Former Green School parent and student mentor, Sally Lewis, with her mentees in 2022
I’m Sally – an alumni parent and student mentor of Green School, Bali. Our children attended Grades 3 and 7 at Green School in 2012 and after 7 years back in Australia, we unexpectedly returned to Bali in 2020 at my son’s request, to join this unique ‘community of learners’ once again. Despite good grades and a great bunch of friends, our son wasn’t enjoying school, was unchallenged and couldn’t see the relevance in rote learning and regurgitating what the traditional curriculum in Australia had to offer. Having attended Green School in Grade 3, he somehow knew there was a different way.
Our previous experience in 2012 gave us the belief that Green School would provide a different approach to learning, equip him with a more relevant, enjoyable experience and make his final years of High School more worthwhile, somehow preparing him for his future. The graduates we knew had a sense of readiness, maturity and confidence about them. Was it the natural environment and architecture, the inspiring teachers or the student-centred approach and focus on applicable learning that contributed to this? With no standardised testing and without the seemingly all-important SAT or GSCE number to define graduating students, we were curious about the outcome. And so began another adventure…
As a parent of 2 young adults (now aged 19 and 22) I had been having conversations about ‘next steps’ for the past 10 years. The common thread running through these conversations is an underlying fear of making the wrong decision, of making fatal mistakes along with an increasingly deep-seated anxiety about the future and “what if it doesn’t all work out?”
As a Student Mentor in Pathways and Wellbeing at Green School, I found myself having very similar conversations. Many of the high school students told me they felt pressure to do something they didn’t think they would enjoy, expressed fears they would not be meeting their parents’ expectations, felt unprepared for ‘real life’ and often worried about choosing the ‘wrong’ pathway post-graduation.
It was these frank conversations with the High School students that led me to create the following Pathways and Well-being programmes: Now What? Seeds of Greatness; Ripples of Impact; Critical Conversations.
Getting to the heart of the students’ issues largely informed the direction and content of the programmes, which later became the subject of my book: Figuring Out Your Future: A Guide to Life Beyond the School Gates, written to equip both students and their parents at this often-tricky crossroads with what is needed to step confidently into their future and build a life they will never want to escape from.
Figuring Out Your Future, by Sally Lewis
The world looks very different for our children now and life is changing at a pace many of us never imagined. Technology is advancing faster than universities can keep up with. Many courses are now simply outdated. Our kids will be doing jobs we haven’t even thought of. The Institute for The Future predicts that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. How do we prepare for career paths that don’t yet exist?
My previous experience as a Human Behaviour Specialist in the field of mental and emotional health taught me much about how we humans are wired, what is needed for us to thrive and what makes us flourish. Ultimately, what you DO is inseparable from WHO you are – we are human beings, not human doings. Identifying our own individual compass in life is key to a fulfilling journey ahead.
People are set up to fail if they envision what they want to do before they figure out who they are.” – Ruth Barton
As the world becomes ever more mechanised and robotic – we are being challenged to double-down on what it really means to be human. Exploring our own humanity, our place within the world and relationship with it, is critical if we are to continue to thrive, or even survive, as a species.
Of course, each student is a unique individual. There is no one size fits all. Each one of us is on our own version of the path less-traveled. Green School graduates go on to study, travel, work, volunteer and contribute in a myriad of different ways. There’s no such thing as a ‘typical Green School graduate’ and not all graduates become nature nerds or green warriors – but during my time at Green School as both a parent and a student mentor, I observed certain traits amongst the students that are becoming increasingly valuable in our changing world. These observations are from my own experience with the students I had the privilege of getting to know but hold true for many others I speak with.
Sally’s son giving his senior year greenstone presentation
With agency in their own learning journey, students design their own school day with the High School elective-based curriculum. Classes and projects are often student-led and the student-centred approach creates an engaging learning environment, encouraging enquiring minds and providing ample opportunity to explore individual passions. Academic pursuits are balanced with social-emotional programs. Self-expression is celebrated and individuality embraced alongside a service mentality of contribution with numerous community engagement opportunities. An awareness for their environment is fostered and students gain an understanding of their own and their collective responsibilities and impact.
Immersed in nature and surrounded by a supportive, engaged parent and local community, the students learn by observing, discussing and doing. The natural world permeates into the classroom with the understanding that when children are given the right conditions and immersed in an appropriate environment they will naturally thrive.
Observations from visiting friends were particularly heart-warming: they showed surprise at how genuinely happy, friendly and engaged the students were: “They really seem to be having fun!”
Inter-generational communication is normal for Green School students as they interact with parents and teachers in shared activities and incidental meetings at the school coffee shop. There is always space for the student voice to be heard…and students’ ideas and initiatives are fostered at all levels of the learning programme. I had the great privilege of mentoring the students on their Greenstone journeys, where over the course of their final year they choose a passion project to explore. This experience is incredibly meaningful for each Grade 12 student as they get time to ‘play’, along the way solving real problems, engaging with local communities and discovering how they can actually make a difference.
Through scholarships and inclusive hiring practices, international students at Green School are always learning from and alongside local Balinese. Being surrounded by the traditional Balinese culture has a profound effect that no one anticipates when they first arrive on this magical island.
Students leave Green School with a strong sense of self and their place in the world. They have a heightened sense of adventure, curiosity and a willingness to explore options outside the box. They often have an expanded self-awareness from regular self-reflection as part of the reporting process each term.
But rather than focussing purely on the outcome – they are also reminded to enjoy the journey. Feedback from my students gives me confidence that they are indeed ‘future-ready’:
“I can now see the value in making mistakes.”
“I am less afraid of failing as I now see how one thing can lead to another.”
“Life feels more like an exciting adventure now rather than a set path I was somehow meant to follow.”
Receiving the many heart-warming notes from parents thanking me for the great conversations they were now having with their children or the improvement in their relationships after they took my classes was profound. These are the things that matter.
Sally’s son, Dan, at his Green School graduation ceremony
Green School students graduate as life-long learners taking with them a curious mind and a love of learning. They are open to embracing possibility and change – vital attributes in our current environment of uncertainty and volatility. Unlikely friendships are forged and norms are questioned. It seems that everyone leaves Green School with a little more belief that anything is possible.
Author of Figuring Out Your Future: A Guide to Life Beyond the School Gates
Student and Parent Mentor – creating safe spaces for greatness to emerge
Link to more of Sally’s stuff: https://sallylewis.com/
Contact Sally on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sally-lewis-b247071a/