In her book Secrets of the Teenage Brain, Sheryl Feinstein comments on the value of, and need for, adolescents to experience activities that help develop a conscience. “Teenagers, as members of many communities, deserve schools that promote moral sensitivity and character… School and life experiences that support moral character foster individuals with high self-esteem who are capable and willing to give back to others.” (p157, Hawker Brownlow 2007)
Many schools provide curriculum content opportunities for such social and moral exploration but we know that most adolescents learn best in hands-on experiences. There are many schools that provide real-life experiences for their students in a whole variety of ways. In some cases it is even included as a mandatory extra-curricula learning element. My nieces in Western Australia, for example, were expected to log a minimum number of hours of community service during their senior years. One volunteered at a LifeLine Op Shop, another helped out at the RSPCA. What they learnt about themselves, about others and about their community was significant. I know they both developed an increased empathy during their volunteer hours as well.
Activities like these take students outside of their own realm of experience and are given the opportunity to give back to the community. They challenge the sometime-held belief that adolescents are self-centred. They help adolescents put their own life into perspective. And they engage that passionate advocacy part of an adolescents’ developing self.
In my school, we have established a strong link with a primary school that has quite a number of disadvantaged students in their population. For the past couple of years we have taken Year 9 students to that school to run a breakfast program, one day a week. The connections between the school have grown from there and I trust they might grow more.
I love the compassion, care and concern my students are developing as they prepare a simple toast-and-spreads breakfast and shoot a few hoops with these younger kids. I also love the broadening understanding of life that is developing in my students.
As Feinstein says, “…mature and sensitive people take into account the effect of their behaviour on others.”