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Character Strengths

Every individual possesses all 24 character strengths in different degrees, giving each person a unique character profile.

In the Links to Learning Classroom at Crookwell Highschool we have a strength- based approach to learning.
Throughout the year we have conducted project-based learning within the Community.
“These projects give the students an opportunity to use their strengths and shine in ways that they otherwise may not.”











Why do I need to know my Character Strengths?
Knowing your character strengths isn’t just interesting information.

When skilfully applied, character strengths can actually have a significant positive impact on your life.

  • Research shows that using your character strengths can help you:
  • Buffer against, manage and overcome problems
  • Improve your relationships
  • Enhance health and overall well-being
  • The Science of Character

Learn more about VIA Character Strengths HERE

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You Snooze, Or You Lose

Their best chance of an ‘A’ begins with some Zzzzzzzz’s.

 Starting back the first week of last term, I anticipated that some of the girls would be enthusiastic with stories from their holidays, or, maybe even fully refreshed with bountiful energy to put into their work.

 They yawn, do not contribute to group discussion. Some sit eating bags of crisps and I think that may be the only thing keeping them awake.

 I mention to the girls that we have some content to get through first before we move into the craft projects they have been working on in their L2L group and apologise that its boring. One girl mentions that it’s not boring, it’s just that they are all very tired. She adds that she stayed up until 2am playing “Fortnite” online. Another girl mentions that she had panic attacks during the evening and could not sleep due to her anxiety. Generally, exhaustion in this group of girls is somewhat contagious as they all seem to present with the same demeanour. Slouched over, tired eyes, leaning on their arms.


I completed an online webinar some days later, presented by Dr Chris Seton, a Paediatric & Adolescent Sleep Physician working out of Children’s Hospital Westmead. This session covered the modern understanding of teenage sleeping patterns and the impact this has on both their individual learning and mental health.

 According to this session, 70% of Australian teenagers are chronically sleep deprived on school days, which as we know, the effects are not just limited to tiredness and academic failure. Sleep deprivation affects many day-to-day decisions for teenagers, including poor food choices and links to obesity, increases cortisol (stress hormone), and an increase in feelings of depression and anxiety.

Also known as a “conditioned insomnia,” there are multiple factors contributing to sleep deprivation in our teenagers. Late body clocks, inflexible school start times, ambition, pressure, stress and high expectations. Add to this the fact that over 96% of surveyed teenagers admitted to screen use within an hour before their bed time, and it leaves me with no wonder that my groups of girls are struggling to keep their eyes open, let alone contribute to group discussion and tasks before 10am.


 Moving forward, I emphasise how important it is to prioritise their sleep, their health, over their fear of missing out. In the age of social connectedness (where being asleep can mean you miss 20 messages in the group chat or worse!) screen time delays bed time and removing this alone could allow for the required and recommended 9hours + of sleep that teenagers require, every night.

We start every weekly session with a 10 minute guided mediation and each of the girls report that this leaves them feeling re-energised and awake, and some have even begun practising this at home. Building on healthy sleep habits leads to healthy sleep patterns, optimising learning opportunities and promoting resilience in coping with daily stresses. I hope that these small changes and discussions that we have in L2L can influence their decisions to take responsibility for their sleep, in turn giving themselves the best chance to enjoy and thrive everyday.



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Balancing our Trades

We can’t state difference and also state equality. We have to state sameness to understand equality – Zadie Smith, Author

Did you know that there are less than 6000 women employed in trades Australia-wide?*

Jo Saccomani, Churchill Fellow and licensed builder in the Bega Valley region, has a vision. She wants to see a fifty/fifty gender balance in the trades in her lifetime. And she’s going to do her darndest to make it happen. Jo, also the founder of Two Sheds, a woodworking workshop (try saying that three times, fast) for women and kids, addressed a packed-out Civic Centre on Saturday, 1st September for Bega’s first Festival of Open Minds. Included in a line-up of notable social change advocates including social researcher and psychologist Hugh Mackay AO and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Linda Burney, Jo would be forgiven for nerves. Jo, however, possesses such courage of conviction that her words rang out against the walls of the hall and into the ears of the paying audience. Jo’s message is clear — gender equality will only come about when seeing a woman in a set of coveralls isn’t strange. When having a female sparky rock up at your door to fix a short doesn’t set off alarm bells. When there’s no longer a conversation to be had.

I went to meet with Jo and check out her enterprise and was amazed at what she’s created. Beginning with a single shed four years ago and now encompassing two large workshop spaces and several storage sheds, Two Sheds Workshop is a hive of industry. Imagine your traditional Men’s Shed or school woodwork room — lengths of timber, sawhorses, chisels, sawdust, half-finished tables, Nordic swords (ok, maybe not the swords. I think that’s just Jo — she also runs woodworking classes at the local Steiner school) – Got it? Now replace the boys with girls. Got it!

Based on a user-pays system and no funding, Jo has built a safe, nurturing space for girls and women to come together (or alone) to learn the art of good carpentry. Jo says that women often come in wanting to start out in the building industry, but they feel intimidated by the culture. And while it’s true that opportunity exists, Jo believes that empowering women with skills and knowledge before they go into the trades workforce will result in a more sustainable, positive outcome and, eventually, a culture shift.
The bit that really interested me though was Jo’s plan for the future. Jo envisages, as early as next year, to have enough funding to develop a framework (excuse the puns) to teach women and girls how to make tiny houses; essentially providing them with the opportunity to skill up in every aspect of standard house building on a smaller scale.

I left Two Sheds feeling hopeful and inspired. Working in a regional area to engage kids in meaningful employment can be challenging. The more barriers we break down, the easier it becomes for everyone. And as a colleague remarked to me the other day, the hospitality industry was once male-dominated too. When was the last time you looked at a female cook and thought, ‘hey that’s different?’. Here’s to gender equality in the workplace.

For more information on SALT and Two Sheds, go to and

*sourced from

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Let’s talk about the pink elephant…

Let’s talk about the pink elephant in schools.


In a modern world teenagers exhibiting signs of anxiety is rife, and levels of poor self-confidence is terrifyingly high. With bullying, sometimes precarious home lives, high study loads and social media ever present, a world where selfies take precedence before homework, it’s time we need to address the bigger issue.


So what if we had a class at school that focuses on why anxiety levels are so high and aiming to address the pink elephant in the room? This is exactly what Links to Learning is all about. The program has been created for students that are falling through the cracks, and it’s not to do with literacy and numeracy levels. It’s to do with the fact that some students are struggling so much inside their heads they aren’t even able to go to school. Where the idea of taking the bus to school, facing bullies in class and in the school yard, is just too hard so these teens are in fact not going to school at all.


Life can be tough sometimes. There’s no mistaking it. And in such a turbulent world it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. And by lost, I don’t mean we can’t find where we are going. There is just so much going on around us, and in our own heads, sometimes we can lose our way in the fog. So how do we get out of the fog?


Research and experience shows that teenagers focusing on projects that create positive outcomes for others display higher levels of well being. It provides an opportunity to feel a part of one’s community, to be counted. To have a higher sense of worth. To have a purpose. And that doing something for others feels good! In a world where approaching strangers, asking if they want help, or if they’re OK, is rare, it’s up to us to be the change we want to see! (I actually stole that quote from the ever inspiring Mahatma Gandhi, but I think he would be okay with that). It’s a quote I use regularly with my students. I ask them regularly: “What is it you want to see that would make our world better?”


Their answers never cease to amaze and inspire.


“Equal rights for women” Year 10 female student

“For guys to be able to talk openly and not be judged” Year 8 male student

“To be nicer to each other” Year 10 female student

“For it to be OK to not wanna play footy” Year 10 male student


Having a social and emotional program in the school curriculum is such a powerful tool for these students that do fall through the cracks. To have a chance to speak of personal highs and lows, in a place where one of the few rules is not to judge others. To acknowledge peer’s wins and falls. To break down stereotypes. To listen. To step out of one’s own world and immerse oneself in the greater community. To take time out to stop, switch off our phones, to have real and powerful conversations and to really listen. Where your voice and your ears are your most powerful tools. And it is from these conversations that effective and powerful change begins to occur.


So dear reader, I shall finish with two questions for you: What is it you want to see that would make our world better?

And what is it you are going to do about it?

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School… The best years of your life?

School… The best years of your life?


Words that have echoed through the decades. But are they still true?

For a lot of high school students school is tough and every generation faces new challenges. In this new generation of technology and information sharing, you would think life would be easier for students. With all the benefits of technology, education, travel and a shrinking world you would think our youth would be happy with their lot.

Unfortunately, more and more students are feeling isolated and disconnected from the world they live in. Cyberbullying, social media pressure, anxiety, depression and peer pressure concerns are ever present in our school system. As part of Links to Learning we explore all aspects of school life and try to find realistic, long term solutions to common student concerns.

Some of the answers that our students came up with when asked about school are quite surprising.  Below are some examples of common responses:

Q. What’s the best thing about school?

  • Nothing
  • Recess and Lunch
  • Friends
  • Holidays
  •  Links to Learning days

Q. What’s the worst thing about school?

  • Recess and Lunch — That’s when the bullies find me
  • I have no friends — Everybody hates me
  • Social media — it follows me — I deleted my accounts
  • Peer pressure — you have to own the latest, I can’t afford it
  • My mum’s car is bright green and embarrassing — I make her park up the road to collect me
  • Days when there’s no Links to Learning class

Surprisingly, homework rarely rates a mention.

Our Links to Learning team employ strategies to assist these students in making the most of their school life. We spend time exploring self: who am I and where do I fit, resilience, self-confidence, self-reflection, emotion management, peer pressure, bullies, respect, anxiety, problem solving, critical thinking, future planning and leadership skills, just to name a few.

We discuss global news issues that help with local perspective, we teach them how to set goals and how to achieve them, all the while building up the students’ impression of themselves and the world they live in. As a group, students volunteer their time and complete a project to benefit others.  Helping them become part of something bigger than themselves gives students the chance to validate their existence and explore their leadership and teamwork skills.

In a world where kids use fake Instagram accounts to hide their true self from the public, through Links to Learning we are teaching them to be honest about and happy with who they really are and what they have… and to reach for what they truly can become.

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Real men DO cry

When boys are told not to cry it causes a natural emotional response to be shut down.

Whilst working with groups of boys over the past 4 years I have discovered that this is unhealthy. They seem to lose touch with many of their feelings and it has long term, lasting effects on their mental health and their relationships.

So, when we played the skittle game in class earlier this year the boys were forced into a place they were unfamiliar with. The rules are not hard, you simply select a skittle from the pack and are then asked a question corresponding to that colour.
The first question was ‘share with us a memory from your past?’.
To you or I, we could easily come up with some childhood memories like getting that first bike, winning a basketball grand final, scoring that first try in footy or making a new friend. But when I asked that question to a group of year 9 boys I was met with questionable looks, and a statement of ‘are you for real Miss I have to answer that?’

So I ask what are we doing to our boys? Boys are being told to live up to a singular image of what it is to be a man. This is an ancient image that demands boys be strong, fearless, and deny their emotions. Every day boys work to build this façade and present an indestructible armour that lives up to the expectations of the men and the boys around them. Through the Links to learning program we endeavour to change this thought process by creating an environment where boys are comfortable talking about their feelings with a view to sharing their problems.

This starts with a simple conversation in classrooms about why it is okay to cry, and boys, who don’t always fit in, must be told that it is okay to be yourself, they need to know that they are not defined by their gender.

So why don’t men cry? Because that would rust the armour, the mask of masculinity.
We need to tear the armour off our skin and look to using different resilience methods, identify, accept and change.

Now is the time to cry, this could be a win to tackling bullying head on, reducing teenage suicide and lead to acceptance of ourselves.


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Are you a part of the Workplace Learning Program?

Southern Region BEC have been pairing senior high school students with local employers under the Structured Workplace Learning Program for over 17 years.

In 2017 alone, we have coordinated more than 800 placements throughout Queanbeyan, Braidwood, Cooma, Yass, Goulburn and Crookwell.

In 2018 we hope that you will also be a part of this fundamental program supporting our youth and future industry skills.

Being a host employer under the structured workplace learning program is a rewarding experience both personally and for your business.

Recognised by local schools and your wider community as a business who supports our youth, you will also:
• Have the opportunity to engage with local youth
• Enable a student to put theory in to practice in a true work environment
• Enable a student to trial their chosen industry in a “real” setting
• Give back to your industry
• Share your industry skills, knowledge and passion
• Enable your employees to share their learned skills and knowledge
• Contribute to your industry’s relevance for future employment
• Contribute in helping reduce youth unemployment
• Trial students’ suitability for current or future employment
• Inspire students to stay on track on their path from school to work

Employers already engaged in our program have all joined the program to share their skills and assist our future industry workers/leaders. Most of our hosts have become very committed to the program and to the future outcomes of the students they host. Many have felt the rewards of hosting and are eager to host multiple students per year. Others have continued to offer their assistance to the program for in excess of 10 years.

So, what is the Structured Workplace Learning Program?

The Structured Workplace Learning Program coordinates the mandatory work placements senior high school students are required to complete when they are studying a Vocational Education Training course towards their HSC.

Industry Curriculum Frameworks courses are Board of Education developed, contribute to the Higher School Certificate and lead to nationally recognised Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) qualifications.

These courses, which require the completion of industry relevant work placements, provide students with a head start towards an industry specific career and pathways to further study.

These courses include:

Business Services
Human Services
Information Technology
Metal & Engineering
Primary Industries
Retail Services

Whatever your reasons for joining the program, if you believe that you and/or your workplace have skills to share, can provide a safe environment for a young person to work, have the capacity to host and supervise a student for 1 week at a time, the Structured Workplace Learning Program is for you.

I have been a Workplace Learning Coordinator with Southern Region BEC for the past four years looking after some of the local high schools within our region. During that time, I have met so many inspiring people and businesses who are so committed to sharing their time and skills with the Senior High School students. These committed hosts with their community spirit, who are helping students secure a positive future, are the reason that my role has become an enjoyable long term commitment.

If you too would like to support your community and local students by becoming a host employer, we would love to hear from you!

by Germaine Muller Germaine Muller No Comments

We Are People, Too: Valuing Students in the School Environment

“Don’t they realise that we are people too?” I am sitting in class with a group of Year 8 boys, discussing why it is that school is such a hard place for many students to reside in, and exploring why there are so many instances where students and teachers clash in the classroom.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from my school students is that teachers are so busy pushing the educational agenda, that students are left behind in the wake of ‘learning’. Schools are bombarded with boxes to be ticked, assessments to doll out, and educational outcomes to reach. Teachers and systems are so busy preparing their students for exams and filling their minds with information, that it seems Australia has forgotten a rather crucial fact. Our students are people, too. Recently, I have been reminded of the stark reality that if we forget about the humanity of our students, then all the good that can come from learning is in danger of becoming null and void; wasted potential.

In an Australian report produced by Year13 this year, it was found that 55% of students felt that their schools cared more about their ATAR results than about the students themselves. That’s more than one in two students. More than half of students feeling that what they can produce is more important than who they are. It’s hardly surprising that they also found 51% of students identifying the need to see a mental health professional. The Australian education system exists to produce engaged and responsible citizens, but it must be asked: is that really what our system is creating?

Perhaps we should be taking a lesson from Finland, who boasts the number 1 educational system in the world. Their students have minimal homework. They do very few standardized tests. Their school hours are the shortest in the world. Teachers are chosen from the top 10th percentile of university graduates because teaching the next generation is such a prestigious and vital role. There are no rankings or comparisons between students, schools or regions, and all schools are publicly funded. In Finland, everyone truly is equal, whether rich or poor, rural or metropolitan.

So why does it work? Simply put, Finland cares about the happiness of its students. When students feel valued, they learn. Simple. You may have heard the saying that in a marriage, a “happy wife means a happy life.” What if we adapted this for our educational motto. “Happy student means huge improvements.” Instead of focussing on performance, what if we just valued our kids first? I wonder if it would change the world. I know it would change theirs.

Catherine Sharpe

Program Facilitator


Bisson, R & Stubley, W, (2017). ‘After the ATAR: Understanding How Gen Z Transition into Further

Education and Employment’, Year13, Australia.

Hancock, L (2011). ‘Why are Finland’s Schools Successful?’, Smithsonian magazine.

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How to save and manage your money

In recent years I have spent most of my life travelling, living overseas, going on holidays, buying most things I want/need and having the money up front to pay for it. People always ask, how can you afford to do that? Especially those that know me and know I live on a fairly modest income, especially whilst I was living overseas.

The answer is simple; create a savings plan (and stick to it), live within your means and don’t spend money on unnecessary things you don’t really need E.g. buying coffee and lunch every day, a new car, laptop or subscription tv etc. Don’t use a credit card, this way I ensure I can’t get into debt and I am not buying things I can’t afford. I also shop around to get the best deals to save money. Spend a little time doing some research or asking for a discount or a better price can save plenty of money in the long run.

To start building savings, you need to know where you spend your money. The easiest way to do this is to put a budget together and track your spending. Budgeting helps you manage your money day to day. You can stay on top of bills and work out what expenses you can reduce. Also by learning to check your bank statements and check your bills, you can improve how you manage your money day to day.

I follow a pretty simple guideline when managing my money and it seems to have worked. This can be used on nearly any income and suit to most persons financial needs.

Firstly, I set up six accounts with one or two financial intuitions. I shop around to ensure there are no extra fees for the extra accounts, no ATMs fees or withdrawal fees and that three of the accounts accrue monthly interest. Talk to your bank or credit union to find the best product for your situation.

For information on savings accounts that don’t charge fees – find out which Australian banks offer basic bank accounts on the Australian Bankers’ Association website:

You can also obtain a fee-free account from your credit union or building society.

ASIC’s MoneySmart website Savings accounts helps you to find the best possible product for you:

I use the accounts in the following ways:

  • Every day spending
  • Bills
  • Car/Home
  • Short term savings/interest account
  • Long-term savings/interest account
  • Holiday/interest account

Secondly, I then look at my weekly wage, I work out how much needs to go into each account, set up an automatic transfer on the day I get paid and commit that money to each account. I have my wage paid to my bills account so that I don’t accidentally spend it from my everyday account.

I organise my money in the following format.

  • Everyday spending – Food, groceries, petrol, daily essentials, entertainment. Work out what you would spend each week on these items and have this money transferred to the spending account. If you run out of money before weeks end, don’t buy anything else and don’t use money from another account, especially your bills or Car/home account.
  • Bills – Phone, internet, electricity/gas, health insurance, credit card repayments, loan repayments, superannuation etc. Work out from past bills what the average weekly amount is (always overestimate) and leave that money aside in the bills account. Pay all of these bills directly from this account. You can set up direct debit/deposit, this way, you always know you should have the money in the account to cover your essential bills
  • Car/Home – All money related to these items put into a separate account, as these two items are your big spends and some of the most important assets to keep functioning. E.g. Rent/mortgage, car repayments, insurances, car registration, rates, repairs and car services. By working out the average weekly amount (again overestimate) you need to spend on each of these items (including putting as little as $20 aside each week for unforeseen car or house repairs/services), paying these bills from this account and setting up a direct debit/deposit will ensure that these bills are covered and you have some money set aside in case you need repairs.

Now that I’ve covered the basics and you have your groceries and bills paid, your car is running and you have a roof over your head. Whatever money is left, I prioritize where I need to put the most money (depending on your stage of life) and split three ways into the savings accounts, where they can accrue interest. Most banks have some sort of internet-based savings account where if you deposit each month your will accrue interest.

  • Short term savings – I use this for things like saving for birthdays, Christmas, new clothes, entertainment, concerts, sporting events, new appliances, sporting goods, medical/dental etc.
  • Long-term savings – I use this account for things like saving for a housing or car loan deposit, retirement savings account, caravan, rental property, housing extensions or pool etc.
  • Holiday – This includes, costs for accommodation, transport, activities, food, general spending money etc. I pay for all costs related to the holiday from this account. This is to ensure that when I get my four weeks annual leave each year, I can afford to go somewhere and do what I enjoy.

Tip: I find that if you want to go somewhere on holiday (within your financial means of course), book it first, then you have put money aside or pay it off for it each week to go.

You can, of course, combine some of the accounts E.g. have only one bill and one or two savings accounts depending on your personal circumstances and financial situation. But is important to have at least one account each for everyday spending, bills and savings to ensure that you get the best results and can manage your money.

Make sure you write down your savings goal and plan. A few tips for successfully achieving your goal are:

  • save regularly and stick to your plan
  • track your progress
  • tell your family and friends about your goal so they can help you stay on track
  • if you fall short one week, try to make it up the next
  • Those who regularly review and remind themselves of their goals are more likely to achieve them

This is all just general advice and of course speak to a financial professional if you have specific financial queries, however, this has helped me by using this format to save money, travel the world and do the things that I want to do. However as previously mentioned, one of the best ways to save money is to cut back on the things you don’t really need, don’t use a credit card, shop around and look for a better deal and monitor your bills and bank statements.

Hopefully, you can use this as a guide to help you achieve your financial goals.

Jae Lear

Pathways Coordinator