One of the most powerful things we can do for young people is to provide or point out positive role models upon which they can continue the all-important process of determining their future identity.
It is our role models who have achieved what we think extraordinary, who face challenges with the resilience and determination we aspire to, and who show the compassion, empathy and insight we are inspired by.
In order to know what sort of person we want to grow up to be – we have to have a clear idea of people who reflect these qualities; either in their entirety, or in part. Good role models reinforce desired behaviours and stances and help us in the development of CHARACTER. In a recent survey, this was the most important thing parents ask for in a school – a place to develop character. All schools teach a government-mandated curriculum – but how much do they focus on character?
Great role models may take the form of people or stories. Sometimes they even take the form of both.
Real life role models show us how people much like ourselves can achieve great things. It is hard not be to inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of many great minds in the business world, such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk, both of whom seek to give back to the community as well. Our sporting stars such as Trent Cochin, Liz Ellis, Lewis Hamilton, and Serena Williams teach us about determination, discipline and perseverance. But in fact, it is the ordinary person, without special gifts or celebrity that prove the most powerful role models – the brothers, sisters, coaches, friends and older peers. These role models have the most sway as they are the person young people can see a clear pathway to becoming. We all need people like these in our lives.
Role models are important especially important in the case that a young person lacks a positive male or female role model – such as a missing or absent parent. Let’s not forget that it is parents who are the very first role models our young people are exposed to!
As I mentioned earlier, schools play an important role in this too, with care being taken in the selection of staff to ensure they embody the values and ethos of the school. Connections between staff and students are crucially important – as are connections between Senior School students and the young people on the Junior School – which is why programs like our Billy Cart Challenge are valuable on a variety of levels. Young people have a chance to meet older students and connect with different teachers to produce something they feel ownership over, and a strong sense of success in.
We also teach, in a variety of ways, the stories and examples of those who came before us, who reflect what we want for the young people in our care. Visit our Senior School assemblies and you will see both students and school leadership talking about figures who reflect the concepts of both Growing Good Men and Empowering Women. With 95 years of history and alumni, walk through the VCE centre at the Senior Girls campus and the walls are lined with former students who have achieved remarkable success.
Our peer mentoring programs reflect this as well, with older students tasked with setting that good example for younger students. At the Senior Boys campus, Peer Mentors also undertake a storytelling project, in which Year 10 students construct two stories of a man who embodies what the Growing Good Men Project means to them… one a real-life role model (as we mentioned above) and the other chosen from a fictional text.
These fictional role models can be equally as important, as they transcend boundaries of time, culture and experience to allow us insight into worlds we may otherwise not encounter. This is why reading is so crucial to the program on both campuses, and why we select our texts so carefully – every text is an opportunity to teach about character.
I have currently set the Year 8 and Year 9 boys a challenge over this holiday break – to read a book that has a positive male role model who they believe could link into the kind of man they want to be.
Our role models help us all to develop a strong sense of self, and the capacity to say no to the ideas that take us away from who we want to be. This kind of self-assurance and strong positive identity is crucial to successful living in a modern world where so many things pull us to do the easy thing rather than the right thing. It is character that helps us face these challenges.