Cross Country Checkup·Checkup

Students should be taught resilience, but educators struggle with the best way forward

Callers and audience members during Checkup's live show at Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg worried students aren't prepared for a rapidly changing job market. But figuring out how best to prepare them isn't as easy said as done.

Current and former students, teachers and parents join Checkup for the show's live broadcast from Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg.

4 years ago
Duration 1:54
Current and former students, teachers and parents join Checkup for the show's live broadcast from Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg. 1:54

​Roshan Jain thinks all high school students should get an 'F' sometime.

The grade 12 student at Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg believes it'll better prepare you for the future.

"When you do get a zero, it really hurts you the first time," Jain told Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue during a live broadcast from Glenlawn's gymnasium.

"When [that zero] comes — if it comes ever again — you're ready for it."

He was one of several audience members and callers that believed teens should be more resilient. Instant gratification from social media, a fear of failure and overly-supportive parents were given as reasons students are struggling once they leave seconday school.

Sunday's broadcast returned to Glenlawn after Checkup's first show at the school in 2005. Thirteen years ago, then-host Rex Murphy asked if students were being prepared for a rapidly changing world.

At the time, students said they were optimistic about the future. They thought their school was doing a good job, though admitted they could be challenged more.

Turns out not much has changed — students in the audience were optimistic about their futures despite a changing job market.

The case for extra-curriculars

For them, that optimism was about more than just academics.

It's a common refrain repeated by teachers and administrators: get involved. Students are encouraged to take advantage of extra-curricular activities during and after school — sports, arts, music and theatre.

The students who spoke to Checkup credited those activities with giving them a well-rounded education.

Emmanuel Thomas says sports helped him prepare for his future. (Anna-Liza Kozma/CBC)

An accomplished varsity basketball player, senior Emmanuel Thomas, learns about himself on the court. He says that he feels well prepared for the future thanks to sport.

"Athletics teaches more to me than just how to play sports. It teaches me life skills like always being on time to practice, being self-accountable when you mess up," he told McCue.

"Our coach lets us know that this is going to carry on outside of high school."

Lilja Best feels the same way. She's active in the school's music programs and believes that what she learns performing in band is beneficial.

"There's so much to learn that's not from a textbook, right? About interacting with people and how to work with people who have different ideas than you."

Centuries old education

Despite the students' optimistic views, callers and audience members had concerns.

The job market is changing. As the "gig" economy grows, listeners told Checkup it's leaving successful students in the lurch.

Brodie Sanderson graduated from Glenlawn in 2003 and believes students today should be better prepared for the changing job market. (Ieva Lucs/CBC)

When Brodie Sanderson graduated from Glenlawn in 2003 — and later university — he expected to land a reliable government job.

"I've been on contract gigs for 10 years," he told McCue.

"You can be on the honour roll your entire high school career," he said. "[But] when you get out of there, you still got to be a guy that can go out every two years when your contract ends and be able to promote yourself."

He wants high schools to better prepare students for the uncertainty he says they'll face after school.

Christine Marian, a veteran educator who phoned in from Edmonton, worries that won't happen.

"Every school that I've taught in is rooted in the 19th century," she told Checkup.

She points to classrooms that seat students in rows with a teacher lecturing at a chalkboard. Marian thinks classrooms should be designed as collaborative workspaces that cater to different learning styles.

New approaches are needed to best serve students as they graduate into post-secondary education and the workforce, she says.

"[The model] flies in the face of everything we know and all the rhetoric around 21st learning and 21st century thinking," she said.

Serving all students

Vivianne Fogarty, a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, agreed with Marian, but cautioned it's becoming more and more challenging to serve individual students' needs.

Vivianne Fogarty, a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, says that students' needs are more complex than ever. (Ieva Lucs/CBC)

"We have schools with 50-plus languages coming from different countries all over the world," she said from the audience. "We've got our Indigenous populations coming to our schools that have lost their languages and we're trying to start honouring that."

Classrooms have become more complex, she argues, and teaching resilience even more so. To fail a hard working student that simply misses the mark could "ruin somebody."

When asked whether the school is too easy on students, vice principal Jason Dubeau disagreed. He believes that marks shouldn't be the defining factor in a student's potential.

"A zero tells you nothing. So does 50; so does 70," he told McCue.  

For Dubeau, a graduate of Glenlawn who admits that the school didn't prepare him for every scenario — he could graph a parabola, but struggled with his taxes — it's important to find a students' strength and bolster it.

"We really have to take the focus off the mark in general. We have to know what they can do and what they can't do," he said.

Former Glenlawn student Jason Dubeau is now the school's vice principal. He says the school teaches resilience by acknowledging students' strengths. (Ieva Lucs/CBC)

Even if schools aren't handing out "zeroes" on report cards, Dubeau doesn't believe that means they're not challenging students. They're simply finding alternate ways to teach resilience.

Still, it's crucial that students like Jain feel like they're given the skills to succeed beyond high school, says Dubeau.

"If someone comes through high school and they're never challenged, then that's on us."

To hear Cross Country Checkup's full broadcast from Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg, download our podcast or click here to listen to the full show.