Education Wellbeing

Study Tour | Week 1 Wrap

                                           It has been a wet, cold but brilliant first week of my tour. I started off in Scunthorpe, one of the most socially deprived areas in the UK. I went to visit two primary schools, Henderson Avenue and Frodingham Infants to see first hand Jenny Fox Eades’ Celebrating Strengths program in action. Having a fairly good theoretical knowledge of the program, I was amazed to see just how well it had been embedded into these schools. In the past I have debated with teachers whether primary aged kids would be able to comprehend the language and concepts that make up the program. In the past some teachers have said to me they felt that Year 5s may struggle with it. Well that was blown out of the water as I witnessed Year 1 and 2 children describing each other as persistent, or courageous and speaking confidently about their own strengths. At Frodingham in particular the program was front and centre of what they did right from the first day of Nursery (UKs equivalent of Kindergarten). If this program can work in Scunthorpe, then I believe it has the potential to work anywhere. If I had been teleported into the school, with no idea of its location, I would not have thought I was in an area with one of the highest levels of crime and unemployment in the country. Any primary teacher interested in a strengths based approach in schools should get in contact with Cath Lloyd (Henderson Ave) or Judith Gray (Frodingham Infants).

Another area of social deprivation is Gateshead in the country’s north-east. Here Bede Community Primary School run a “Creative Curriculum” which Headteacher Nick Anderson wrote in order to make the curriculum as relevant as possible to the students under his charge.

Sir Ken Robinson

Today I had the privilege of meeting and listening to Sir Ken Robinson. As well as listening to an inspirational talk, I was able to chat with him for a few minutes. I put to him my belief that; an education system based on children being able to identify, explore and enhance their passions and strengths (regardless of academia) would help address the depression epidemic that the World Health Organisation is predicting will be the biggest threat to the health of our current Year 7s by the time they are 30 years old. Sir Ken agreed with me… “Absolutely, without question.”  The writers of the Australian national curriculum must ensure that there is room to move within its framework so as to meet the needs of this century not the past two! And if they don’t listen to a Knight then who will they listen to?

What’s next?

Tomorrow I will return to the school I graduated from in 1995.  I have been invited to present an assembly to the current Year 11s on how to find and use their strengths. I’ll also use the opportunity to personally thank one of the teachers who had the biggest influence on me during my time at school.

Next week I’m off to the prestigious Wellington College to see their acclaimed wellbeing curriculum,  as well as meeting Jenny Fox Eades and seeing her work with a school in London and I’m going to a school that is run like a town… I’ll tell you more next week !

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Wellbeing Youth

Can we at least talk about it?

Well I certainly got what I asked for… and it has been a hectic few days!

The last line of my Sydney Morning Herald article asked “Can we at least talk about it?” in reference to youth depression and suicide. The overwhelming majority of the feedback both at SMH and at Online Opinion was very positive towards my article.

There was one letter to the editor in the SMH from Dr Michael Carr-Gregg who dismissed my article as “(a) hysterical thought bubble.” Fortunately another Herald reader saved me the trouble of responding by writing in to disagree! I’m glad to say that Michael Carr-Gregg and I have since had a chat and it appears we are on the same page, which is great.

What has been incredibly humbling is the amount of positive feedback and encouragement I have received from survivors of depression and attempted suicide, chronic sufferers of the condition and family members and friends of those who have completed suicide.

The article prompted two radio interviews with 2UE and the ABC which you can now hear on my new Listen Page. Of particular note, on the ABC I was interviewed with Deputy Director of SANE Australia, Paul Morgan, who concurred with me that evidence based programs must be embedded as part of a new national curriculum.

I have also received invitations from around Australia to visit universities and research labs to see first hand the work that is being done in the area of youth depression. I have also been invited to offer some input in how they could be applied in education.

Oh… and one other thing… I have finally stepped into the 21st Century myself, and acquired a Facebook and Twitter account… but I’ve no idea what I’m doing with them!

Change Education Wellbeing Youth

Did you get the Sydney Morning Herald today?

I’ve always been a fan of the Sydney Morning Herald and Radio 2UE; and today is no exception!

On page 11 of today’s edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, you will find an article I have written entitled “It’s time to confront the deadliest demon of them all” (the SMH’s headline, not mine.)

In it I discuss the role of teachers in enhancing the wellbeing of students. I also discuss the need for the national curriculum to allow teachers to do this, by recognising that the 21st Century student needs a 21st Century curriculum; not some rehashed 200 year old model.

Click here to read “It’s time to confront the deadliest demon of them all” on the Sydney Morning Herald site.

In my article I also mention the work of Shelley Crawford and Nerina Caltabiano entitled The School Professionals’ Role in Identification of Youth at Risk of Suicide.  Due to the nature of an opinion piece I wasn’t able to go into any detail regarding this study, but it is definitely worth reading if you are a teacher, counsellor or parent.

Please feel free to contribute either to the comments on the SMH site or right here!

I’m also being interviewed on Radio 2UE’s Drive show today between 3.30 & 4.30. Tune in to 954 on the AM dial.

It’s now less than 2 weeks until I head off on my Study Tour. I will be sending an  “e-postcard” each week letting you know what I’ve been up to.

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Education Wellbeing

Product Recall Announcement: Faulty Students

In a move likely to cause concern, several schools have issued a Product Recall for the students produced in the last 5-10 years. According to the schools, the students are missing key aspects of their educational development. A series of Sydney Morning Herald articles sparked the recall with rates of HSC students reporting psychological and psychiatric issues rising 30% between 2005 and 2009 and Universities decrying the lack of resilience in modern day undergraduates. *

*Not strictly true. No school to my knowledge has ever issued a product recall. Although maybe some should! 🙂

One definition of education is: the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

I repeat; “Preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” Research and anecdotal evidence suggests that whilst academic levels continue to rise, it is at the expense of social, emotional and spiritual intellect; three aspects of mature life that are arguably of far greater consequence than academic intellect. Add to that the fact that good academic marks, a degree or even PhD no longer guarantees entry into the work force as it once did.

In an attempt to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, it has been deemed a National Curriculum is required to ensure that all Australian Schools are (in the words of Minister for Schools, Peter Garrett)”Great”. However this process is proving to be something of a farce. In order to get the writers of the curriculum thinking straight, Garrett has asserted it should be ready by December; this year; two months from now. The last time Garrett pushed to rubber stamp a policy in a hurry it concluded with the roof insulation scheme, which received mixed reviews at best! One would hope the Government would not be so quick to try and push through legislation that will impact on every child in Australia.

From drug education, sex education, resilience, self awareness or dealing with stress, more and more schools are turning to outside agencies to deliver programs and/or sessions that deal with the aspect of life skills. A colleague of mine who works in the field of Positive Psychology tells me she has never been busier fielding calls from school principals looking for experts to run programs in their schools to help “rescue” their students. Time and again extra things are bolted on to the curriculum offered by the school. If the curriculum needs so much attention at the back end, surely it’s time for a serious re-modelling process and not just a Back to Basics approach.

But more than that, it needs a significant shift in perspective from schools, teachers and communities. The days of the science teacher saying, “It’s not my job!” when it comes to looking out for a student’s wellbeing are long gone. Research paper after research paper tells us we are living in a less cohesive, more demanding society, that is asking more of our children than ever before. The majority of students spend many more hours per week with their teachers than with any other significant adult in their life.

With that exposure to Australia’s youth, education leaders, schools and teachers have a huge responsibility for their students’ wellbeing.

With a depression epidemic predicted by the World Health Organisation, now is the time to ensure that the health, identity and wellbeing of the student is front and centre of the school experience. Academics are important, of course, but only in so far as to enhance, and not at the expense of the three fundamental concepts I have identified.

In 2011 I’ll be speaking at the Positive Psychology in Education Symposium at Sydney Uni, as well as the Positive Schools conferences in Perth and Brisbane, alongside the likes of Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry and renowned psychologist and author, Steve Biddulph. I intend to continue this discussion there, here and everywhere in between. Please sign up for email updates (top right) to stay in touch…

Education Wellbeing

Anika Foundation Study Tour Update

I thought I’d drop a few lines just to update how my Anika Foundation Premier’s Teacher Scholarship Study Tour is shaping up… I’ve been busy as in the last few weeks, budgeting, booking flights, hotels and making appointments, but I can tell already all the hard work is going to be worth it!

I’ll be leaving mid-November and below are just some of the people I will be meeting and/or working with… it promises to be a fantastic few weeks!

Jenny Fox Eades – Author of the Celebrating Strengths Program – I’ll be visiting schools with Jenny to see first hand how her programs are implemented and what she thinks of the way in which they are being implemented

Dr Jane Gillham – Co author of the Penn Resilency Project and The Optimistic Child amongst other work – I’ll be meeting with Jane to discuss some aspects of my work, as well as getting the latest study findings from her work.

Sir Ken Robinson – Leading speaker regarding creativity and educational reform – I’ll be attending an address by Sir Ken, and then taking part in a Q&A session where I’ll be establishing how aspects of creativity should/could be implemented in education.

Tayyab Rashid – Colleague of Martin Seligman now on the Toronto District School Board and reponsible for Positive Education in Toronto, Canada – I shall be visiting a number of schools in Toronto to see their programs in action, as well as discussing some aspects of my work.

Dr Howard Cutler – Co-author with the Dalai Lama in the Art of Happiness series.  – He is working on their forthcoming “Art of Happiness in Education” project.

Ian Morris, Head of Wellbeing at Wellington College, UK where Dr Anthony Seldon  is the Headmaster. I’ll be looking into their acclaimed “Wellness Curriculum”

John Yeager – Chair or Wellness Education at Culver Academies, US – I’ll be discussing my work with John as well as seeing how his input will further develop the programs I am writing. He comes highly recommended by many of the top researchers in the field of Positive Psychology.

Tessa Kratz – Director of Operations , KIPP Schools New York College Prep. – I’ll be looking at and see first hand how KIPP incorporate aspects of Positive Psych with kids from the poorest areas of NYC in order to gain great acheivements.

Dominic Randolph – Headmaster of Riverdale School in New York. Like John Yeager, every Positive Psychology expert I spoke to said I have to see this man!

With various school visits scheduled, and other expert educators still to be confirmed this is shaping up to be a very busy and informative few weeks!

I’ll be posting weekly updates during November and December on what’s been doing… stay tuned!

Education Leadership

How Should We Measure The Effectiveness of a School?

Consider the following students…

Christopher* is a Year 12 student who is on course for a top ATAR. He is likely to be the Dux of the School. However, Christopher has always had issues socializing, and suffers anxiety. It is not clear how he will function outside the structure of a small high school.

David has been in the bottom sets his whole school career. His teachers constantly recognize the fact that he appears to be working to the best of his abilities. However, because of the nature of the school system the best he can hope to achieve is a “C” and sometimes he falls short of this grade. As a result of this he has been constantly reminded that despite his best efforts he does not succeed in the subjects at school. He is close to leaving without any real insight into what he is actually good at.

Sally is a top academic student. She has graduated from School with an ATAR that gives her the choice of courses at University. She is keen to do teaching or some kind of social work but her parents are eager for her to go into the Law profession, and given the capacity to earn more money as a lawyer she elects to study law at University.

Eric is good musician and singer. He has decided to pursue his passion by heading to Nashville in America to hone his songwriting craft. As a consequence he has made it clear that school work is no longer a priority. As well as practicing music everyday, he is working as many hours as possible in his part time job to save for his flight to America. He has agreed to complete his HSC to keep his parents happy, but it is obvious that his heart is not in it. He credits his decision to follow his passion to his Head of House and Music Teacher who have always encouraged him to focus on his music.

The review of NAPLAN and HSC results provides an avenue for assessing the effectiveness of the school. Indeed it is this data that the Australian MySchool website is built around. In doing this the Government imply that this the most important information parents require in determining the appropriate school for their children.

The majority of educational systems are structured from the top down. Universities determine the kind of students they want in their respective courses. The assumption is that a student with an ATAR of 99 will make a better doctor/physio/lawyer than the student with an ATAR of 85.

The issue with determining effectiveness in this way is the inherent impact it has on the teaching and learning at school. It reinforces the antiquated hierarchy of subjects that places a higher value on subjects like Mathematics and English than subjects such as Woodwork the Arts.

As such the student who excels at Drama or Art is not validated in the same way as the student who excels at Mathematics or English.

You could argue that of all the students above; it is with Eric, the musician, that the school has had the most success. He has found his passion and he feels confident in his abilities to pursue his dream.

You could also argue that the school has “failed” every time a student graduates in the same scenario as David. Surely the very least a school should be doing is ensuring that students find something that they not only good at, but are passionate about and can engage with.

With regard to Christopher, as Dux of the School, his exam results will undoubtedly open doors for him, but for how long given his lack of social skills?

And how about Sally? Should the school revel in the fact they have produced another Law undergraduate, or should they reflect on the fact a student has left not being true to herself?

Unfortunately there is no statistic to reflect the Christopher Complex, David Disorder, Eric Effect or Sally Syndrome, on the MySchool website (or anywhere else to my knowledge). If there was, in conjunction with the standardized test scores, parents would be able to better ascertain what the school could offer their child.

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty and everyone in between