The Trajectory Of Life
The trajectory of life is a challenging issue about which to talk with teenagers. Unless we understand it ourselves as educators, how can we impart that knowledge and experience onto young impressionable minds that are being constantly bombarded with competing thoughts and feelings?
It’s exceptionally hard to convey to a teenager what life could be like in 5, 10 or even 20 years’ time, especially now that life and society is constantly changing. What can we do?
When I do goal setting sessions with teenagers, and ask the question what are your long-term goals, often I get the overwhelming response: ‘I want to be rich and have a hot wife’; or ‘I want to be rich and have a super fit husband.’ It’s usually the boys who have this very immature approach and all they can think about is about money and hot women. Thanks again to social media for reinforcing shallow delusions.
When you drill down and ask students why they want to be rich and have a hot wife, it turns out that it’s more to do with the notion of popularity at school, than anything real, which is quite unsurprising given their age.
Often, it’s a difficult conversation to have when you suggest that maybe the trajectory of their life may not turn out to be what they want it to be. The reality is, that most peoples’ lives never quite work out the way they envisaged. However, despite the stark reality of life’s challenges, it doesn’t mean that students can’t reach their goals. Instead, as teachers, it’s important that we are able to prepare them for the speed bumps and hurdles along the way.
Many teachers would simply say, ‘You have to work hard at school, go to uni, work hard on your job, then you’ll be successful.’ At this point I’d totally disagree with them. Unless students can establish what their vision of success is, then it’s unreasonable that teachers frame life in this way, because all it’s really doing is reinforcing the shallow ideas of money and a hot wife and not taking into consideration the complexity of life.
Some people have the idea of that success is all about a career and money but what does success look like to you? What’s meaningful in your life? What makes you happy? Not everybody wants to be a lawyer. Not everybody wants to be a doctor. Not everybody wants to be an engineer. Yet for some schools I’ve worked at, unless you’re fighting hard to get into one of those three career paths, then sadly, it makes it impossible for many students please their parents.
I also pose this question to students as part of goal setting. Is pleasing your parents something that will make you happy? Or is pleasing your parents just something to keep them at bay and not necessarily make you happy? I’ve come across many former students of mine who have done exceptionally well academically, but then spent years in the wilderness because they weren’t doing what they really wanted to do. They weren’t doing what they really felt was right for them and as result, weren’t the slightest bit happy with their lives. They were living out someone else’s dreams, not theirs. What seemed like a rocket fuelled ride towards success, with great school results and a wonderful university education, they were disengaged at work and looking for something real.
One of my aims with goal setting is to have students to think about how they see their life developing and start to plan how they want their life to develop. At the same time, there’s the need to help them understand it’s not always going to be easy. Your goals aren’t just going to fall into your lap. When this happens however, we’ve also provided them with the skills to consolidate, adapt and move forward again towards those goals.
We achieve this through experiential education as a metaphor for getting through other challenges in life. However, it can’t be done in isolation. There must be follow through after a program has run its course and there needs to be ongoing support from parents and mentors to help students more effectively plot and track the trajectory that they’re on.
Understanding and drawing on our own experiences as teachers, can be powerful in helping students to evaluate where they’re at and what skills they might need to develop to be able to stay on their chosen path.
What does the trajectory of your life look like? For someone in their 20s and 30s, it can be easier or harder depending on their approach and their attitude. For me, in my 20s the trajectory of my life didn’t look anything like what it is today.
My life was looking very much like a downward spiral into the abyss. I didn’t have the focus. I didn’t have a vision for the future and I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. Nothing I was doing made me happy, which made it extremely hard at work, as well as deciding what good opportunities for the future were, versus rubbish opportunities.
However, if you have a clear idea in your mind what you’re trying to achieve and what makes you happy, then everything else in life falls into place far more easily. When you’re making informed decisions based upon what drives you and what makes your life exciting and interesting, suddenly, you’re back on that path to success.
Through sharing your own experience, you’re then able to impart that to be successful, life’s trajectory is not always going to be a linear one. There may be set backs but from setbacks, you can regroup, rebuild and become even stronger. Consequently, as part of a much broader part of any experiential education program, you can use the various activities and challenges as a metaphor for the trajectory of life. By relating success or failure in activities your students will face in life, can provide immensely powerful teaching and learning moments for your students.
Through this approach, you can help your students avoid years in the emotional wilderness and get them thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I can decide my destiny. I can build my life how I want it to be built!’
It’s that passion and desire to build a life of one’s own making, that’s often lost in the daily grind of school and the focus on the academic end goal for a university entrance rank. It’s important however, that students can start to develop real ideas of where they want to take their lives and from a teaching point of view, for teachers to provide them with the skills and ability to seek out opportunities, deal with setbacks, and keep moving towards their goals. It’s never going to be a straight and easy path. However, with the right grounding at school, it makes it so much easier.
One thing everyone’s looking for is someone who is genuine. This is a real challenge in education because often teachers are placed in situations where they’re teaching something that they’re not particularly interested in. As a result, they don’t have the passion, they don’t have the enthusiasm and therefore, they don’t have that genuine vibe and engagement in what they’re doing. I noticed this myself the other day.
I was supervising a group of students and there were two activities going on. One was table tennis and the other was monopoly. I’ve never really liked table tennis and so I always avoid it and I make up endless excuses as to why I can’t play. Even though it could be quite beneficial and would help me to develop a rapport with some students with whom otherwise it’s hard to develop, in reality, playing the game wasn’t worth it for some superficial rapport.
If I were to play, since I wasn’t really interested in it myself, I mightn’t put much effort into playing. It would have ended up being counter productive. The students would easily see through this and ultimately there’d be no point in pretending I was enjoying what I was doing. As experiential education is as much about relationships as it is about pushing boundaries, there’s no actual benefit from engaging in some sort of activity such as table tennis, if you’re not genuine about it yourself.
Conversely, there was the game of monopoly being played and one of the kids said to me, “Hey Sir, do you want to be on my team?”
My immediate reply was, “Sure! Sounds like fun!”
The difference was that I love Monopoly. However, I made sure that I didn’t take over control of the game, because even though I’m pretty competitive at Monopoly, I was still the invited number two team member. On a side note, Monopoly is so much fun. I always love having the car but we didn’t get the car. Actually, I also like the battleship, as well and the dog, but I digress.
Anyway the point is, it’s such a fun game and the difference here was that when I was involved, I was attentive, I was exploring options, I was whispering strategies and tactics with my teammate and we were taking turns of rolling the dice. The fact that I was genuinely interested in playing the game made all the difference and it’s something you just can’t make up or fudge your way through.
The end result was that I got to know more about my teammate than I otherwise would have and it created a rapport that enabled far better engagement from him in many other activities. To be able to engage students effectively is just as much, if not more about the positive role modeling that you can provide as a teacher than your knowledge in any specific subject area. This helps you draw on that positive, professional relationship to be able to encourage students when they’re struggling with their own challenges or even just in helping shape their attitude towards new activities or ways of thinking.
Suddenly, through doing something that you really enjoy (and it doesn’t have to be Monopoly), it can open up dialogues later on and enables you to teach more effectively because when students see that you’re interested, passionate and engaged in something, they’re more likely to become interested, passionate and engaged in other things as well. This can only come from when you’re honest and genuine about what your own interests and passions are. Don’t try to ‘fake it until you make it,’ as kids will see through this every time. Just be yourself and things will naturally fall into place.
As an important footnote here, we actually won Monopoly so I was very happy with that, but at the end of the day, it was more to do with the fact that for over an hour a whole group of students and I played an interesting, fun-filled game that everyone wanted to play and left with a better connection than before.
It's time to once again brave the cold of Canberra for a weekend of hacking! Whilst it would be more fun to be spending the weekend hacking a top-secret mainframe, unfortunately that's not what this sort of hacking is all about. So for the moment, the secret as to what happened to Harold Holt after he went for a swim and who has the Maltese Falcon, will remain safely hidden in the depths of the top secret bunker under Parliament House for the time being...
Instead, GovHack is a weekend all about hacking together ideas and code in a useful manner to do something productive and constructive with huge government datasets. If you have some free time and you don't know what to do with yourself, why not check out http://www.data.gov.au/ . There's over 30,000 freely available government datasets found here for you to get creative with. Everything from health stats to wave heights out at sea make up this enormous collection of data. Sadly, despite trying, I couldn't find anything about the second gunmen on the grassy knoll or the current whereabouts of the magic pudding.
Whilst last year's experience at GovHack was an amazing one, it was somewhat overwhelming as a first time participant, from the point of view I had no idea how the weekend was going to play out. However, that was part of the excitement, not knowing who I was going to meet or what I was actually going to be doing. This time however, it's exciting for a different reason. Now I kind of know what I'm doing and with that knowledge, I know exactly what time I need to line up for food before the crowd arrives.
Despite having this advantage over others for the food line, the real excitement for me comes back to the fact that whilst I know how it all works this time around from a logistical point of view, the datasets are different, the projects will be different, the challenges and prizes will be different and the team might be different. Once you throw in all these new variables it's an entirely new challenge and experience.
This can be seen as a reflection on how technology is shaping our lives in such a dramatic way. Whilst in the past, experience could make you an expert in a certain area and from one year to the next it wouldn’t change much. For example, if you read lots of books on ancient Rome, you would most likely be an authority on the subject. However, 12 months on since the last GovHack challenge, technology has changed, the world has move forward, (with the exception of North Korea) and what I thought I was reasonably good with back then, I find has completely changed by now. No longer can we get away with creating a mash up of bus schedules and Pokémon Go stops, because literally nobody cares about Pokémon Go anymore. Whilst this might be a wonderful reflection on the progress our society has made in a year, one good thing the game did, was that it got a lot of shut-ins out of their windowless basements and running around town chasing imaginary creatures.
Despite the shifting sands of technology, game fads and social media, no matter how much the world changes, there remain some key educational groundings and skills that are essential for the challenge of GovHack. Being able to analyse and solve real-world problems is what this weekend is all about. Forget the technology, as I said, it constantly changes and so with that, you just have to accept the inevitable change and realise that is now just another variable in the problem-solving process.
For anyone considering going to something like this, it is a fantastic experience and is of immense educational value. You will learn more in one weekend problem solving with others, than you will in six months in a classroom. Even if you know nothing about the technology, it's your ability to look at a problem in a unique way and find creative solutions that will lead you to success. This is really a microcosm of what mainstream education should be about. As the world changes so rapidly, education needs to realise this and catch up with the fact that teachers need to be teaching students how to be looking at problems, considering options and working out solutions.
If you haven't already got yourself organised to go to a GovHack event, then get to right now to do something about it. Find your nearest location and register to attend, because it will be one of the most memorable weekends of your year. If in the process, you happen to find out who has the Maltese Falcon, I am willing to pay handsomely for that information…
These days, especially in the la la land of tech startups, there's endless talk of metrics. How many users do you have? For how long have you been in business? How many Facebook fans and Twitter followers do you have? How many daily likes do you get on Instagram?
These endless vanity metrics are amazing at providing a shallow and somewhat pointless insight into how well your business is doing. At the end of the day however, net profit and growth are what will keep you eating smashed avocado, sipping lattes and dressing in daggy jeans and t-shirts for years to come.
Schools unfortunately are no different. They make a huge deal about vanity metrics, in particular the academic results of those leaving Yr 12. There's even whole businesses that have sprung up from ‘consultants’ who help schools analyse these ‘results’ and provide advice on how to improve them. Perhaps I could offer you some snake oil at the same time…
Whilst I'm not saying academic results aren't an important gauge for a school, the obsession over them as being the most important metric, is ridiculously unhealthy and another hangover from the 19th century that just won't go away.
Despite all the academic focus of schools, only a third of school leavers will ever darken the door of a university. So now the majority of students have spent 13 years in school learning academic subjects they’ll never ever use. No wonder 40% of our students are disengaged!
I've previously sat through a couple of exam result analysis. They seem to be the highlight of the year for the principal (or not depending on the numbers). As with political opinion polls, schools will put a spin on their figures no matter what the case, but again this is mostly hot air and a key vanity metric for all involved, because it's not able to accurately reflect or gauge what happens after school and if a student will be successful.
The reality is that this single academic metric fails to consider the complexity of modern education and young adults. To thrive in our rapidly changing world, students need more from their 13 years at school than an academic number. If educators make this number out to be the single most important thing in their entire schooling, educators are unnaturally increasing the pressure on students in those final years.
If you look at some of the most successful people in the world, you’ll find that many of them never even finished school. Therefore, such metrics are purely for vanity, if education is truly about creating individuals who can succeed in life.
The bottom line is that education is about developing young men and women to be balanced, functional and proactive members of society. Through this, they can be enormously successful in everything they do. As a result, schools should broaden the scope of their metrics to cover not just exam results, but successful further training, employment, community service and even post school happiness.
You could even delve into the dangerously taboo topic of successful relationships. How many school leavers end up married and stay married? How many end up in divorce? Whilst many would say this is none of a school’s business, I argue strongly that it is! After 13 years of education through the most formative years of people lives, if you haven't had some impact on their social and emotional well-being and subsequent moral outlook on life, then there's something seriously wrong with the system.
There's so much more that can and should be explored to provide a real picture of the education a child will get at any given school.
Ultimately as teachers, we want to know if our efforts teaching young men and women have had a profound and lasting impact. Has what we’ve done at school actually made a difference socially and emotionally in their lives? Have we equipped them with the skills and a sense of social responsibility and enabled them to thrive in the real world? Or have we just been babysitting and spoon-feeding them to perform in an exam that most of them will never ever need?
I'd be horrified if it were the latter. Teachers have such an amazing impact on their students’ lives. However, until we start measuring far broader results than the vanity metrics of the year 12 exams, we will never truly understand the impact current teaching practices have, nor how we can make it even better to meet the challenges that the future of education holds.
Whilst you can keep your vanity metrics, always be careful to see them for what they are. To really gauge the success of your school this year, start tracking a much broader set of results from employability to happiness. Through this, you can start to really assess the lasting impact you're making in your students’ lives.
Written Risk Assessments
Many organisations have irrational obsessions and unhealthy relationships with their written risk assessments. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do written risk assessments because you should. They’re an extremely important part of a risk management framework. However, what is unhealthy about them, is the demand from management to have a written risk assessment, but once it’s done, it just gets filed and nothing else is done with it. Yet if something goes wrong, the first question is, ‘Where’s your risk assessment?’
This is a bizarre way to operate because you can write all the risk assessments in the world, but unless your staff are understanding of and actively managing risk, all your paperwork means absolutely nothing. Despite this reality, the paperwork obsession remains a top priority for many organisations, but unless every activity is being run by switched on professionals who pro-actively manage risk within the organisation, then no matter how good your paperwork is, you’re exposed.
The practical reality is that you can write whatever you like in a risk assessment document but often, once it’s written, it’s quickly forgotten. It soon gathers dust and like vampire in the night, it never sees the light of day again, until a pile of fanged marked corpses prompt someone into action.
You simply can’t afford to place yourself or your staff in a situation where this is the standard operating procedure. The end result, if something does go wrong, is usually expressed through head scratching and befuddled proclamations, ‘Well, we wrote a risk assessment!’ However, there can’t be a disconnect between the documentation and the implementation. They must be reflective of each other.
One organisation I previously worked for were totally and utterly obsessed with written risk assessments. I was tasked with auditing their risk assessments and methodology. However, from the moment I started reading what they had in place, it became evident there was absolutely no connection between the activity and what had been written. Subsequently, it became perfectly obvious that nobody had actually read any of the paperwork, which left me wondering what they’d been doing. Not only did their pointless documentation have to be re-written from scratch, a significant process of change management was required to refocus the culture within the organisation to be one that was proactive in its assessment and management of risk.
Often the source of this problem is that many organisations don’t have people who truly understand risk management at the top. Just because someone has reached a leadership position, doesn’t mean he actually knows anything about management, least of all, risk management. Therefore, if you put someone in the situation where he is supposed to be managing risk, yet doesn’t understand risk beyond filing a written document, it’s little wonder that he’s focussed on paper pushing nonsense and not on organisational culture.
In this situation, when something goes wrong, it becomes all about blame and retribution. It’s not about discussing what was the root cause of an incident, it’s about finding scapegoats. This sort of approach is unhealthy and totally counter-productive. What an organisation needs to be able to do is sit down and openly discuss activities that involve risk and be prepared to debrief near misses and learn from each other’s knowledge and experience.
Good risk management procedures stem from this sort of open, honest and pro-active culture of risk managers within an organisation. If everything’s about retribution and blame, you create a culture that wants to cover up anything that doesn’t go 100% to plan. With this, you get a thin veneer giving the impression everything’s fine, yet scratch the surface and you’ll find what can be a toxic mix, priming itself for a significant failure.
To avoid this, there has to be that open and honest conversation about risk, about contingency planning and about response and mitigation. It’s important to have someone at the top setting the tone and facilitating the culture within an organisation to ensure you have a team of proactive risk managers.
Ultimately, documentation is only a tiny part of how your organisation should be assessing and managing risk. The remainder comes down to the professionalism, experience and team work of your staff to ensure that every activity is being run safely and effectively. Once you’re operating with this cultural mindset and have a team of pro-active risk managers, the paperwork takes care of itself.