Preparing for the HSC Years
At Roseville College, there is a phrase that is often repeated by members of the academic staff, as well as by current and former students: “This is your journey. No two HSC experiences are alike”.
Hidden in this grain of wisdom is a massive warning to parents: And there simply is no “one right way” to be an HSC cheer-squad.
As parents shadow their adored offspring through Years 11 and 12, their tales about a stranger living in their house, months of abdicated chores, diva-esque study demands, and parents literally tiptoeing around their own home are told with increasing exaggeration and (in hindsight) humour.
With no thanks to tall tales like these, which perhaps are very real in the moment, few parents embrace the beginning of the HSC with glee. As parents, it is fair for us to expect that we will ask ourselves, at least once, who is actually going through the greater test: the HSC student or their family.
No matter how we look at it, the HSC is a testing time. So, to offer some guidance, these are my top 10 tips for parents with a teenager in Years 10 – 12:
- Remember the Basics
We've said it before to our children and our students, and we'll say it again: eat well and rest well...A recap:
Healthful food is good for learning and energy; fast sugars not so.
Water is vital; drink it, bathe in it, relax by it.
Balance is integral; plan a smart routine and schedule regular exercise.
Give your brain a break; sometimes it is good not to study.
Restrict technology, especially non-productive screen time and definitely in the hours before sleep.
- (Re)Discover your Child as the Adult They Nearly Are
Your child is coming of age. The HSC is a learning process that culminates in a series of examinations. This is part of their journey. It also coincides with another milestone process: that of our children transforming into adults who learn to drive, seek independence and dictate their own terms. Step back. Look at who they are. Rather than lament the fading child, look to discover the emerging adult. Guide them and like them. Yes, like them, and work hard at enjoying the journey they're taking us on.
- Practice the Art of Letting Go
As you discover your emerging adult (aka. your son or daughter), it's not surprising to remember that the road to independence is increasingly...independent. For this reason, beside an emerging adult, we can usually find at least one emerging hands-off-and-let-go-and-I'm-here-if-you-need-me parent, who is also trying to work out what they should do and what they no longer need to do. (So, do be a willing listener, do listen without giving unsolicited advice, and do expect and forgive your child's very strong emotions.) When parents let go of their own opinions and reactions, many find their child's road to independence is mutually beneficial!
- Access the Knowledge
There is so much information produced to help you support your child through school: Year 10 UAC Guides, HSC parent advice on the National Education Standards (NESA) website, alongside syllabus and policy documents. Read the parent support materials offered by your child's school and make the most of learning that can help you better understand, empathise and support your child at times of stress and overwhelming pressure. Become familiar with the resources available to parents, as well as to the HSC students.
- Expect the challenge of 'the unexpected'
Excellent research into brain plasticity and intelligence offers parents whole new approaches to try for those HSC moments when it feels like things have gone backwards or the wheels have completed fallen off. These moments still catch parents and students by surprise, throwing motivation into the trash and casting a shadow over the remaining HSC journey.
In reality, learning doesn't always go to plan. Plan about what to do if and when the wheels fall off; with your child if possible. Provide perspective, set in place constructive ways to learn from past mistakes for future gain, and help them discover that learning is often more effective when it is hard (when you have work for it).
- Have a fire-net ready
When the wheels come off or other misadventure befalls, have your fire-net ready. Know what support is available to catch your family and, importantly, your children. At School, get to know the Year Adviser, Academic Support Coordinator, Psychologist, Student Counsellor and Department Heads. In your community, make a note of any trusted and skilled psychologists, counsellors, tutors and mentors who can come alongside your family and child if need arises. Pay attention to the fine-print at HSC preparation seminars and in printed materials that provide support for students due to illness, misadventure or educational access schemes, as well as offer alternative pathways for post-school destinations. Hopefully you will not need it; but is at the ready.
- Gift them with Responsibility
The HSC may be your child's first major experience with independence and consequence (good or bad), and it is a gift of responsibility that is part of the "coming of age" package. Within the HSC experience are many opportunities for emerging adults to evaluate options, make decisions and take responsibility: subject choice, study routines, communicating with teachers, balancing commitments, and more. Hand it all over.
- Become the Student
Overwhelmingly, the most common complaint of HSC parents is, "How do I get them to study?!" At Roseville College, we understand that if a student knows how she learns most effectively she is empowered to learn beyond the requirements. It also eliminates the frustration of hours of tedious, unproductive revision. For all students to some extent, learning is best reinforced by explaining it to someone else - by becoming another's teacher! For HSC candidates, a willing audience of "students" may be the best gift a parent can give.
- Feedback really matters
It is affirming when graduates tell me they felt so many people were cheering them on, willing to help, and offering them direction and feedback during the HSC years. However, the type of feedback that really matters is feedback from teachers that guide a student in where they are going, how they are going, and where they should go next in their learning. Eminent educational researcher, John Hattie says, "The simplest prescription for improving education most be dollops of feedback".
When your child comes home with an assessment result, the best thing not to ask is, "What did you get?"; instead, ask "What feedback did you get?"
Teachers are ready and willing to help HSC students and their parents in settling the best course of learning to achieve the students' best possible outcome. Yet, some students find it difficult to seek further feedback, not know how to ask. If this is your child, offer assistance by helping then draft an email to the teacher or talk with your child about the sorts of questions they could ask their teacher to ensure that such conversation is productive. In formulating questions and thinking about their responses, look for advice that guides areas of improvement and the best "next steps" in learning your child could take.
- Nurture perspective
I love the story about an HSC study group reviewing their exam papers to discover that, despite answering their papers quite differently, two members in the group had received exactly the same high mark. Yet, one was terribly upset at her "disastrous" mark, while the other was more constructive. When the latter was asked why she was not upset, her response was, "I can see where I went wrong; however, I'm still learning and I'll keep learning after the HSC too. This is just part of the lesson. If I want to focus on a real problem, I just have to go home and turn on the News."
The HSC is a learning process that culminates in an examination and an ATAR. The HSC is one step at a time. Each assessment adds to that ATAR, but none singlehandedly decides it. And yes, the learning continues after the HSC too. Nurturing a sense of perspective around the HSC is a gift to your child, and will help them apply perspective to life's events for years to come.
There is no 'right way' to be an HSC cheer-squad; however, there are certainly lots of ways to try! The most necessary keys, in my opinion, are remembering the basics and discovering your emerging adult - and liking them! As always, you will gaze at them when they sleep and wonder how someone so peaceful (hopefully) could cause so much trouble (and be so expensive to upkeep). Parents, this is your journey too, and no two journeys will be the same, because no two children are the same. Please enjoy the ride!
To each parent embarking on the HSC journey with your child, I extend my congratulations and best wishes.
BEd MECh MACE MACEL, has more than 20 years of experience as an educator and education leader, and is Roseville College's 10th Principal
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