August 15

New beginnings

For the past 15 years or so, I’ve been involved at some level in subject selections.  This started at my first school, where a leader was kind enough to see a young teacher who was interested enough to annoy her with questions and show me her giant folder with 210 individual slips of paper with student preferences and to talk to me about the process. Thus began my interest in timetabling that would see me up late at night, seeing coloured squares dancing around in front of my closed eyelids until I would just get up at 2am in the morning, solve the puzzle I was thinking of, and then go back to bed.

Why bother?

I loved the puzzle – and the infinite number of combinations that are possible while still trying to manage the constraints of funding. A subject on a line approximately equals $20,000 of funding – a skill drummed into me at my second school… A good teacher in front of a class means more than student choice. Not sure I agree with that one.  Maximise student choice, minimise cost. A problem of seven bridges if ever I saw one.

When arriving at this school I was suddenly responsible for the process, and had students in tears every year, most often because they put Mathematics last (“But we thought we would get Maths no matter what”) in a school that had an extremely strong maths culture.  Where you ask a student what they are interested in doing when they leave school, and they say “Engineering” but can’t explain what branch of engineering, why they want to do it, or why they haven’t picked any maths and science subjects. Well….shrug….what 15 year old knows themselves and what they want to do?

Fast forward to my first go at subject selections after four years of having no year 10s- and the comparison blows my mind. Students at St Luke’s know themselves – their strengths, interests and motivations and what they want to do to impact the world. Why? Because they’ve been discussing them since they’ve been in year 7. For our next few years, since year 5.  At St Luke’s, the first student I met with wants to become an engineer….here we go again…..why? Because he has an interest in problem-solving, and loses himself in flow when he is solving problems. He loves maths and Science, not because of the content, which he’s not really strong at, but because of how he engages in the problem-solving process. And that’s what engineers do. Not because Mum and Dad told him that he needs to be an engineer because they make lots of money, but because his Dad works with him on the weekend to make stuff – like different mechanics that go on his trailer to perform different functions.

Another student wants to be a podiatrist. Okay, what 15 year old wants to work with feet? Actually, she tells me later, she really wants to go into business, but her parents have been telling her that she’s going into podiatry since she was in Kindergarten. But she’s able to have the conversation with her parents now because all those small conversations about her strengths, interests and motivations that she’s had over the past few years have put a small drop in the ocean of the ideas of her parents. And meeting with them, we slowly work together to expand her opportunities by picking a mix of subjects that potentially leads her to both, or to any other career that she chooses.

Another student manages to obtain a traineeship then one an apprenticeship that allows her to leave school at the end of year 10. I’m so incredibly proud of this young lady, who has gone into businesses one by one to ask them if they were interested in an apprentice and has the strength to leave her friends because she is confident in the direction of her future.

In the meantime, a selection of our students will graduate with a HSC, and a Diploma of Commerce by using some of their HSC subjects as recognised prior learning for some elements of a diploma course, allowing them dual (and possibly triple) certifications on leaving St Luke’s.

It’s such a time of open and expanding potential – such a big decision in student’s lives – my own son and my niece going through the same process at the same time.  My poor son who has two TAS teachers in the house, both discussing what are the better options for him (I, or should I say, my son…won). My niece, who misses out on her choice of CAFS and has to do Business Studies – which I know many people find interesting – she will not.

And as we roll through the 800th different model of what those subject lines will look like – the admin co-ordinator and I texting each other at 9 at night comparing success rates for lines (who can do it better)….I think how lucky the 57 students of our first cohort through in year 10 are. For the opportunities that they have to engage in so many different patterns of study. For their awareness of what they want to do, what their strengths are and what problems they want to solve. For the Life Design team led by the wonderful Chloe Viney and our partners from Innerzone– and how they’ve worked with students over the past four years to encourage them to own their strengths and passions- an understanding of themselves that leaves me not tired from the fight over subjects that happens every year, but invigorated by the ever expanding opportunities that are afforded to these students and the opportunity that knowing yourself brings.