Ms Shelley Barnsley, Manager of Student Support Services in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science was a keynote speaker at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Circle of Excellence (COE) Conference in Durban.
Her address to high school principals and educators from about 80 schools focused on how to assist learners to make the transition from secondary school to Higher Education.
The annual COE Conference recognises educators at secondary schools that are consistent in their delivery of candidates to the Allan Gray Fellowship. It aims to promote entrepreneurial leadership and advocates for the cultivation of entrepreneurial mind-sets in schools.
Barneley’s presentation in the session on Who is in my classroom? was titled Know the Rules of the Game. She presented a snapshot of the critical areas that characterise the transition to Higher Education Institutions, particularly universities.
Drawing on the transition strategies of retired astronaut and physician Story Musgrave, Barnsley noted that, ‘The central concept is that learners need to know the rules of the game and have a clear plan.’ Since most rules in Higher Education are implicit, she applied her 27 years of experience in student counselling to highlight five key areas that underprepared learners and underprepared institutions could focus on.
Firstly, she encouraged educators to tell students to remember why they are in the Higher Education track they chose, honing in on career choice, motivation, goals and adjustment. She spoke about self-management and specifically about the roles of mental health, positive or negative peer influence, and mindfulness as evidence-based treatment for anxiety and depression. Barnsley pointed to the need for techniques that assist students to manage their work-life balance, and pointed educators to free resources like Headspace and .b curriculum to aid them in these efforts.
Barnsley also spoke about willpower, specifically in terms of sleep, diet and dopamine. She defined willpower as resistance to short-term temptations to achieve long-term goals, saying that self-control is a better indicator of success than IQ.
She also addressed study skills, emphasising the usefulness of mind maps, daily consolidation notes and past papers, and provided resources like the Study Hacks blog and Thinking Maps.
Barnsley concluded by speaking about resilience, effort and grit, saying that, given that students come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, academic buoyancy is required that views failure as a learning experience. She emphasised the value of effort-driven reward.
Barnsley joined Dr Del Naidoo from Johannesburg in leading an “unconference” session with a small group where they conducted a mindfulness and breathing exercise, discussed its applicability to the classroom, and provided tools for educators to do this in their schools.
Barnsley’s presentation was very positively received, and led to her being invited to present at the 2019 speech day of the Durban-based high school that she herself attended.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Supplied by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation