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MindMatters National Conference: Fostering social and emotional wellbeing in school communities through connectedness Carlton Crest Hotel

, Melbourne, 8–9 November 2002

Tracy Zilm

Abstract Every teacher is a teacher for social and emotional wellbeing. Students learn as much from how we teach as what we teach. Teachers in every key learning area are in a position to promote wellbeing through the teaching and learning strategies they use and the way they develop relationships with students and other staff. This session will highlight aspects of pedagogy, which not only can improve learning outcomes but also promote feelings of connectedness, resilience, trust and success. New Norfolk High School from Tasmania will provide recent examples of health-promoting pedagogy used successfully in their school. Introductory activity 1. Preparation of room: Chairs have been placed in groups of six. A coloured ‘thinking hat’ (DeBono, 1999) attached to each chair. Instructions: Introduce yourself to the others in your group. This is an opportunity to connect with the people around you and to establish groups for a reflective task which will happen during the session.


Introduction The session could be retitled Effective Teaching and Learning. I am probably not going to tell you anything you don’t already know but maybe you haven’t put it under the banner of health promotion before. Possibly you will gain some ideas about how to engage staff who are resistant to involvement in anything like MindMatters. What is pedagogy? The Encarta World Dictionary defines pedagogy as the science or profession of teaching. The word ‘science’ sounds too neat and clinical – it denies the diversity of contexts and interactions between human beings in a classroom or school. ‘Profession’ sounds better – it inherently suggests the need to


constantly reflect, refine, and improve our understandings and practice. I prefer a definition of pedagogy as ‘both what and how you teach’. If you consider this idea of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, which do we have most control over? In most States, curriculum outcomes (the what) are set. It is the ‘how’ over which we have most control as teachers. It is also what can make the most difference in terms of social and emotional wellbeing! Teaching can be about putting protective factors into play in the classroom – or not. Some key learning areas may provide more opportunity for health promotion than others but there can still be a huge difference between classes of the same key learning areas. Two different Art classrooms or two Maths classrooms, working on the same content and the same activities, can have remarkably different outcomes. What is health promotion? The National Action Plan for Promotion, Prevention and Early Intervention for Mental Health (2000) describes health promotion as 'any action taken to maximise health and well-being among populations and individuals'. It includes changing environments – social, physical, economic, educational, cultural; enhancing ‘coping’ capacity; and giving power, knowledge, skills and resources to individuals, families, communities and groups. This definition reminds us that health promotion is not the sole domain of the school; however, education plays a significant role. Resiliency research identifies the factors which are protective for young people. These protective factors have been identified as those things which are important in keeping young people safe and healthy. They include connectedness (to family, friends, and/or school), relationships (especially with a caring adult), competence (in or out of school), self-esteem, a belief in one’s own ability to cope, a sense of control and individual disposition (Frydenberg 1997). These are the specifics of health promotion. We can change environments and enhance the capacity for many of these factors especially by the way we teach. Why promote mental health? Teachers know from experience that often the things that interfere with learners’ health, are the same things that interfere with their learning. Without the right state of mind, no real learning happens. You can’t concentrate if you feel unsafe. Brain research suggests that under threat, our brain messages bypass rational thought and leap straight to an emotional response of fight or flight. If we are concerned about maximising learning, we have to be concerned about emotional and social wellbeing. In line with such strong links between mental health and learning, it is worthy of noting that 'enhancing mental health in schools ... is essential and does not represent an agenda separate from a school's instructional mission' (UCLA Centre for Mental Health in Schools, 2002). This UCLA paper; About Mental Health in Schools, stresses the fact that we must encourage schools to view the difficulty of


raising achievement test scores through the complementary lenses of addressing barriers to learning and promoting healthy development. Promoting health is not about having to do something extra. When we look at factors related to school reform and restructure they link closely with the key concepts of health promotion and resiliency. Effective restructuring produces a health-promoting school. And health promotion in schools is actually the foundation of effective education – whether those involved realise it or not (Henderson & Milstein, 1996). Why focus on pedagogy? Good teaching is health promoting. When you talk to people about what they think was great teaching when they were at school, they often include things like: it was inspirational, gave options, taught problem solving, modelled and created enthusiasm, used and developed expertise, the teacher gave of himor herself, and yet remained professionally distant, promoted reflection on practice and cared about students as individual learners. Comments are more often about how a particular teacher made them feel rather than the expert knowledge a teacher may have had. Developing a new systemic policy or implementing a new educational program does not necessarily improve student learning. This is because they are dependent for their impact on a range of other factors that are more proximal to the learning process, such as how well the intent of the program is implemented at the level of the classroom. (Cuttance, 2001). Developing a new systemic policy or implementing a new educational program does not necessarily improve student learning. This is because successful implementation depends upon a range of other factors that are closer to the actual learning process, such as what happens in the classroom. 'A substantial proportion of the variation in student learning outcomes is associated directly with variation in teaching' (Scheerens, Vermeuleun & Pelgrum, 1989). It is far more important that a student find themselves in an effective classroom in a school, than in an effective school (Cuttance, 2001). It was found that 8-19% of the variation in student learning outcomes lies between schools; a further amount of up to 55% of the variation is between classrooms within schools. This research supports the notion that individual teachers hold a great deal of power in terms of whether or not a student in their class achieves (Cuttance 2001). This suggests that getting as many teachers as possible interested and motivated to reflect on their pedagogy will ultimately benefit students’ outcomes from schooling. 'Schools that do have a critical mass of active teachers can help their students reach higher levels of academic performance than those students otherwise would reach' (Wenglinksy 2002).


Student voice Five yearly research and evaluation of senior school curriculum statements by SSABSA (Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia) usually involves interviewing teachers about subject selection. However, it was decided to interview students about their reasons for choosing or not choosing a Year 11 subject. It was found that students were selecting subjects on the basis of the way it was taught before what was taught. The students gave examples of what they were looking for in teaching and learning: relevance, interest, to learn new things, creativity, out of school activities, greater variety in the type of assignments set, less note taking, up-to-date resources, control over content and more interaction. This is what they were saying would engage them and we know that engagement needs to occur if anyone is going to learn. 'Those teachers who made the subject interactive, interesting and, above all, were seen to enjoy the subject themselves, had a greater chance of inspiring students.' (Keighley-James, 2002) Feedback from the students during this research highlighted the importance of the interviews in terms of the recognition and respect accorded to the students by being given an opportunity to have a say. One of the interesting things about the process was the number of kids who said 'thanks for asking us what we think' – especially those from rural and remote students where distance can often increase students’ sense of alienation from any locus of control and influence. They were delighted that someone had travelled so far just to talk to them. Fostering reflective practice The following three key assumptions about learning are based on 30 years of research and practice into outcomes-based education (Spady, 1993). 1. 2. 3. All students can learn and succeed, but not on the same day in the same way. Successful learning promotes more successful learning. Schools control the conditions that directly affect successful school learning.

These assumptions ask educators to take a positive view of all their students, focus on their unique learning needs, rates and characteristics, emphasise and build on their successes and directly promote successful learning and progress rather than failure. If this is the approach that teachers use in classrooms, they are probably employing teaching and learning practices which promote social and emotional wellbeing. The June 2002 edition of the Quality Learning newsletter from New Zealand calls for a return to the ‘art and craft’ of teaching, which in some instances has suffered at the expense of a focus on curriculum change and assessment demands. It is suggested that every school needs to develop each teacher’s confidence, skill and passion for teaching by providing support such as the following: help teachers clarify and articulate their beliefs about teaching and


learning, value and share wisdom teachers already have, encourage sharing of good practice, have them visit each other's rooms and schools and have them continually question their own teaching (Hammonds & Morris, 2002). Of course, effective schools are already using processes that enhance teacher learning such as having teacher teams, which plan, teach, and manage individual student learning. What else helps? Many educational initiatives, in which schools are already involved, can be included under the banner of health promotion because they have the capacity to engage students in learning in an active and caring way. These initiatives include effective transition processes, which can increase a student’s sense of safety and control. Middle schooling structures and processes and pastoral care approaches can promote belonging to a smaller learning community and closer relationships with fewer teachers. Vocational Education and Enterprise Education programs and approaches involve active, real-life learning. An emphasis on physical activity can have an immediate impact on a student’s sense of wellbeing. Offering Performing Arts activities within and outside the curriculum acknowledges and values a range of ways of learning and succeeding. Clubs provide opportunities for connectedness to a group outside the classroom. The whole-student approach described in CommunityMatters (Commonwealth of Australia, 2001) is a framework for ensuring we have a positive impact on protective factors for each and every student. The three parts of this framework are as follows: 1. 2. 3. Relationships Expectations Participation

I shall look at each one in turn. 1. Relationships Connecting with students and forming a caring relationship by listening to and respecting them is important as in the saying 'Children don't care what you say until they know that you care' (author unknown). This relationship can either help or hinder future learning and pays dividends when a problem does arise. Star teachers build strong personal relationships with children around learning tasks and do not leave the process of relating to a child until after a serious problem arises. Thirty seconds spent greeting a child and inquiring about their sick dog, for example, is time well invested. (Haberman, 1995) Such a ‘universal’ approach to developing relationships with all students is time consuming but is beneficial in terms of the


quality of interactions that may be possible. However, we need to give ourselves permission to be human and less than perfect – making our mistakes with awareness as the following discussion list participant reminds us. The only times I run into problems with students is if I disregard their 'context' and try to push forward with the task at hand. In spite of being a seasoned teacher I still am challenged by my own lack of emotional and spiritual balance on some days. (Pepper, 2002)



Expectations High but achievable expectations include those set for teachers as well as students. They include behavioural expectations such as described in the ACHPER Advocacy Kit (ACHPER 2000): If there is one rule above all others you must enforce, it is no put downs – of others or themselves. If you allow derogatory remarks you are collaborating in helping destroy the self confidence of a child. Make this rule at the beginning of the year and enforce it. This clarity and consistency is vital in classroom management in order to provide a safe environment for all students (and staff). Howard and Johnson’s research (2000) into what makes a difference for children at risk raised some interesting perspectives. Students talked less about the school’s role in providing social support and much more about providing special help to overcome learning difficulties. None of the teachers talked about school achievement as a resiliencypromoting factor and yet learning is supposed to be the core business of schools. Students want teachers to help them achieve and be successful, and so teaching for mastery, encouraging problem solving and providing opportunities for all children to achieve and experience authentic success is not only vital but something that students actually want.


Participation Authentic participation and contribution promote connectedness and feeling valued. Approaches that enable students to take responsibility for their learning also develop ownership. They include nvolving students in decision making and negotiation about aspects of teaching and learning, including and respecting diverse perspectives, valuing students’ skills outside of school and allowing for real-world involvement and application, and valuing the student as a unique individual. Some good examples of encouraging authentic participation will be given by New Norfolk High School in their part of this presentation.

Teaching and learning strategies Educators’ understanding of how people think and learn continues to grow and develop. Teachers who see themselves as learners will keep up with what current research is saying about teaching and learning. Particular classroom strategies may come in and out of vogue but the principle of moving every student forward in their learning remains the same. There is no one way that works best but, rather, a teacher needs a repertoire of approaches that will engage students because they learn in different ways at different rates.


As is the case with whole-school initiatives, effective teachers already employ strategies that have the capacity to promote social and emotional wellbeing. An understanding of multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1999) and learning styles means that teachers can provide opportunities for students to not only work in their preferred way but to also encourage them to experience and master less preferred ways of learning and knowing (Atkin, 1994). In doing so, students are able to integrate the learning with personal meaning as well as increase their repertoire of problem solving and coping skills. Using individual and group work, peer and cross-age tutoring, peer and self assessment provides students with control over their learning and an opportunity for teachers to explicitly teach social skills. Higher order thinking tasks (Ryan, 1990, DeBono, 1992 and Eberle, 1991), graphic organisers (Parks & Black, 1990) and a focus on metacognition (Fogarty, 1997) empower students with strategies for lifelong learning and problem solving. The individual lesson – a focus on wellbeing and connectedness At the start of the year or in any one lesson, how do you get adolescents to the point where they are ready to learn? How do you create and optimise the learning time you have available? Learning involves taking risks (Atkin, 2002). At the start of a new school year, or when any new group forms, there is a window of opportunity for establishing clear parameters and an environment where it is safe to take risks. This can be done by mixing groups and using activities which maximise the opportunity to develop a range of positive working relationships. This is an important part of any teacher’s role because the environment affects learning. Learning is limited if kids don’t feel safe or there is no level of engagement. With connectedness and social and emotional wellbeing in mind, teachers can allow 5–10 minutes at the start of a lesson for students to socialise and orient themselves for learning. Setting the scene is important so that students know what is expected of them and what they can expect to learn. This might involve reconnecting with the students as individuals, a reminder of class rules or a brief summary of the last lesson (to see if someone other than you remembers). What we are talking about are simple things that teachers can do, regardless of the learning area in which they teach, in order to promote social and emotional wellbeing, that is, to promote feelings of connectedness, resilience, trust and success. The MindMatters curriculum booklets offer a number of specific lessons and ideas for teaching and learning about wellbeing ‘content’ (bullying and harassment, resilience, loss and grief and mental illness) in active and engaging ways. The aim of this session was to illustrate that the way any teacher interacts with students and engages them in learning can have an enormous positive impact on students’ social and emotional wellbeing – regardless of whether they are using a lesson from the MindMatters resource or teaching a French lesson.


Reflection task Consider the information you have heard while wearing one thinking hat and contribute a comment or two to your small group: •Blue – organising the thinking and discussion •Red – the range of emotional reactions •Yellow – positive aspects/benefits •Black – negative aspects/opportunities •Green – creative ways of taking ideas forward •White – the facts (research, evaluation). New Norfolk High School presentation


Focus questions (as described in the MindMatters National Conference 2002 Report) Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 What does it mean to say that 'every teacher is a teacher for social and emotional wellbeing'? What training and other support do teachers need to fulfil this role? What type of pedagogical practices best promotes feelings of connectedness, resilience, trust and success? How can other community services and organisations contribute to the development of a pedagogy of health promotion? How can MindMatters be used as part of a whole-school approach to developing a pedagogy of health promotion?

References ACHPER 2000, The Advocacy Kit; A Resource and Guide for Educators to Promote Health And Physical Activity, ACHPER Australia . Atkin JA (1994), How Students Learn: A Framework for Effective Teaching: Part 2 Conditions which Enhance and Maximise Learning, Seminar Series No 34, IART, Melbourne, Australia. Atkin JA (2000), An Outline of Integral Learning, College Year Book 2001, online reference October 2002: Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care 2000, National Action Plan for Promotion, Prevention and Early Intervention for Mental Health, Mental Health and Special Programs Branch, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, Canberra, Australia. Commonwealth of Australia 2001, CommunityMatters: Working with Diversity for Wellbeing, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne. Cuttance P (2001), ‘The Impact of Teaching on Student Learning’ in Beyond the Rhetoric: Building a Teaching Profession to Support Quality Teaching, ed Kerry Kennedy, Australian College of Education, Canberra. DeBono E (1992), Six Thinking Hats for Schools, Books 1–4, Hawker Brownlow Education, Victoria, Australia. DeBono E (1999), Six Thinking Hats, Little Brown & Co, USA. Eberle, B (1991), SCAMPER – Games for Imagination Development, Hawker Brownlow Education, Victoria, Australia. Fogarty R (1997), Brain Compatible Classrooms, Hawker Brownlow Education, Victoria, Australia.


Frydenberg E (1997), Adolescent Coping: Theoretical and research perspectives, Routledge, London. Gardner H (1999), Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligence for the 21st Century, Perseus Books, USA. Haberman M (1995), Star Teachers of Children in Poverty, Indianapolis Kappa Delta PI, Indianapolis. Hammonds B & Morris W (2002), 'Focussing on Teaching, Learning Strategies: The agenda for the 21stC', Leading and Learning for the 21stC, vol 1, no 5, June 2002, online reference October 2002: Henderson N & Milstein M (1996), Resiliency in Schools: Making it happen for students and educators, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, USA. Henderson N, (1999), Integrating Resiliency Building and Educational Reform: Why Doing One Accomplishes the Other Resiliency in Action; Practical Ideas for Overcoming Risks and Building Strengths in Youth, Families & Communities Nan Henderson, Bonnie Benard, Nancy Sharp-light (editors) Resiliency In Action Inc, USA. Howard S & Johnson B (2000), 'What Makes the Difference? Children and teachers talk about resilient outcomes for children "at risk" ', Educational Studies, vol 26, no 3. Keighley-James D (2002), 'Student Participation and Voices in Curriculum Redevelopment: The view from a curriculum development agency, Curriculum Perspectives, vol 22, no 1, April. Parks S & Black H (1990), Organising Thinking – Graphic Organisers Books I & II, Hawker Brownlow Education, Victoria, Australia. Pepper S (2002), Personal comment as part of a contribution to University of Calgary email discussions, #2 July 9, Ryan T (1990), Thinkers Keys for Kids, Logan West School Support Centre, Woodridge, Qld. Spady W (1993), Outcome-based Education, Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Belconnen, ACT. UCLA School Mental Health Project, Center for Mental Health in Schools April 2002, About Mental Health in Schools, online reference October 2002: Wenglinksy H (2002), How schools matter: The link between teacher classroom practices and student academic performance, Education Policy


Analysis Archives, online reference September 2002: