Combating Student Stress with Simplicity and Leadership Education

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The evidence for education reform is dominant, but the root of its problem and how to resolve it still perplexes academia. What is evident is the misalignment of students who are not pursuing what they are best at and enjoy most. In fact, the students that have the most difficult time in life seem to be those who are less clear about their future. Many types of irrational behavior from stress and depression, to frivolous lifestyles and suicidal tendencies, reflect the misalignment (Ossola, 2015; PBSRG, 2016).

The misalignment of individuals may be merely a symptom of a greater problem in life; complexity. Life is complex, and the requirement to become successful in life is increasing as society advances. Interestingly, logic identifies that a person is more likely to understand who they are and what their purpose in life is at age 50, because they have more information. Conversely, someone who is 15  with less information is less likely to know.

The Problem with Traditional Education

The education system still has high expectations for students. Its system expects students to plan their futures at a time they have the least amount of information. It has not done an effective job at creating a structure that can help students understand who they are, what their purpose in life is, and how to align themselves with opportunities for success. Instead, students are told, in order to become successful they need to attend college and learn more technical information.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article on the difficulties of high school students. A New Jersey superintendent recognized a growing problem in his district. He identified 120 of his high school students had depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. In a letter to parents, he stated, “I cannot help but think we may be failing (our students) by reinforcing an educational system that perpetuates grades at the expense of deep and meaningful learning” (Ossola, 2015).

The Solution

LSA proposes the answer to the misalignment of students is a non-traditional leadership approach that uses simplicity as its cornerstone. The Performance Based Studies Research Group (PBSRG) developed this approach over 23 years of research at Arizona State University. Simplicity results in students having the following attributes:

  1. Clearer vision of future.
  2. Greater perception and understanding.
  3. Minimize decision making and thinking.
  4. Identify and increase value to society.
  5. Reduced stress.
  6. Less use of influence or control of others.
  7. Less need of details.

Until now, the concept of making life complex, and causing students to think [increasing brain activity], was an optimal practice. Recently, research identified thinking to be an ineffective practice. Sugata Mitra, a world renowned professor of education technology at Newcastle University, identified that when people are forced to think it causes them stress. With stress, their brain shuts down, and their performance decreases. Afterwards, Mitra identified the traditional process of overwhelming students with information, and making them think is outdated and not optimal (Mitra, et al., 2005; Mitra, 2015).

Saint Louis High School Case Study

St. Louis High School
Saint Louis High School Students

In 2015, Saint Louis High School (SLHS) in Hawaii partnered with PBSRG, to run a semester long test using its non-traditional leadership curriculum. SLHS selected 20 students that struggled in high school (grades and behavior). PBSRG measured the impact of the class on students, by providing a survey before and after the semester. The survey measured student comprehension of concepts, stress level, confidence level, and career preparedness. After the semester, the results were staggering (see Table 1 below):

Table 1: Performance Metrics of the SLHS Case Study (PBSRG, 2016)
CriteriaMetrics
 Total Students20
 Comprehension Score79%
 Change in Stress-46%
 Change in Confidence51%
 Change in Career Preparedness44%
 Class Rating9.6/10

The results of teaching simplicity were as hypothesized. Namely, students felt the new class leadership style added tremendous value with a rating of 9.6/10. Student comprehension of the material increased by 79% despite limited homework. Additionally, students decreased their stress levels by 46%. Finally, student self-confidence increased by 51%, and their confidence for their future increased by 44%. Interestingly, their professor identified the behavioral issues students had at the beginning of class were nearly eradicated by the end.

The leadership course was so successful that SLHS submitted it for NCAA accreditation and received it. As a result, SLHS extended the course to run a full year. They have just started their second year and expect this course to become a main staple in its curriculum.

Conclusion

The traditional K–12 and college educational approach encounters problems with increased student stress. Students have difficulty aligning themselves efficiently and effectively in their future professions. The focus of education should not be on meeting the requirements of a system, but on meeting the needs of each student. A new non-traditional leadership approach has been tested at the college, high school and intermediate school levels. The test results for SLHS have shown a decrease of stress, increased understanding of reality and enjoyment of the class. It also increases the students’ level of confidence and understanding of who they are.

In summary, LSA proposes this new non-traditional leadership education is the “education model of the future”. As students figure out who they are, they will become more successful in every area of life. LSA’s mission is to continue to expose educators and school institutions to this innovative education approach, for the purpose of running more tests with their students to identify positive impact in their lives.

References

Mitra, S. et al. (2005). Acquisition of computing literacy on shared public computers: Children and the “hole in the wall”. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. Retrieved from http://ajet.org.au/index.php/AJET/article/view/1328/699

Mitra, S. (2015). Sugata Mitra Education Researcher. Ted Conference. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/speakers/sugata_mitra

Ossola, A. (2015). High-Stress High School. What’s the balance between preparing students for college and ensuring they aren’t killing themselves in the process? The Atlantic. Web (February 2016). Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/high-stress-high-school/409735/

PBSRG. (2016). Performance Based Studies Research Group Internal Research Documentation, Arizona State University, Unpublished Raw Data.

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