A Parent’s Guide to Supporting Our Teens at School – Part 1, A Newer View of Learning

Here’s the truth: education is truly a gift to each “next generation”. However, as parents of teenagers approaching their final school years and those blocks of exams – or those in the thick of it – education doesn’t always feel like a gift (for us or for them!) 


How does education look when it is a gift?   


Originally published in 2008, the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians articulates nationally consistent future directions and aspirations for Australian schooling. Basically, it’s the education system all Australian schooling is based on. It delivers a focus on preparing kids for 21st century living. It’s all about them. The goal of the system is “that all young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens”. 


Sounds great for sure. I love the thought of my kids getting this from their education.  

Regardless of what emotion is involved, it will certainly colour how information associated with the notion of science is digested or applied by the person feeling them. Therefore, approaching science as an emotional concept is worth a moment of thought.


There is, however, an “Older View” of learning that a lot of us as parents experienced. 


Growing up and attending school, we were often classed as “smart or dumb”. We were tested on the basis of a grade rather than testing to improve learning and fear was often used as a primary motivator. We may have even had IQ tests to inform our possible future career choices. We were not taught how to learn. We were taught how to memorise.  


Unfortunately, some of our kids are still experiencing aspects of this where the emphasis on comparative scores outweighs the goals of the system. If this is our only experience as parents then we may see this as the norm. 


How does this sound when we look at preparing ‘confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens”? 

Newer View of the Learning Brain

Current research into how the brain learns best shows there is so much the “learning brain” can tap into. We recognise that at the very core our brains are built for survival. Anything the brain perceives as contributing to that survival is more likely to motivate us to want to learn. And that’s not just about staying safe from lions, tigers or bears – it’s about having a better future.    


The Newer View of the Learning Brain shows that the collection of grey and white matter is really interested in “What’s in it for me?”  When it comes to learning and memory, the Future is the best motivator. A positive pull rather than a fearful push. Learning itself, as an activity of seeking out information, can naturally give the learner a reward. This is especially true when there is some novelty involved.  


The “Newer View” of learning shows IQ is not fixed. In fact, we can make our own smarts. The Newer View demonstrates the benefits of ‘learning how to learn’ and not simply memorise. Now, we can use this to better inform classrooms and home learning environments.  


We can truly be supporting “successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens” 



I have over 20 years of experience in education, specialising in Mind Brain Education Science. With this Newer evidence-based view of how the brain learns best, you might think I would find it easy to support my own children in the same way as I have been able to support the kids in my classroom. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the way it went with my first child who did her final exams in the NSW system – the HSC in 2005. Supporting HSC students as a parent is a different ball game to supporting as a teacher. A game most of us don’t know the rules to! 


As with a lot of things, hearing something from your own parentcan instantly make any “advice” less valid.   


Over the past 10 years, I have been working with how to apply the neuroscience of learning for the classroom to being a better support for my boys, in Years 9 and 11, as a Parent. Trying to resist giving so much “advice” and simply tapping into a shared language that reflects the newer view of the learning brain,and supporting an environment that backs this up.    


One thing hasn’t changed since my daughter’s time though. The results of exams are not the be all and end all measure of success. If we focus primarily on numerical scores we push back into the Older View of the learning brain.  However, focusing on the future and how their subject choices support this future we can help improve their numbers by default.   


I have had many conversations with fellow parents who just want to be able to help their kids and support them through their later years of school. 


So, how can we support them in the last few years of school? How can we foster their confidence and success. How can we help them see education done FOR them not TO them? How can we help them stress less – and by extension, help us as parents stress less? 


Firstly, we can be more confident that we can do a really great job of this. After all, learning is what the brain is naturally evolved to do! We all have a natural “knowing” in-built and it’s really powerful. Then, it just becomes a matter of tapping into an understanding of the newer view of learning with our kids. 


Using Mind Brain Education Science to Give Meaningful Support

We can use the findings of Mind Brain Education Science to ensure our support is natural and meaningful. First we need to get easy access to these findings and the tools we can use to support them. 


I have divided the findings into 3 sections to make it really accessible and the plan is to look at each section in more detail in the next 3 articles: 

Part 2 :  5 Healthy choices to support your child’s learning brain

Part 3 : Mindset & mental wellbeing: how to support emotional brains for better learning

Part 4 : Promoting an environment that supports the natural patterns of the learning brain  - The Study Supportive Home 


As a first step we can try to resist our tendency to provide advice and change just one question we ask our teens each day 

Change “How was school?” to “What was the best class you had at school today” 

Would love to hear if that alone changes anything! 

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