My 4-year-old son recently said he wants to be "Monkey Man" when he grows up. I asked him what Monkey Man does, and he explained that Monkey Man saves people and can swing from building to building with his monkey arms so that he doesn't need to wait in the awful Sydney traffic. I asked him what he needs to do to prepare himself to become Monkey Man. He said he will eat his broccoli and salmon so that he can become healthy and strong.
My son has a vision and goals, a plan to reach them and hope for his future. But if he successfully maintains his sense of hope throughout his education, he would be in the minority.
Less than half (48%) of students in Years 5 through 12 surveyed through Australia's 2016 Gallup Student Poll could be classified as "hopeful," meaning they have abundant ideas and energy for the future. This figure hasn't budged since 2014.
More than one in three (37%) students polled were classified as "stuck" -- meaning they have few ideas and little momentum for their future. And more than one in seven (15%) were classified as "discouraged," meaning they lack ideas and energy and may have negative conceptualizations of the future.
This lack of hope is a huge missed opportunity that could have significant implications not only for these students, but also for Australia's future. Gallup research shows that hope drives high school attendance rates, GPA averages and university retention. Studies have shown that hope is an even greater predictor of university success than standardized testing scores. So fostering students' levels of hope for the future should be a priority for schools.
Hope is one of the critical metrics in Australia's Gallup Student Poll (GSP), which also measures other noncognitive aspects of student performance, such as well-being, engagement and entrepreneurial aspiration. In 2016, the Gallup Student Poll was made up of a convenience sample of over 11,000 students in Years 5-12 from 34 schools. More than 41,000 students have participated since the inception of GSP in Australia in 2012, and over 2 million students have taken part in it in the U.S. since 2009.
While 74% of students in Year 5 are engaged in school -- meaning they are involved in and enthusiastic about school -- this percentage is much lower for students in Year 12, at 52%. Additionally, only about three in 10 Year 12 students strongly agree that they know they will find a good job after they leave school, and 22% can strongly agree that they know they can find lots of ways around any problem. This indicates that many students are leaving school without a lot of confidence in their future.
However, there is reason to be optimistic. Many forward-thinking schools in Australia and around the world are teaching students to focus on their unique strengths in order to help each student set and pursue his or her own goals. When students focus on their strengths, they are nearly nine times more likely to be engaged in school and nearly three times more likely to be hopeful.
As a coach who works in a strengths-based organisation, I have seen what can happen when an individual's unique differences are valued and his or her development is focused on strengths rather than weaknesses. These employees are more engaged and their performance outcomes follow because they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day. Marry this with a manager who can help the individual set goals and hold him or her accountable, and the effect is amplified.
As a parent, my hope is that my children will learn from teachers who recognise that every student has "superpowers" that should be identified, developed and celebrated. My wish for all students is that their enthusiasm for what they want to be when they grow up can endure through their time in school. I want my son's success to be judged not only on his academic performance, but also on his ability to solve problems and pursue his goals.
Learn more and register your school for the Gallup Student Poll in Australia.