Categories
Leadership Tech & Social Media Wellbeing

🎶 Tonight I’m gonna email like it’s 1999 🎶

This is an edited version of my latest School of Thought Column in Australian Teacher Magazine.

I started teaching in 1999, when within the school, communication was via the morning staff briefing and through memos or the like posted in my pigeonhole, that I might – or more likely might not – get to every day. And if something was really important, you’d go and find the person you needed to speak to and have a chat, face to face.

One of the biggest changes I observed in my time as a teacher was the proliferation of communication via email. I left teaching full-time at the end of 2012, at which point it would be a quiet day on the email front if I was receiving any less than 40 a day.

Today, I’m well aware that many educators are receiving far more than 40 emails a day, and this – to be quite frank – is ridiculous.

I say it’s ridiculous, because I’d wager that the vast majority of these emails require no action on your behalf, yet you’re compelled to read them, just in case. As a result you become distracted from your work with research showing it takes, on average, 23 minutes 15 seconds to get back on task. Ever wondered why you can sit for so long at your computer and get so little done?

Furthermore, due to the sheer volume of emails, many of you are forced to read them, just in case, just before you go to bed.

This impacts your ability to get to sleep. If, as a profession, schools are serious about teacher wellbeing – and it’s clear they certainly should be – then organisations need to recognise that it’s the day-to-day stressors that have a larger impact on teacher wellbeing than the one-off wellbeing day that might be offered.

If you have teachers who feel they need to check their email before bed, just in case, then I suggest you address this.

One way you might address this is to mandate a time after which no-one is expected to send or reply to emails – 7.30pm perhaps, or let’s go crazy, how about 5pm? Of course, if you can only get to emails after the mandated time because of family or other work commitments that’s fine, but can I suggest you write the email and then save it in drafts to send the next day, or use an app to automatically send it at the desired time. There is a big difference between receiving an email at 7:30am as opposed to 11pm. And you’re not really expecting the recipient to respond at that time are you?

Of course, you can argue and come up with scenarios in which this idea would be unworkable, but typically, these scenarios are not – or should not – be the norm.

In (almost) the words of Prince, “So tonight I’m gonna email like it’s 1999!”

I appreciate the irony that many of you will have received this as an email on the weekend

Categories
Social Justice Wellbeing Youth

Kids Giving Back 5th Birthday

Some of you might be aware that every year I’m very proud to partner with my friends at Kids Giving Back to work with teenagers who access Youth Off The Streets.

Well today, Kids Giving Back hosted its 5th Birthday party at Rough Edges, a homeless community partner in Darlinghurst, Sydney, and I was honoured to MC it.

The event brought together educators, charities and corporate sponsors and the Member for Vaucluse, the Hon. Gabrielle Upton, who praised Kids Giving Back for its important work in the community based on student volunteering – something the Minister felt strongly about from a personal perspective:

“I know from my own experience as a young volunteer, that these experiences create deep connections with community and this is what set me on my path to politics, where I serve the communities in which I live.” – Member for Vaucluse, the Hon. Gabrielle Upton

Indeed today, a key element of the event featured students from regional NSW school, Kandos High, who cooked and delivered meals to homeless people at Rough Edges. before being taken through Kings Cross to explore the issue of homelessness in a hands-on way, through a program called ‘Urban Walk’.

Today, Kids Giving Back announced a new volunteer program called, ‘Food, Clothing, Shelter’ that celebrates diversity and aims to remove existing barriers preventing young people in Sydney’s West from engaging with the wider community. Kids Giving Back, together with community partners Rough Edges and Thread Together, will work with students to create care packages of food and clothing for vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers and the homeless.

GET YOUR STUDENTS INVOLVED

To date Kids Giving Back have partnered with 39 schools across NSW to provide these type of opportunities for students. If you’d like to explore how you might get your students involved with these awesome programs, you can download the schools programme here then drop my friends, and founders of Kids Giving Back, Ruth or Carole a line.

Tell them I sent you! 🙂

Email Kids Giving Back

Categories
Education Social Commentary Wellbeing

**THIS** might just be the biggest challenge facing your school…

Of all the challenges facing Australian schools in the 21st Century, including funding, falling behind Asia, and preparing kids for jobs that don’t yet exist, there is one challenge that is not being afforded the attention it deserves, and in light of the shifting political landscape it might just be the biggest challenge facing schools in the 21st Century; “Do young people feel as though they belong at school?”

In 2015, the NSW Department of Education published a report of the findings of a 2013 pilot survey of 78,600 high schools students in public schools across the state. Using the Tell Them From Me (TTFM) Survey, students were asked to respond to questions about their experiences of school.

This was the standout finding for mine.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-11-57-32-am

It’s referenced against Canada, as this is where the TTFM survey was designed.

These findings suggest that even when belonging is at its “best” – in Year 7 – around 30% of kids feel as though they do not belong at school. I appreciate that this might not represent your school. But what proportion of your students feel as though they don’t belong?

It’s important to recognise that as well as benefits to learning, studies have shown a teenager’s sense of belonging has the strongest link to depression – even more so than attachment to parents (assuming there has been no prior mental illness). This should serve as a prescient warning, given that kids who start school next year will graduate in 2030, the year that the World Health Organisation predicts that depression will become the leading cause of disease in the world.

Interventions that promote school belonging should therefore be a vital part of any approach to enhance student wellbeing, but schools are in an almost impossible situation as they do not operate in isolation. In many ways they reflect the society they serve, and the issue of youth belonging is a hot topic at the moment in light of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s suggestion that disaffected Muslim youth’s involvement in terrorism and crime is a result of allowing so many Lebanese Muslims into Australia in the 70s. Dutton is seemingly unaware of the irony that his words only further disaffect those of the Muslim faith.

When you feel you don’t belong where you are, you go looking for someone – anyone – who gives you the impression that you matter. This is the modus operandi of every gang in the world.

And of course, Minister Dutton isn’t alone. This year saw the return of Pauline Hanson to the Senate, riding the crest of a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, supported by the likes – of all people – Sonia Kruger. Ray Hadley, Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt we expect and we can reassure ourselves that young people aren’t listening to them, even if there parents are. But the host of The Voice??? 

And of course it’s not just Muslim youth who might feel marginalised. Cast your mind back over 2016 and think how some young people might be affected by a national newspaper carrying a cartoon depicting Indigenous fathers as incapable of raising their young.

Or how might adolescents being raised by same-sex parents be impacted by the debate about marriage equality? And just how do schools ensure that these young people don’t feel ostracised, when in 2015, education departments banned schools from showing Gayby Baby, a short film exploring what it’s like growing up with same-sex parents. Yep, banned.

And of course there’s the furore surrounding the Safe Schools Coalition – an intervention to promote school belonging for LGBTIQ kids. An issue brought into sharp focus this week with the death of 13 year old Tyrone Unsworth.

The results of the Brexit and US Election campaigns have highlighted that ignorance, fear and “othering” gets votes whilst for and for media organisations, hits, likes and ratings. But at what cost to our young people and society in general?

I was in the UK a few days after the Brexit vote and saw the impact of the campaign. Leaving aside the fact that some of the more ill-informed thought voting “Leave” actually meant that immigrants had to leave, there were countless examples of minority groups being targeted, either verbally or physically. Many of these groups were young people in schools. I can remember when UKIP was a joke.

And since Trump’s election win, US media are reporting a significant rise in hate crimes including episodes of racist or anti-Semitic, pro-Trump graffiti along with threats or attacks against Muslims, many of which are occurring in schools. I can remember when Trump was a joke.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-12-11-10-pmI also remember when the likes of Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi were something of a joke in Australia. But given Bernadi’s “dog whistle” tweet on the evening of Trump’s win, featuring a red baseball cap with the slogan “Make Australia Great Again” (which is still “pinned” to his Twitter profile) we would be foolish to dismiss them out of hand.

Whilst many have suggested that Australia’s compulsory voting laws mean that such right-wing rhetoric will never win the top job, that misses the point. Brexit and Trump have given increased legitimacy to such views. We even have terms for it now, “Post Truth” and “Alt Right.” It legitimises bigotry, it trickles down to our young, and whilst Attorney General George Brandis believes this is an inalienable right, I’d suggest we need to recognise the impact it’s having across society, not just in politics.

I know schools are constantly challenged to better prepare students for a world that doesn’t yet exist, particularly as we appear to be outperformed by our Asian neighbours in education league tables. Maybe that’s why we’re seeing an increased emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) or it’s sibling STEAM (A is for Arts), whilst also developing their so-called 21st Century Skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking (The 4 Cs).

But if kids don’t feel like they belong when they walk through the gates at school, we’ve got Buckley’s chance of any one of these acronyms or approaches having an impact. And then we’re going to face much bigger social issues than just losing the “Education Race” to Asia, and in my opinion, it won’t be the schools that are to blame.

Even though – of course – they will be by politicians and the media.

Categories
Engagement & Motivation Mindset Wellbeing

Could having goals contribute to depression?

We’re told that having goals is important. At school we teach kids the importance of them whilst there wouldn’t be a boardroom in the country that hasn’t hosted a goal-setting workshop.

But what if your goals were making you depressed? Read on…

Last week I ran 10km. It took me just over an hour. Whilst this time isn’t going to be setting any records I was pleased for one reason alone.

It was the furthest I’d run in over 3 years.

My last ‘double-digit’ run was in the 2012 City2Surf from Sydney CBD to Bondi Beach and the three occasions I have completed the 14km City2Surf account for my three longest runs.

In May I plan to run the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon, before taking on the full Sydney Marathon in September. You may have read about this on my MarathonMindset blog…

From the outset my goals have been process and progress orientated. By that I mean I haven’t been focused so much on the times I run, rather the improvements I make in between runs.

I look at all manner of things:

  • How do my legs feel at the 5km mark?
  • How has my breathing improved?
  • Am I more relaxed in my upper body?
  • Has my pace (time per km) decreased on similar runs?
  • Am I able to handle hills any better?
  • How many days does it take before I think, “I’m ready for another run?”

Clearly some of my interpretations may be incorrect in the moment, and constantly zeroing in on growth or progress means you sometimes miss the bigger picture.

This is where having milestones is important.

Running 10km was a milestone for me. Again I wasn’t interested in how quickly I ran it, just that I could.

My next milestone is 15km and I aim to do that by the end of April at the very latest.

Some people have said to me that in order to run the half marathon, you only need to get to 15km in your training. I’m not willing to bank on that, I’d like to know I have the kilometres in the legs before then.

I think it’s important to be really clear about what your goals, milestones and crucially your motivating factors are when taking on any challenge that is significantly out of your comfort zone – as running is for me.

Being unclear in any of these can lead to a dip in motivation.

In fact in her book Self Theories, Professor Carol Dweck (of Mindset fame) talks about how goals can contribute to depression.

Whilst her work in the 70’s and 80’s primarily focused on school students’ approaches to learning, you can probably see now how her work resonates across all fields.

In Self Theories she defines two types of goals.

Performance Goals

“This goal is about winning positive judgements of your competence and avoiding negative ones. In other words when students pursue performance goals they are concerned with their level of intelligence.”

Learning Goals

“This goal is about increasing your competence. It reflects a desire to learn new skills, master new tasks or understand new things.”

Dweck says, “It’s important to recognise that both types of goals are entirely normal and pretty much universal. And both can fuel achievement. [In] fact in the best of all possible worlds, students could achieve both goals at the same time.

[But] although I have argued that both types of goals are natural, we have found that an overemphasis on performance goals is a danger signal.”

In my experience I believe it’s possible that an over reliance on Performance Goals can lead individuals to:

  1. Opt for easy Performance Goals so as to guarantee their success, but in doing this they limit their potential for growth;
  2. Attempt and fail to achieve Performance Goals and this then impacts on their self esteem.

Dweck goes on to describe how Benjamin Dykman of Washington State University has shown how peoples’ goals can contribute to self-esteem loss and depression when they encounter negative events.

Dykman (1998) extended on the premise of Performance and Learning Goals by describing them as validation-seeking goals, and growth-seeking goals respectively. He also extended this far beyond the classroom into everyday life including sports, work and family relationships.

He says:

“Validation-seeking individuals are those having a strong motivational need to establish or prove their basic self worth, competence, or likeability. Stemming from this need to prove their basic worth, competence or likeability, validation-seeking individuals show an accompanying tendency to appraise difficult or challenging situations as major tests or measures of their basic worth, competence or likeability. In other words, validation-seeking individuals see their basic worth, competence or likeability as being ‘on the line’ when faced with challenging or difficult situations.

On the other hand…

“Growth-seeking individuals are those who have a strong motivational need to improve or grow as people, develop their capacities and realise their potential. [Growth] seeking individuals are willing to confront challenge or adversity in order to grow, improve and reach their fullest potential. Stemming from these growth needs, growth-seeking individuals show and accompanying tendency to appraise difficult or stressful situations as opportunities for learning, growth and self improvement.”

Validation-seeking individuals who set themselves but fail to achieve Performance Goals are more likely to see that failure as a measure of the self, and over time this can impact on their overall level of wellbeing.

Whereas growth-seeking individuals are less likely to be depressed, to have been depressed in the recent past or to be generally prone to depression.

Next time you set yourself a goal, are mandated by a workshop guru to come up with one, or are tasked with inspiring your colleagues to set goals, try to ensure it’s a learning or growth-seeking goal.

It will most likely be better for you, and those around you.

Categories
Wellbeing Youth

What kids *really* want from us when they ask for help…

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Donna Cross present on wide range of issues pertaining to wellbeing, and in particular student wellbeing.

Professor Cross presented some interesting perspectives from her work with children and adolescents. One perspective that I found particularly compelling – given the media attention around bullying in schools in Australia at the moment, with this article in the Daily Telegraph and the ABC planning to air The Bully Project hosted by former Olympian Ian Thorpe – was around help-seeking behaviours in instances of bullying.

Professor Cross showed us this slide:

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 4.40.17 pm

Two glaring issues are apparent.

First of all, the rate at which kids seek help.

Less than 15% of boys who said they were dealing with an issue sought help from an adult, whilst less than half girls dealing with an issue chose to seek help.

But perhaps even more of an issue is the rate at which kids stated asking an adult for help didn’t actually improve the situation.

To address this, Professor Cross suggested we adopt the LATE model when talking to kids seeking help. The LATE model is an approach adapted from the work from Michael Tunnecliffe.

In short it stands for:

L: Listen

Actively listen, and ensuring that adults do not engage in behaviours that imply we don’t have time to fully listen to the child’s concern.

A: Acknowledge

Regardless of whether we believe it should be a cause of concern for the child, we need to acknowledge that it is. Even throw-away lines like, “Oh don’t worry about it” can imply to kids we’re not taking them seriously.

T: Talk about options

This is most powerful when the child comes up with the options. We can facilitate a conversation that explores the pros and cons of each option, but as with most things, when the individual comes up with a solution, they are more likely to put that into action.

E: End with encouragement

Encouraging the child to put into action what has been discussed and setting a time for a follow up chat is essential. Also acknowledging again that, whilst it doesn’t guarantee success, they did the right thing by seeking help.

This link talks about the LATE model in more detail in schools, and includes the notion of confidentiality as students really aren’t keen on the thought of them being the topic of staffroom discussion.

But I think the LATE model offers any adult – a parent or other family member, teacher, coach – a simple way to better engage with youngsters when they seek our help.

Furthermore, it’s pretty good model to use when anyone – young or old, family member or work colleague – needs our assistance.

*The slide used above is available in this presentation.

Categories
Education Engagement & Motivation Mindset Tech & Social Media Wellbeing

Developing a Minecraft Mindset

What’s in this post:

  • How I used Minecraft to discuss Mindset with kids for whom mainstream education doesn’t work
  • Access to the materials I created in order for you to do similar if you wish

Of late I’ve found myself working with kids from some fairly tough backgrounds.

Whether it’s kids who are wards of the state, living in temporary shelter, or kids in mainstream settings who don’t hold out much hope for their future, I’ve been keen to explore how Carol Dweck’s theory of Growth Mindset might apply to these young people.

Incidentally if you’ve read Mindset or not, I’d highly recommend getting a copy of Dweck’s earlier work Self Theories, a series of essays that go into more detail regarding the research and – in my opinion at least – is a better read than her more well-known publication.

Anyhoo… just last week I had the opportunity to try something with a group of kids who attend a school that caters for those for whom the mainstream education system simply doesn’t work. Some of these students (currently all boys in Years 6-8) have severe behavioural issues, some have wellbeing issues and most have a combination of the two. I’m fortunate that I get to spend time with these boys on a semi-regular basis and so have been able to establish a bit of rapport with them.

I determined that it might be interesting to play Minecraft with them… and just see what happens. I hypothesised that many behaviours that Dweck describes as being Growth Mindset behaviours would be evident whilst the boys played Minecraft:

  • seeking out and embracing challenge
  • persisting in the face of setbacks
  • revelling in the struggle
  • taking on feedback
  • and being inspired by the success of others

I then wanted the boys to reflect on this after playing… but first the set up!

The very first thing I did was tweet out what I was thinking of doing. If you check out the comments down the side of the doc you’ll see heaps of good ideas, that either validated or pushed my thinking. Thanks in particular to:

 @eduGrunt@nickpatsianas@jeffkuhn72@dbatty1@jokay and @SteveT_AU for their input.

In the end this is what I went with…

Equipment – Given I didn’t want to impose on the school with regards to organising Minecraft Edu accounts or the like, I sourced the following…

  • Samsung 10.1 Note running Minecraft PE (My 3 year old tablet)
  • 5 x Lenovo TAB 2 A7-10 Tablets ($97 each) Probably one of the best tablets in the sub $100 category
  • 1 x TP-LINK N300 Wireless Modem Router TD-W8961N ($47) I’d originally planned to network through my 4g hotspot, but then got nervous thinking about risk assessments and kids finding stuff they shouldn’t online… So the router serves to act as a network between the tablets without allowing access to the net.

I decided to set up a scenario as such using this website… (I’ve de-identified the school for privacy reasons)

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 5.50.56 pm

In order to set up the scenario in Minecraft I built a world using a seed… a simple internet search will give you plenty. For those of you interested, I used the Minecraft PE Seed: -94440.

Screenshot_2015-11-10-11-52-46

From there I was able to switch between creative and survival mode (I found that installing a mod called Too Many Items on my Samsung made this a much simpler process) in order to hide gems around the area, and ‘bury’ villagers as well as create the sort of havoc an earthquake might cause by detonating TNT around the place and setting fire to buildings… 😈

Screenshot_2015-11-11-17-35-12

The kids had three missions:

  1. To rebuild and enhance the village
  2. To find the buried villagers
  3. To find the stolen gems

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.10.28 pmIn the full Minecraft game (on PC, Mac or Console) you can use xyz coordinates that allow gamers to know where they are within their world, but in Minecraft PE this isn’t the case. So I created a map – again by going into Creative mode and taking a Bird’s Eye View screenshot and then overlaying a grid.

Students could work out the coordinates for the villagers and the gems by solving maths problems.Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.07.31 pm

Each group of students – small groups of 4 boys or so, which is the nature of this school – had around an hour. The last 10-15 minutes or so was spent on the reflection. Which again I put out on Twitter in it’s early form:

This was the final version. You’ll note I got rid of the sword (it’s school after all!), gave space for students to identify their own strengths (thanks to@corisel) and then scaffolded the transfer from Minecraft to ‘real’ life… (although Minecraft is real life of course! 😀)

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.14.38 pm

Was it a resounding success?

Let’s not go too far. It was after all a one-off session using the most basic version of Minecraft. I’m aware many of you will be using Minecraft Edu or the full PC-based Minecraft and as such will be doing much more advanced work.

But as the boys’ regular teachers noted:

  • Kids who would ordinarily not be able to be in the same room as each other were working as a team
  • Boys were running around the classroom to answer maths questions (I know, I know… it wasn’t in the risk assessment!)
  • They were talking about their strategies and what they would do to improve all day…

Some of the boys reflections were pretty powerful too – and I’m paraphrasing a little…

  • I realise that making mistakes doesn’t make me a bad person
  • I tell myself I’m no good at something before giving myself a chance to get good at something
  • I get frustrated when I can’t do something straight away

As well as working with the boys I ran the sessions to show the teachers the power of Minecraft – or games in general – in order to get students to address their behaviours and – more importantly – their thinking around their behaviours.

The staff are now investigating how they might incorporate similar approaches down the track.

Obviously if this were part of an ongoing approach we would be able to explore our mindsets in various scenarios. I’m not saying it’s as simple as being resilient in Minecraft means you can be resilient in ‘real life.’

But I am saying for some of these kids acknowledging they do exhibit these behaviours somewhere is an incredibly important first step.

Demonstrating through Minecraft that they do exhibit the kind of Growth Mindset behaviours that Dweck talks about is – for some of the students – the first time they or anyone else have recognised they are capable of doing so.

If you think this could be of value in you classroom, you can get all my resources for this activity here, meaning you can use the seed (-94440) along with the map I’ve produced, also please feel free to change up the reflection tool to suit your context.

Would love to hear your thoughts, or other cool ideas you have for Minecraft or games in general!

Categories
Education Leadership Wellbeing

3 things you (probably) didn’t know about Finland

FinlandEvery couple of years, the OECD publish a report from their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Their findings are (very helpfully) compiled into league tables, charting the performance of each of the participating countries in maths, literacy and application of scientific knowledge.

These tables are then used to fuel media stories like this one, which make claims like:

“Australian schools should copy their top-performing Asian neighbours and push to keep only the best teachers in the classroom if local students are to stop slipping further down the ladder.”

The PISA report also provides ammunition for politicians like Education Minister Christopher Pyne to come up with gems like this:

“We’ve spent a great deal of money, 40 per cent more on school education in the last 10 years, but we haven’t focused on the basics – teacher quality, autonomy in schools, parental engagement and the curriculum. We’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted with other issues. And our competitive – competitor nations, particularly in Asia, they have focused on the basics.

 

We need to have a back-to-basics approach.”

So what’s this got to do with Finland? After all it seems the media and the politicians are only focused on beating our Asian competitors.

Well, many of the opponents to the “Beat Asia” campaign, cite the Finnish education system as the one we should look to in order to raise standards.

I’m all for looking at other systems to see what we can learn. Indeed it was when I looked at the Finnish system I learned the following…

1. More than 30% of Finnish students say they aren’t happy, or they do not belong at school.

According to the last set of PISA results (PDF) – published in 2013 – on average, 20% of Australian students report they are not happy or that they do not belong at school. Yet in Finland, 32% of students report that they aren’t happy.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.28.27 pm

Since PISA started, we have seen a steady decline in the amount of kids who feel they belong in schools in Australia, but interestingly, this decline has been even more pronounced in Finland.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.31.39 pm

This is of particular interest to me given the link between school connectedness and wellbeing. 

2. The Youth Unemployment rate in Finland currently stands at 23%

The Finnish rate of Youth Unemployment runs at almost double that of Australia’s current rate of Youth Unemployment that stands at 12%. 

I’m not sure the significance of this to be honest, but I do find it interesting.

What is the education system doing if it serving kids well on standardised tests but not enabling them to get into the workforce? I’d love to get a better perspective if anyone is well placed to offer me some advice?

I’ve previously attempted to tweet Pasi Sahlberg to get his thoughts on this, but he’s a busy guy. If anyone knows him, could you ask him for me please?

3. Finland value different things & different people in education

OK, you probably thought this might the case, but it is nevertheless still interesting to note the different reactions of Christopher Pyne and his Finnish counterpart in the face of declining standards.

Whilst Pyne spoke about competing, getting back-to-basics and teachers who weren’t up to scratch…

When questioned what her thoughts were about the fact the likes of Liechtenstein and Estonia had overtaken Finland in Maths, Finnish Education Minister, Krista Kiuru said:

“We will bring in not only experts in research and education and political decision-makers but also student representatives and parents. Besides strengthening equality, we must find means to improve and sustain motivation in learning and studying and make schools a good environment to be in.”

Krista Kiuru engages education experts, students and parents in order to make schools a better environment to be in.

Christopher Pyne brings in Kevin Donnelly.

For me, this is one of the main reasons why we should look to Finland to see what we can learn from them. Their focus on the bigger picture.

Categories
Social Commentary Wellbeing Youth

Wrapping Kids in Cotton Wool

dan on projectYesterday I was interviewed by the panel on Channel 10’s The Project with regard to ‘Cotton Wool’ kids…

It stemmed from a story in Melbourne where a father was suing a school because his son ran into a wall whilst playing tips. The father’s argument was – the school should ban running in the playground.

Hmm… I’m not so sure… as I said the panel, if the first thing we do when our kids do something ‘daft’ is look to blame someone else, then perhaps there’s the issue.

We have seen the evolution from Helicopter Parents to ‘Helicopter Gunship Parents’ who launch pre-emptive strikes against anything or anyone that might pose the risk of disappointment, risk, challenge or failure. That’s why so many parents do their kids’ homework for them, or why now – if you’ve attended a young child’s birthday party you’ll have seen this – EVERY layer of Pass the Parcel has a prize!

Helicopter Gunship Parenting

Learning from failure, a setback or a poor decision is a crucial aspect of growing up. It’s how kids learn to be resilient. It’s how they learn to take responsible risks and understand the consequences of their actions. You don’t learn these things simply by being told about them.

It’s as though parents want their kids to be happy all the time. 

But being happy all the time is in itself a mental health concern.

In our bid to have happy kids, I wonder what we might be robbing from them later in life?

So, next time you want stop your child from “making the same mistakes you did” – we’ll assume those mistakes didn’t land you in jail or the emergency ward – why not let them learn a little by stuffing up*.

After all, those mistakes helped you become the person you are today. And you’re not all that bad are you?

*You might have noticed I stuffed up earlier be sending a post entitled “UK” – with nothing on it… oops… I learnt something there too! 🙂 It’s actually a page for UK based schools/organisations who might be interested in doing some work with me…

Categories
Education Leadership Wellbeing

5 Key Takeaways about Student Wellbeing

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 3.13.02 pmA couple of weeks ago the Centre for Education Statistics & Evaluation released their literature review into Student Wellbeing. You can access the entire document here. It clearly and concisely lays out all the considerations important for addressing student wellbeing in your school. It also offers dozens of research papers to explore by way of referencing.

Having said that, if you’re pushed for time, I’ve distilled the essence of it here. [Anything in italics denotes it has been taken verbatim from the report]

The Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations (DEEWR) defines wellbeing as:

A sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience and satisfaction with self, relationships and experiences at school.

I’ve spoken and written at length to explore the research evidence shows that students with high levels of wellbeing are more likely to have higher academic achievement and complete Year 12; better mental health; and a more pro-social, responsible and lawful lifestyle. And yet – even though we know this – I often find approaches to wellbeing in organisations that are tokenistic, or tick-a-box in nature.

Assuming your school or organisation is keen to address wellbeing in a meaningful way, the literature suggests you need to have 5 things in place.

1. Schools need to provide a safe environment

The report states: A safe school is one where the physical environment is safe and does not lead to harm or injury for students; the emotional environment is one of positivity and free from negative behaviours such as bullying which can affect mental health; and where a healthy lifestyle is promoted through initiatives such as increased participation in sport and/or healthy food at the canteen. 

2. Connectedness

A sense of belonging to the school environment is an established protective factor for child and adolescent health, education, and social wellbeing. Students with low connectedness are two to three times more likely to experience depressive symptoms compared to more connected peers.

The reports states: McNeely et al examined the association between school connectedness and the school environment using data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and hierarchical linear models. They found that positive classroom management climates, participation in extracurricular activities and tolerant disciplinary policies were associated positively with higher school connectedness. Other strategies can include increasing the time, interest and support given to students by teachers, empowering students to have a voice, engaging community partners to provide a range of services at the school that students need, and developing a shared vision of high standards and behaviours for the school. Involvement in extra-curricular activity and exposure to a challenging curriculum can also assist with connectedness. 

3. Learning Engagement

According to the report: Students can engage with school at social, institutional and intellectual levels. Social engagement is how a student is involved in the life of the school and can refer to a sense of belonging, positive relationships and participation in clubs and sports etc. Institutional engagement is how a student values school and strives to meet the formal requirements of schooling such as attendance, positive behaviour and homework, and intellectual engagement relates to emotional and psychological investment in schooling such as interest, effort and motivation.

So key points of interest for me – particularly given my interest in engagement and positive psychology – were the following suggestions:

i. Quality instruction may mean student participation in design, delivery and review of the program and/or active participation in parts of their education, from consultation to decision-making. 

ii. The work of Suzy Green was cited as such: When people work with their strengths [signature strengths as defined by Martin Seligman], they tend to learn more readily, perform at a higher level, are more motivated and confident and have a stronger sense of satisfaction, mastery and competence.

iii. And Lea Waters’ research into Positive Psychology interventions in school was summarised as: Waters reviewed evidence from 12 schools that had implemented positive psychology interventions focusing on gratitude, hope, serenity, resilience and character strengths, and found that these interventions were significantly related to student wellbeing, relationships and academic performance.

4. Social & Emotional Learning

I’ve heard a few teachers – and even leaders – suggest that there simply isn’t time to address the social and emotional learning of students. But if you’re trying to make a case for it in your school, you could cite the research of Durlak et al (2011). (Again from the report) They conducted a meta-analysis of 213 studies of SEL programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students in the US. They found that compared to control participants, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behaviour, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.

5. Whole School Approach

Student wellbeing cannot be seen as something else we do in schools. It can not be thought of in isolation. As the report suggests: Critical elements to supporting wellbeing at the school level are: strong school leadership which emphasises and promotes the importance of wellbeing at the school and within the broader school community; and a culture of high expectations for all students with teachers who emphasise continuously improving. In other words, wellbeing must be integrated into the school learning environment, the curriculum and pedagogy, the policies and procedures at schools, and the partnerships inherent within and outside schools including teachers, students, parents, support staff and community groups.

I highly recommend having a look at the whole report, not least for the wealth of resources it will point you to in order to address each of these five key areas.

I believe that engagement & wellbeing are at the crux of what we do in schools and if we get this right, outcomes will – largely – look after themselves (for staff as well as students).

But still… too many schools, organisations and systems pursue outcomes at the expense of engagement and wellbeing, and then they struggle to understand why staff, students and the wider community are so disaffected.

Categories
Social Commentary Wellbeing

#tellsomeonetheyrock

Last week I saw a tweet in my timeline from a teacher who was moving schools.

A little earlier in the week I had been thinking the same thought, albeit with regard to a more solemn circumstance than Steve’s journey to pastures new.

Watching the coverage of Philip Hughes’ funeral, both on TV and in print, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly emotional as those that knew him spoke of the impact he had in their lives.

As a son, brother, friend, teammate, cattle farmer, cricketing hero or friendly local, Philip Hughes appeared to pass through his life enhancing those of the people he met, by doing nothing more than being himself.

And as I watched this unfold last week, I started to wonder if Philip Hughes had the slightest inclination that people thought so highly of him? I hope so.

But it got me thinking.

I wonder how often we leave it too late to tell those closest to us how much they mean to us, or the impact they’ve had in our lives.

OK, you might be better at that than me, but what about your work colleagues, friends, parents?

Do we get too caught up in the mundane or the petty so as to leave little time for the important stuff?

For a lot of us Christmas will provide a natural opportunity for us to have these conversations. Or write a card, or a letter… or heck it’s 2014 after all… why not tweet it! #tellsomeonetheyrock