibilities and privileges to allow young people to manage their own lives. We need to say ‘no’ less often.

The respected educator uses the example of Lourdes Hill’s Senior Hub. It is a space where Year 12 students can spend self-directed time. It was never intended to be purely for study. It is a place where students can spend time together and relax if that is what is needed.

In a high-performing school, with many highly motivated students, Lourdes Hill’s young people often need that downtime in the Hub. However, the temptation is to drive students to be studying all the time. It is also tempting for students to goof off and do nothing.

Mr Thomas willingly and happily acknowledges these challenges saying, “It is not a bad thing that we struggle. It’s not a bad thing that they sometimes make poor decisions. This is how we learn. We can become too comfortable in education and that’s a trap.”

And the place of parents in all this?

Very little can be achieved if schools do not receive the backing of parents. So, in this process, there are a few things for parents to consider:

  1. Reinforce responsible thinking. That is, ‘How do I reach my goals without harming others or interfering with the needs of others?’

  2. Ask, “Who do I need to be for my child, not only in this moment, but in the process of them growing into an adult? It means really listening with eyes, ears, empathy and without judgement.

  3. Accept the discomfort in parenting a child who is becoming an adult. Try not to ease your own discomfort by speaking and acting on behalf of your young person.

Final thought…

Schools are imperfect institutions, but together educators and parents can make them more fit for purpose for our young people. We do that by working WITH our young people and by leaning into the discomfort that is inevitable but necessary.


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