Schools Fail if they don’t fuel kids’ passions

The one-size-fits-all approach to education is not working and it’s failing Australian kids.

I’m shocked by how the education system has not modernized and evolved over the past 50 years. We need to find a way to fix the system and help the 40 percent of secondary students who are disengaged from their education. Teachers are trying their best, but are limited by the system they work in.

With one in seven Australian kids experiencing some form of mental health condition, they’re feeling unworthy, like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole in the classroom. Big generalist schools, with a one-size-fits-all attitude, don’t allow students with a specific passion to thrive, killing their creativity and individuality. The curriculum is not set up to identify and promote individual differences, strengths and weaknesses.

Many readers might think I should “stay in my lane” and concentrate on the footy field rather than the classroom, but it’s a subject that I’m too passionate about to ignore. I set up The Academy in 2016 as an alternative to traditional schooling for year 11 and 12 students.

Our program aims to celebrate our students’ passion and I’ve seen first-hand how that has transformed the attitude of kids.

I believe the school experience is pivotal to students’ overall happiness and rather than an approach that separates home life and school life, we need to reconnect with a holistic approach.

Kids spend more than 30 hours a week in the classroom and while some thrive, we need to think about those who are falling behind and being forgotten.

We need an education system that allows students to develop their own high-performance mindset, performing to the best of their ability, whatever that is for them. If they can discover what that looks like, grow and explore, they can launch into their post-school life. Each morning, our students log into the Athlete Profiling Database and log their fatigue levels, muscle soreness, sleep and overall happiness. We use daily tracking, Personal Development Journals and DISC profiling to kickstart conversations about improvements and their emotional intelligence and relationship building.

That establishes how they best work both independently and with others. Tools like this have been common in corporate Australia for years, so why not in the classroom?

To me, success means ensuring students finish school knowing who they are, where they want to go and how to get there; feeling self-assured, with a strong work ethic and resilience to tackle the challenges that face a professional athlete, or the strength to choose another career path.

It’s one thing stressing the importance of resilience and another to practice it. I’ve had my own journey of resilience this season since suffering from ACL injury in Round 1. It has been a great opportunity to practice these lessons, putting me in the best mental position to get back to where I want to be physically.

I’ve been blessed in my career with a lot of positive experiences and to consistently perform at a high level in the sport that I am passionate about. It’s easy to feel strong when you’re on top , but the real lessons in resilience come when you’re faced with a reality that’s not so positive.

If my career ended tomorrow, I’d be sad, but confident I could rebuild and refocus my energy in a positive way, thanks to the off-field skills and lessons I’ve learnt through professional football.

I’ve had help, training and expert guidance to help me to develop that attitude and set me up for success. But that’s often not the case for younger players. They roll into their careers fresh from high school and, for many, without the emotional intelligence or mindset to handle the realities of professional sport.

I want to see recruits entering the ranks with their heads already in the game and screwed on right. That’s where schools should step in and not just for the athletic kids. All students should go to school everyday inspired and feeling like they’ve found their place. We need a system that supports specialised passion education, empowering teachers to specialise in their own passion fields, feeling that they can engage with every student in the room, helping them be the best they can be.

Rather than stifling kids’ passions to fit into a particular mold, I want to see a system that champions individuality and celebrates the goals and ambitions that make every child unique. We need to teach students how to not only discover and develop their own passion and skills, but also to integrate and connect with others to help them find theirs. I believe that is essential if we want them to enter the workforce ready for success.

I’ve set up The Academy based on that belief in passion-led education and, from the teaching staff to the students, we practice what we preach every day.


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