Then as we develop into school-aged children, we stop questioning everything and start to accept things as they are. It becomes all about the ‘what’ – the facts. The earth is round. There are four seasons. Spinach makes you strong. The sun rises in the east. Seven is a prime number. We quickly learn that the more we know, the more clever we are perceived to be… knowledge is revered.
As we continue to mature into teenagers and start to experience life first-hand, we start to dig deeper and become interested in the ‘how’ to give us an explanation"We must give pupils the tools to explore their own purpose." and proof about the what. How do you obtain good grades? How does wifi work? How does one write code? How do you get a high-paying job? To find the answers, we go on to attend colleges and universities, or do apprenticeships in companies – all the time seeking to learn ‘how’ to do things…
…without understanding why we are doing them in the first place.
The education system is brilliant at teaching the what and the how, but what about the why? How did it get lost along the way?
Teaching a set curriculum from textbooks and testing knowledge through standardized exams has its benefits. It is very useful for measuring pupils’ abilities within a recognized system that produces young people who have a basic understanding of various subject matters and can then go on to the next stage of studies, eventually leading to careers. But how can we expect pupils to have big aspirations if we don’t give them inspiration?
In order to prepare our young people for the world that awaits them – real life - we need to go deeper than just factual knowledge. We must give them the tools to explore their own purpose – their why – as if they have a greater understanding of why they are learning what they are learning, and how it can help them on their own personal journey, it will put their studies into context and motivate them to put in the effort.
Clearly inspiration doesn’t come from textbooks, but from from life experience. One of the most powerful ways to inspire young people about their future possibilities is through the use of role models, especially as many young people today are lacking any sort of role model in their lives.
Hearing real people from their own community sharing their personal stories of why they do what they do and how they got there - their aspirations, their struggles, their challenges, their failures and how they overcame them – can inspire young people in a way no lesson plan can. This type of interaction is what encourages them to discover their own aptitudes and passions and follow their dreams.
I’ll never forget how after one of our recent school events where we used role models to engage with the pupils, a young man told us with great excitement that after hearing his Maths teacher tell his personal story of why he became a teacher, that he now wants to pursue a career in teaching. What textbook could have inspired this student to become a teacher?
One of the questions I like to ask secondary school pupils is “What would get you to jump out of bed at 5am without an alarm clock?”
Normally, the first response we get is that nothing is important enough to them to get them out of bed at this un-godly hour – after all, they are teens and need their sleep. However, after probing them a bit more about the things they love to do, it’s amazing how they each come up with something for which they would jump out of bed – that one thing that gets them excited, makes them feel alive.
"It’s amazing how they each come up with something."
One of the most moving comments I’ve heard from a student was after we had asked this question and facilitated a discussion around passions and aptitudes. This young girl raised her hand as if she had a burning question and when we called on her, she said with wonderment “Do you know, no one’s ever asked me this before. I mean, until today, I’ve never even thought about what it is I really love doing.”
At some point, we need to ask ourselves why it is that we put so much emphasis on teaching pupils Maths, Science and English and preparing them for government exams, but don’t place the same value on teaching them to discover their own talents, develop their aptitudes and find their purpose.
Perhaps one day, Ofsted will reward schools with the highest percentage of inspired pupils who go on to live fulfilled, purposeful lives.
How do you help pupils find their role models? Let us know in the comments!