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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
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
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
Education Engagement & Motivation Wellbeing

What’s happening in School?

Categories
Education Wellbeing

3 Common Myths About Positive Psychology

I originally wrote this for my regular Generation Next Column Banksy Yellow Lines Sunflower

In my work with schools, I’m finding more and more interest arising in the area of Positive Psychology and its offshoot Positive Education.

And as the interest around these grow, so do some of the more common misconceptions.

I’ve found some teachers to be a little cynical, and why wouldn’t we be? After all it seems we get told a new way, a better way of teaching on an almost weekly basis. Or we’re being told that what we are doing is – quite simply – not good enough. We’re not good enough. Just look at what they’re doing in Finland or China.

So believe me… I get it.

But…

There are 3 misconceptions that I am seeing more and more regularly both in journal articles, the mainstream press or online:

1. Positive Psychology is all about positive thinking, ignoring negative emotions and putting a smiley face on it all. Turn that frown upside down! It’s a kind of uber-self-help movement.

In short, this is the most damaging of all beliefs around Positive Psychology. Nowhere in any of the literature does it suggest we should be ‘happy’ all the time – that in itself would be a mental condition. And on the contrary, rather than ignoring negative emotions, the literature suggests we need to recognise them for what they are – an essential part of being human. One of my favourite authors, Tal Ben-Shahar calls this, Giving yourself permission to be human.

What positive psychology is about is finding what enables us to be at our best more often. Why wouldn’t you want to explore that?

Maybe it’s because…

2. It’s just another thing we have to do in school.

Embedding positive psychology into how you work and live is not about box ticking, doing more stuff, or having a policy for it. Rather it is a way of living your life and working. In truth many of us would incorporate aspects of positive psychology into what we do without even realizing it. The key is to realize when we do and make that the norm rather than the exception.

Yes but isnt’…

3. Positive Education only for the richest independent schools.

Whilst schools like Geelong Grammar, St Peter’s in SA and Knox Grammar in NSW have led the charge with positive education in Australia, it should not be seen as only something for the elite. Whilst these schools may well have engaged some of the world’s most renowned thinkers in the field at significant cost, you don’t have to. Many of these schools are now sharing what they have learnt, and if I’m being honest the fundamentals of positive psychology and positive education do not require big budgets to be lived, understood and embedded in school.

If you’d like to explore Positive Psychology and/or Positive Education in a little more detail drop me a line…

Categories
Education Wellbeing

Are the smartest kids also the saddest?

Late last year, the OECD published the latest of their PISA tables.

Predictably, many went into meltdown, whether it was due to their country’s position on the table, their respective government’s reaction to the results or those who detest standardised testing.

But as this article shows, the tests are not all about numeracy and literacy.

As part of the tests, students were asked to agree or disagree with the statement:

I feel happy at school.

The responses to this statement have been mapped against their test scores in the image below.

test scores v happy kids

From an Australian point of view, should we be more concerned (than it appears we are) that students in our schools are some of the least happy kids in the OECD?

What do we make of the fact that the least happy students also come from countries that top the academic tables – South Korea, Finland, Estonia & Poland?

Admittedly Shanghai (even though I’ve looked at countless maps, and I’m still not convinced it’s a country in its own right) and Singapore are ahead of Australia in both the brains and the smiles, but I’m not really interested in starting a Happiness Race.

Sure we can get into a debate about the true meaning of happiness or whether you feel school should be “fun” or not, but I’m more interested in exploring why it is that so many kids would say they are not happy at school and what the potential knock-on effects of this might be.

Just going off on a tangent here…

Far too many people do not enjoy what they do for a living. They watch the clock, waiting for 5pm, and spend their weekdays wishing for the weekend. Maybe not you, but I guarantee you can think of a friend for whom this applies. It is not an uncommon phenomenon.

Why do we accept this? When it’s pretty much accepted that humans are at the top of the intelligence tree, why do we choose to sacrifice most of our waking hours doing something we don’t enjoy – or worse – actually hate?

Bored_01-1

When did you or your friend accept this future?

Could it be that as the OECD suggests, kids at school spend most of their day waiting for 3pm, or spend their weekdays wishing for the weekend.

Could it be that kids learn at a very early age that weekdays are just a means to the weekend?

Could it be that schools are actually doing a great job of preparing kids for the world of work that you or your friend experience?

What if, instead of the all-too-predictable response from government highlighting the “need to raise academic standards”, their response to the OECD tables was, “perhaps we should explore how we can make school more enjoyable.”

Yes we can focus on enhancing results in standardised testing – to be honest it’s not that hard.

Introduce rote learning en masse, daily repetition and cull some of the more “holistic” approaches to education and you’ll be on the right track.

But great test scores does not a happy child make.

And an unhappy child can make an even more unhappy adult. The four countries I identified above, South Korea, Finland, Estonia & Poland, have some of the highest suicide rates in the OECD.

Clearly I’m not claiming that there is a direct link between test scores and depression, nor am I saying that school should be all fun and games.

But what I am advocating is that if we focussed on engagement and wellbeing first and foremost in schools, kids would feel happier about being there and as a result achievement would rise.

This is opposed to the current trend that seems to focus on achievement at the expense of engagement & wellbeing of students and teachers.

In Australia, support is available at all times by calling Lifeline on 131 114, Mensline on 1300 789 978, and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
Categories
Education Leadership Wellbeing

Why do so many teachers leave the profession?

This is my latest #talkingpoints video. It’s designed to act as a stimulus for discussion in your school.

What’s the attrition rate in your school? Is it something that is ever discussed?

For more reading on this, check out this article I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald last year, as well as this one (not written by me) from a couple of weeks ago.

What are some of the issues you’ve encountered in this regard? And how were they handled?

Categories
Education Wellbeing

Buying into NAPLAN Stress

I wrote this for my weekly Generation Next column.

According to Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, “Stuffed toys that help children deal with ‘difficult emotions’ are kid stressed exambeing spruiked as a means to ‘assist with the stress of NAPLAN.’”

As an aside, it does seem ironic that the PR firm pushing these toys is called Evil Twin.

Now, I understand that Year 12 students get stressed over HSC or VCE examinations. After all these are what they have been playing for since the Game of School began.

I understand Year 6 students getting stressed over a scholarship examination. After all, I’m sure they know just how lucky they are to even get the chance to sit for that test.

And – at a push – I can even understand Year 4 or 5 students getting stressed about being examined in order to gain access to the illustrious Opportunity Class. (Seriously… who comes up with these ideas?)

But a Year 3, 5, 7 or 9 student getting stressed over NAPLAN?

P.L.E.A.S.E.

Let’s be clear. NAPLAN is not something students should be stressed about.

However, the way in which NAPLAN has been rolled out, and the use of the data it generates, means that NAPLAN is certainly something teachers and principals get stressed about.

What should be seen as a diagnostic test to gauge those kids who need extra help has been turned into a blunt instrument to judge teacher and whole-school performance.

Whether you agree NAPLAN should be used to measure school performance – and for the record I do believe it should play some part in a far more comprehensive analysis – the fact remains that a student’s results in NAPLAN, will have little bearing on their education. Certainly not in the same way their performances in their Opportunity Class, scholarship or Year 12 exams would have.

So why the stress?

One can only assume that it is the schools imparting this stress onto students and parents.

Anecdotally there have been stories in the past, of principals telling less-able students to stay at home on NAPLAN day, fearful of how the school’s results would be impacted by his or her attendance. And then of course there are the schools only admitting new students whose NAPLAN scores are deemed “good enough.”

Parents are simply following the lead from the schools.

Tutoring companies and NAPLAN study book publishers can’t believe their luck. One publishing company has sold 180,000 books already this year, whilst you’ll find School Zone NAPLAN-Style Workbook: Year 3 Numeracy at Number 9 on the Bestseller list courtesy of well-meaning parents.

Bookstores who may have been worried about their future a couple of years ago are now banking on NAPLAN hysteria seeing them through!

Meanwhile ACARA and government officials trot out the same old tired lines about NAPLAN being something you can’t prepare for.

Well people aren’t buying those words. They’re buying the words in NAPLAN books, and now it seemsGood Luck toys.

So I ask again, why is it – do you think – that the kids are stressed?

Categories
Education Wellbeing

Why Focus on Wellbeing in School?

Happy New Year!

This is my latest Talking Point clip.