Thursday, 23 September 2010

Focus and Perseverance

My 15 year old son just called to say he has been awarded a team blazer for athletics. At his school this is a huge honour, especially for grade 10's.

He has the most amazing ability to make up his mind to do something and then to keep working steadily towards it.

Athletics has never been his main sport but before this season began he determined that if he worked hard at his times he had the possibility of earning the cherished team blazer.

He learnt to hurdle for the first time and immediately made the 300m distance his with a silver placing - competing against under 19's as this is only a senior's race. He did his best for the team with the 100m hurdles, inspiring others to improve themselves and so take over from him in this less suited distance. And he put his heart into the 400m flat race, steadily increasing his speed until getting within .06s of the school record.

Throughout the season he struggled with the pain of shin splints from a combination of high training levels and some poor structuring in his own body which required physio and additional rehabilitative exercises. Because he wasn't a senior he sometimes had to give up his place in the 300m hurdles to an older but slower athlete. Throughout the disappointments and the pain and the hard work he never lost sight of the goal - without hurting anyone else he just kept at it.

I am humbled by his focus and perseverance. The recognition is well deserved.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Choosing Subjects - To do or not to do...

Should I take history or biology, accounting or geography? It is that time of the year when Grade 9 learners have to choose their subjects to study for the next three years. Not an easy decision. In some cases a wrong choice could become a big barrier later if applying for tertiary study.

It can be a difficult time both for the learner and for their parent. We want to guide them in the best possible way but we don’t always know what that is and we may unintentionally guide them in a direction that suits us better than the child.

I went through this exercise a few years ago with my daughter and last year again with my son. Different children, different schools, different talents and interests, different final subject choices, but the same process.

So I am going to share my thoughts on how to go about this. Firstly remember that, although it is a bit complicated, learners are allowed to change their minds during Gr. 10 and even Gr. 11 or 12, so there is a very narrow escape route. Secondly the first four subjects are pretty much set. Life Orientation is compulsory as well as two official languages and one of the mathematics. So unless you do more than the minimum seven subjects there are only three true free choices. And thirdly, although I said earlier that an incorrect choice could make tertiary studies difficult this is really only the case where mathematics or science/biology are required - think BSc, engineering, medicine...

Very few children are going to know in Gr.9 what they want to do after school. Even if they think they do there is a strong chance it will change. And if it doesn’t then it may only be their first career, as multiple career lives are becoming much more the norm. Please don’t put your child under any pressure to make career decisions at this stage of their lives.

If your child has already decided what subjects they want to do then you only need to check the list for suitability – jump to ***.

If not, start here, together with your son/daughter (part 1):

• make a list of the subject choices available at the school outside of the compulsory ones mentioned above

• eliminate any subject really disliked or in which pass marks have not previously been achievable

• from the remaining ones your child needs to ask, which do I like the most? (or dislike the least )

• from those chosen as favourites double check that there is understanding of what that subject entails eg does it involve both practical and theory papers (Art & Drama), have they spoken to older learners studying it and/or teachers?

You should now have three or more hot favourites.

***At this point you need to check whether these allow for the possible career paths that your child may choose (part 2).

Take a big piece of paper and write down keywords that encompass your child’s answers to the following questions:

• what is important to you (could be things, values, circumstances…)?

• what makes you feel excited/happy/energetic/warm inside?

• what are you doing when time either seems to fly by or you forget about time completely?

• what have others commented you are good at (could be actions or behaviours)?

• what else have you thought you are good at?

These answers should give some broad ideas of the career areas they may take an interest in. For some this could be quite narrow and for others very varied. Please do not try to limit or narrow it down.

Look at the subjects already selected in the first part and check if they support the general ideas coming out of the second part.

Look at the general areas in part 2 and see if they would obviously require a subject which has not already been selected in part 1. Two of the key subjects in this regard are physical science and life science (the old biology). If so consider adding that subject back in.

By now you should have found your child’s three most popular subjects that have relevance to their possible broad career interests.

To return to the compulsory subjects. As far as languages are concerned these are mostly a personal choice. In South Africa many courses do require English.

The only remaining choice is between mathematics and mathematical literacy. Mathematics is required for entry into many of the courses at tertiary institutions. Therefore choosing mathematical literacy instead should only be done after careful consideration. Think about

• does not having maths exclude the child from any course they are likely to want to study?

• can they cope with maths if they really work at it or have additional help?

I came across a simple little book written by Norma Colley called “Choose the correct school subjects” ( which is a useful resource.

And lastly please share these wise words with your son/daughter.

"Don’t ask yourself what the world needs – ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
                                                                                   Harold Thurman Whitman

Republished for the benefit of parents of this year's Grade 9's

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Story of the Butterfly

I often tell this story when working with people.
Many find it  helps them to accept that others have their own growth paths to walk - that often we can best help our children, family, friends by being supportive and encouraging but NOT interfering.

A man found a cocoon of a butterfly.
One day a small opening appeared.
He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours
as it struggled to squeeze its body through the tiny hole.
Then it stopped, as if it couldn't go further.

So the man decided to help the butterfly.
He took a pair of scissors and
snipped off the remaining bits of cocoon.

The butterfly emerged easily but
it had a swollen body and shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch it,
expecting that any minute the wings would enlarge
and expand enough to support the body,
Neither happened!

In fact the butterfly spent the rest of its life
crawling around.
It was never able to fly.

What the man in his kindness
and haste did not understand:
The restricting cocoon and the struggle
required by the butterfly to get through the opening
was a way of forcing the fluid from the body
into the wings so that it would be ready
for flight once that was achieved.

Sometimes struggles are exactly
what we need in our lives.
Going through life with no obstacles would cripple us.
We will not be as strong as we could have been
and we would never fly.

Thanks to for the written version.