Pressure on Senior Students

I’ve spent 15 years as a Teacher and School Counsellor working with students, particularly Senior students and thought that I understood the pressures and demands that they were under. However, this year, I was genuinely shocked.

In the first 3 months of this year (2013), I have presented to over 6 thousand Year 10, 11 and 12 students across Sydney and we speak about the pressures of the HSC, the Higher School certificate.

I ask students 2 questions, the first one is:

What associations do you have of the HSC, mentally and emotionally?

The responses were overwhelmingly negative.

They won’t have a life,
It’s too much work,
They won’t be able to cope,
and there’s a lot of stress and pressure.

Then I say to them,

“Look, what’s the main message that you’re hearing about the HSC,the Higher School certificate?”

The fundamental response I get to this question is that if they fall short, if they don’t get the mark and if they don’t enter University, their future life career prospects and prosperity is in jeopardy. I say to them straight out, that message, wherever they’ve got it from and however they’ve interpreted it, is false. I reveal to the students that I didn’t do the HSC but have two University degrees and went back as a mature-aged student.

Pressure On Senior Students

I stressed to Senior students that the HSC and the Senior years are critically important but not for the reasons that they have been told or the reasons that they have interpreted. While the marks are important, what’s much more important is getting in the right mental and emotional state to be able to achieve those results.

My main message and my work with Senior students is teaching them practical mental health skills and psychological tips that will help them get in the best mental and emotional state.

Click here to find out how we help and support Senior students

We look at 3 ways Senior students can change their mental and emotional state.

  • The first way: Getting into a strong body position.
    • The latest research is now saying that our bodies can change our mind and our emotions. Amy Cuddy on a TED talk revealed that with saliva swabs, people who are in strong body positions compared to weak, contractive positions released different levels of hormones including the stress hormone, Cortisol.
  • The second and third way: Focus and questions and how questions can focus our mind.
    • Today, I wanted to just talk to you about Focus. Let’s do one of the tasks we do with Senior students. Let me just show you in 60 seconds how we don’t have to get rid of negative thoughts and memories out of our minds. A lot of people say, “Well, don’t focus on that negative stuff.” That’s all very well to say but it could be very difficult to somehow remove a negative thought. If you can do it and you can focus on something positive, that’s terrific. But if you can’t, well then you don’t have to do that. What you can do is change how you’re seeing that negative thought or that negative memory. Let’s do this with something positive which is a bit nicer to do.

I want you to focus on a positive experience, a positive memory. Notice whether you were inside or outside, whether they’re people around. You’ll need to do this if  you’re not driving a car or doing anything else. But if you could just take 60 seconds and close your eyes now and focus on this positive memory, this positive experience. I want you to make that memory or experience, that image you’re focusing on right now small; make it about 5 cm in height. I want you to make it dark, black and white. Now take that image and put it way out into the distance, as far as you can put it. Just notice what that feels like. It’s that positive memory but it’s small, dark and way out in the distance. Now just change your focus and now I want you to make that image really big, make it huge, make it your height, double your height, triple your height, make it as big as you possibly can. I want you to make it really bright and colorful. Now bring that image right back to where you are and I want you to imagine that you’re stepping into it. Just notice what that feels like.

The thousands of students and teachers I’ve worked with have noticed that when they make the image bigger, brighter and closer, their emotional state intensifies. If you want to have a positive feeling, get in a positive state, think of a positive experience and a positive memory and you just do that. However, if it’s negative and you’ve got all these negative worries and thoughts and images in your mind, then the best thing to do is to make the image very small, make it dark and put it way out into the distance. This, of course, works really well if you are a visual type of person. If you’re more auditory, well then if there are sounds associated to that negative image, you can just play them up so you can make the sounds or the words into a Donald Duck tone or some other character and you’ll notice then that the intensity really diminishes.

I hope that this tip is just a simple thing that can help your students this year. In my presentations, we spend 90 minutes going through practical strategies that will help them get in the right mental and emotional state.

Click here for Quick Relaxation Techniques

For more information about our Senior Student Sessions and the free online wellbeing resource we provide schools with a seminar booking click here or email

Can we motivate students at the end of the year?

The year feels long, the students have been working for many months, and they sense the school year winding down—they can begin to feel the freedom and joys of summer. How can we keep them engaged in schoolwork? Research on mindsets gives some answers.

Research shows that students with a growth mindset (who believe their intelligence can be developed) show greater motivation to learn and greater achievement over the school year, compared to students with a fixed mindset (who believe their intelligence is fixed). This is because students with a growth mindset believe in effort and focus on learning and improvement.

We have also found over and over that praise for intelligence puts students into a fixed mindset and harms their motivation, but praise for process (effort, strategies, taking on challenges, persistence) puts them in a growth mindset and enhances their motivation and resilience.


So, how can we take advantage of these findings?

1. Focus on progress. The end of the year is a great time to emphasize all the progress students have made over the school year.

Remind them of where they started out– all the things they didn’t know and all things that used to be hard for them. Then show them where they are now and how they got there through their efforts. It is incredibly motivating for students to see that progress.

2. Use that progress to motivate new learning. Help students to use the motivation that comes from seeing their progress to consolidate their learning and to master the final topics of the year.

3. Connecting the learning to their own lives. New research (by Hulleman & Harackiewicz) has shown the benefits of having students write about how they can use what they have learned in their lives. Toward the end of the year is a great time to do this in subjects that students might have trouble relating to.

The end of the school year can be difficult, but, from a mindset perspective, it also presents opportunities.

If you have other ideas on how to motivate students towards the end of the year, please share it in the comments below.

Written by Carol Dweck


Check out Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking book!

Married 21 Years!

WOW! Married 21 Years!

I can still remember when I was 21 What can I say? Well if you are wondering, no it hasn’t been easy at times, and YES, Anna and I love each other more today than we did in our early married life. I have seen it go the other way for others. My many thanks to David Lake, Angela Wood and my many other teachers none other than my beautiful wife!

Words really can’t explain our journey, the truth is there were some really tough times when we both had doubts the marriage would last. If pressed, I would have to say that acceptance is the “emotion” or energy that has deepened our love and respect. David Lake in his book “She’ll be Right – Why Men aren’t getting it” describes how acceptance grows love, respect, friendship etc. and how the poison of criticism is the cancer that eats away at our relationships (and ourselves)

The beautiful thing is that I have experienced the promise that committed, long-term, loving realtionships can offer – unconditional love!!!

I’m a counsellor so forgive me but I have to add my tips to this. If things are not going well in your relationship remember:

1. They don’t mean to hurt you. Yeah, that’s right it is not intentional. If it is, (and it’s a fact, not a story in your head) it may be time to get out!

2. Remember, love can be tough to understand and apply, but friendship and being a good friend is something we all now

3. It goes without saying that abuse should not be tolerated – get help!

4. Consider depression. hard to move forward if one or both are depressed!

5. Take responsibility to lift your energy levels rather than “sucking” each other dry

6. I could go on…finally

7. You don’t need any of these or other tips

8. You know what to do – you both did it when you got together in the begining! Treat her the same! Yeah the “her” was delibrate – lets step up men!

9. P.S. Who said I was not easy to live with 🙂



Connect and Influence without Burning Out
Accidental Counsellor Training