Emer O’Donnell is the founder of TeenReconnect and the creator of Q Pathfinder. As a coach with a background in psychology, she understands what successful people do differently to achieve well-being and performance. Her mission is to bring that learning into the world of education so young people can transform their lives, find their purpose, and thrive in our modern, stressful world. She combines four factors to achieve this outcome – Science, Psychology, Coaching and the 7Q Fast Track TeenReconnect Formula.
Sir Ken Robinson, the late international educationalist, said not necessarily in this order, ‘Life is energy, we are energy and when there is no energy in a body it is dead’. It got me thinking about the quality of energy our educational systems now bring into students’ daily lives, remembering they spend a lot of time in these systems and we eventually become what we hang out with. Do they truly serve and equip young people with the skills to be able to venture out as self-aware, confident individuals into our multicultural modern world with a sense of passion and purpose, able to make their way?
Is it now too much about filling up a pale approach?
This is where their minds feel overwhelmed with too much data, that doesn’t serve beyond the educational gates, adding to their already existing overload from various other avenues. This is what has changed over the generations. Young people genuinely struggle to focus, process and filter out large volumes of data and distracting information they are exposed to now even before they set foot in their classroom. Life is more complicated even with simple things. e.g., Today up to eighteen different coffee drink choices are creating so many possibilities to consider in one basic transaction alone. When I was a student, it was just one! This requires more brain energy, to make that one decision and this model can be extended out to so many other areas of life too. Think of over twenty thousand different types of job choices, continually changing and evolving. When you don’t know who you are, or your natural talents and skills it is a big ask to process. Our brains haven’t evolved to keep up with our more complex world. It all gets exhausting, and easy to start to feel lost without the skills to manage.
Is it keeping them stuck in limited thinking styles?
This is where reason and logic can be the main value players, creating a limited growth and expansive mindset. A known answer is usually required and if a student gets it wrong, they fail. This can impact confidence and a willingness to try again if they are struggling to understand. It may also just make them hold back or play safe next time. Collaboration is not always encouraged either even though we know the combined intelligence of a diverse group is higher than any one individual. If they do get things right, they can think they have nailed it so no more effort is required. There could be countless other variations of answers if explored that would add enormous value if these skills were applied in the real world of work across various disciplines. With progressive companies, it is less about perfectionism and more about exploring, developing, creating and continually moving forward the learning in a collaborative, trusted environment. These are the innovative, successful companies, that can adapt and change but this is not often the modelled environment found in education.
Is the content relevant to their lives, igniting a fire and a thirst for learning?
It could deliver more. If there is one thing, I have learned through my work it is that young people are primed for learning. Most want and are very open to learning and understanding more about themselves and others. Many problems that occur on the planet stem from poor communication so why wouldn’t you feed that skill earlier and properly from the disciplines of behaviour change science, psychology and coaching? They want to know how to manage their emotions and behaviour better. They want to find their purpose, achieve goals, shine and know where they fit in the world. They want to access better decision-making and navigate future paths. They want to know how to handle the anxiety, stress and uncertainty they can feel on that journey. They really want connection. They want friends and adults in their lives they can trust and speak to about things that matter to them, without feeling they need to put on a painted mask pretending to be someone else. The fear of rejection, judgement or ridicule is huge as is the power of social media to magnify negative outcomes for them in a second if someone is minded to action this. However, they often don’t know how to create these connections or articulate what they need and want, with the courage to be their authentic selves. Covid has not helped. They struggle more without their devices as props. As a result, loneliness is skyrocketing, and suicide is the 3rd biggest killer of 15 to 25-year-olds.
Are they being empowered to connect to their heart’s intelligence?
This influences our choices of feelings and emotions if chosen wisely will give us a sense of connection and wholeness rather than feeling separate from others. It also guides decision-making, awareness of self and where one fits in the world. With this intelligence, they can access a superpower of higher vibrational emotions such as courage, love, and joy when faced with uncertainty and the unknown. These make students feel way better than negative emotions and support the development of more open, productive creative behaviours and thinking to be able to solve life’s problems and challenges. Knowing that both our minds and hearts are separate systems within the body but when the rhythm of each can work in tandem empowering us to calm our minds from all the external noise, fears, and stresses of modern life, it is crazy not to be learning about how to harness this in education.
So, what is to be done?
Education needs to adapt to keep pace with the rapidly evolving world we now live in, to prepare students for the future and equip them with the skills and psychological mindsets they need to succeed. We need new educational programmes to deliver this. From my work, I know so many young people crave these inner foundations of knowledge, but they simply don’t get enough of it to empower them to live a life they would love in our psychologically demanding world. The irony is that the educational system is designed to push for performance but is not achievable in the longer term if well-being isn’t present. An inability to manage ongoing stress and anxiety will dampen the learning and performance fire too. Students need to know who they are to be able to navigate this well.
Then on a much more basic level let’s consider what skills employers place a premium value on. It is the soft skills. These are non-technical skills related to who you are and how you are naturally predisposed to behave. Employers love them because they are essential for success in the workplace. Here are some of the reasons why:
Good communication skills enable employees to articulate their ideas and collaborate with others, leading to better decision-making and higher productivity.
Effective teamwork uses soft skills such as cooperation, solving conflicts, and empathy to build and maintain positive relationships with co-workers and customers.
The ability to adapt to change and become more comfortable with the unknown, learning how to cope with stress and anxiety, learn new things, and work in diverse environments is increasingly important in a rapidly evolving job market.
Problem-solving soft skills like creativity, critical thinking and decision-making are vital for solving complex problems in the workplace.
Time management skills where there is an ability to prioritise tasks, meet deadlines and work on your own and with others are highly valued by employers as it ensures projects are delivered on time.
A growth mindset means the ability to be more likely to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and continuously seek out opportunities to learn and grow. It makes individuals more resilient, open-minded, and proactive in the face of change and challenges, e.g., naturally seeking to develop themselves, and continuously acquiring new skills. It is highly valued by employers in a job market that is rapidly changing where they need their workforce to be able to adapt to these changes.
When you hear stories however of youth death threats and bullying online, of stabbings, of teenage school shootings plus a recent story of girls as young as 11 years old, setting upon other teenagers of a different ethnic group where they are dragged around by their hair and repeatedly kicked in the head, one being beaten by three people at once, you know there is a real empathy and soft skill disconnect in our society. We need educational programmes that provide what are teachable skills to empower young people to reconnect in a meaningful way. Starting with building personalised self-awareness, young people can learn what makes them and others tick to find common ground. It is pure gold as with the right tools it supports the ability to build positive relationships, confidence, new skills and self-esteem. These are all essential ingredients for thriving in our future world and surely this is a key foundation stone of what education should be all about.
Visit www.teenreconect.com/EmerODonnell, to learn more about Emer’s educational work to empower young people to live a life they will love, improving well-being, reducing stress and supporting performance.