Sunday, 21 July 2013

Dealing with the Disappointment of Missing Selection for your chosen High School

My final two years of full-time teaching were spent working with an Opportunity Class (OC), with thirty  Year 5 and 6 students, all eager (and often parent-driven) to gain placement in a selective secondary school. Most of them were offered places - not always for their first-choice school - but those who missed first round offers and were placed on a reserve list were shattered, as were their parents.

Let me say that several of these OC students were not necessarily naturally 'gifted' nor naturally 'talented'. Many were what I would describe as 'hot-housed' - driven by well-meaning, but achievement-oriented, parents to excessive hours of tutoring and sitting for endless hours poring over past test papers to improve their test-sitting ability.

What kind of system does this to a 12 year old? The notion that a child has 'failed' if they miss a spot for a selective high school is ridiculous - as is the notion that if a child does not attend their secondary school of choice they are suddenly less likely to 'achieve their academic potential' by Year 12!

This month, students across NSW will receive notification of their 'success', or otherwise, in gaining placement at their first-choice secondary school. I believe that there are always those children who breathe a quiet sigh of relief, as they are more a product of parental desire than innate ability, and many of these kids are frightened to fail.... and anxious about their capacity to keep up with the so-called 'best and brightest' at selective high schools.

So, for those (including parents!) who are disappointed at missing first round offers - or indeed an offer at all - here are some tips to help overcome this initial disappointment:

  • Don't dwell on why they missed selection - comments such as "The system is unfair" or "How did they get in and you didn't?" just adds to the disappointment and establishes a sense of failure at a time when it is critical to be building positive attitudes towards starting high school.
  • Focus on what the new school has to offer - avoid comparisons between the school they missed and the school they will attend. ALL secondary schools cover the curriculum, and kids won't miss out on their special interests by attending a mainstream high school.
  • High school is what you make it - encourage your kids to have some goals. They don't always need to be academic, but they do need to be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-framed. Goals are motivating; they give kids direction and keep them on track, but make sure your kids decide on their own goals....not YOUR goals FOR them! Encourage them to consider the stepping stones needed to achieve these goals - each stepping stone is an achievement in itself.
  • New friends - one of the keys to developing resilience (and don't we all want our kids to develop the capacity to bounce back after adversity?) is to develop a mixture of friendship groups. For kids, high school is all about 'fitting in' - so encourage them to be part of activities which hold their interest. Diverse and multiple friendship groups is critical for this age group - regardless of what school they attend!

About Author:

Angie Wilcock is a highly regarded expert and speaker on transitions in education. She works with teachers, parents and students across Australia.

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