While going back to school can be an exciting time for many young people, for others this is an anxiety-inducing experience.
Indeed, anxiety is an increasingly common theme for young Australians, and as research shows. Studies show that 9.4% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 were diagnosed with anxiety over the past three years, and that percentage is rapidly growing yearly.
Recognising the debilitating and long-term impact anxiety can have on young people, Wil Massara founded the Youth Leadership Academy Australia (YLAA) in 2018. The YLAA has since grown to become the largest youth-led provider in Australia, positively impacting over 30,000 lives and earning the trust of thousands of schools.
“I started YLAA simply to bring a leadership event to Perth that was geographically and financially accessible to all young people,” Massara told The Educator.
“Now, YLAA works with over 1100 schools around Australia in supporting their students to lead themselves, their schools and our communities across Australia.”
Each year, the Academy’s flagship conferences now attract more than 12,000 young people from all corners of the country and are hosted in all major cities in Australia.
“Understanding that every school has different needs and dynamics, we implemented tailor-made programs for schools,” Massara said.
“Everything we do is about creating long-term change. We know the time and energy invested in leadership programs is often significant, so we believe in our ongoing programs and post-event programs to really support attendees and students in using their skills to create meaningful, long-term change.”
When asked how he believes teachers can build confidence and leadership skills in their students, Massara said self-leadership is the first step to leadership development.
“As an educator, you can bring self-awareness into the classroom simply by helping students to understand their own personality types. This can be done with a simple test like ‘16 personalities’ and opening up space to discuss and learn more about one another,” he said.
“Confidence comes from courage. A Yale study revealed that our brain does not turn on its learning function unless there is an element of emotional uncertainty. Therefore, it is critical for our young people to continuously step outside of their comfort zone, and teachers can encourage this.”
Whether it be talking to someone new or trying something new, there are many simple ways for students to get out of their comfort zone, said Massara.
“Students usually model exactly what their teachers are doing, so the best way to develop their self-esteem and leadership skills is to lead by example. Whether it’s through positive or negative self-talk they can see it, so it’s important for teachers to model healthy behaviours,” he said.
“It’s important to co-design accountability and actions – If we want things to change, we need to get our students on board with the change and help them feel like they have some ownership of it. Co-design supports ownership among students as well as feeling they can create change.”
Massara said it’s also important to be aware that the definition of a leader is individually defined.
“Each young person’s own definition is correct and true for them and we should help them to develop their own sense of leadership.”
In 2019, as Massara dived deeper into entrepreneurship, his schooling became less of a priority and so he stopped working towards his ATAR.
“At the time my principal said the chance of me going to university was very slim. In September 2020, one year after finishing Year 12, I began studying for my MBA thanks to the previous seven years of business experience I had under my belt,” he said.
In recent years, studies have highlighted the intense pressure and emphasis put on achieving an ATAR score, which dominates discussions throughout a young person’s high school journey.
One study by the Mitchell Institute revealed that fewer than 30% of first-year university students gain admission based on their ATAR alone.
Massara says findings like these
“Students must become more aware of their opportunities as our world becomes more diverse with entrepreneurship, tech and the gig economy.”