(image from Pixabay)
Mental health and well-being are (as they should be) gaining more and more importance in the education system. We need to have an understanding of why and how to look after ourselves so that we can function to the best of our ability, riding the waves of day-to-day life, the ups-and-downs, the peaks and the valleys. One-in-ten children suffer from mental health issues, with a significant amount having to wait up to 18 months to be seen by CAMHS, and this indicates that we need to have well established mental health and well-being structures in schools to help cope with the demand. By this, I do not mean that teachers and schools should "fix" the children that are suffering the most and need professional help, but by implementing well-being skills programmes in schools we can give the children that are doing okay the chance to pull themselves back from the edge, therefore keeping places free for those that need extended and deeper help.
Many of the well-being programmes out there are doing the job they are supposed too - giving children (and including or by extension staff) the tools to build resilience, happiness, and purpose; schools take up resiliency programmes, such as happiness programmes, growth-mindset, mindfulness, etc, believing that implementing a single (or few) programmes will change the lives of their pupils. This is a first step, for sure, but one thing that aggravates me about this approach is the fact that the ends seem to be justifying the means. To believe that one or two programmes with a single focus will enable pupils to flourish is deluded. By all means, have growth-mindset in your school, but acknowledge that growth-mindset itself may assist with some aspects of your pupils lives, but not all. Hannah Wilson, HT at Aureus School, and Clare Erasmus, Director of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Magna Carta School, recognise this and these two schools have developing mental health and wellbeing programmes that draw on many aspects of a very broad arena. In doing this they ensure that, for their pupils, no-one is left behind. Pupils with and without mental health issues get the wellbeing support that they need.
BUT, I still have a small quibble about well-being in schools and it is this - where are the moral and ethical elements of the wellbeing programmes. Sure, some wellbeing programmes, such as mindfulness and meditation, help pupils to develop a natural sense of some moralistic elements, such as compassion, kindness, and gratitude, but it is done almost unconsciously, without any specific and purposeful directive to "aim" for moralistic thinking. In my mind, this lack of moralistic and ethically driven well-being means that well-being becomes individualistic and selfish. I have always struggled with the well-being industries individual focus - meditate so that you can be calm and stress-free, put boundaries in place so that you can protect yourself, exercise and eat well so that you feel amazing. What if we changed how we look at and talk about well-being so that our reason for and purpose of well-being is about the impact it will have on others as well as ourselves, how it will impact on the wider community. So what could this mean?
We need to underpin well-being with morals and values, so that young people have a purpose to their well-being, a purpose that doesn't just concern them, but ensures they look wider, bigger. In Michael Hands article "How to Teach Children Morals" he talks about three aspects of teaching morals: 1. Individuals subscribe to a standard, 2. Individuals want others to comply to the standard, 3. Individuals want those that violate standards to be punished in some way. As a community we aim to teach children - in families and in schools - that to be kind, generous, sharing and caring, are all important to enable the community to thrive. Families and schools create their standards and expect children to comply, with children facing consequences if they fail to do what is right. This is a very simplistic way to look at morals, but if we could underpin well-being with this approach, as a first step, pupils can start to self-regulate, creating well-being in their own lives that is up to a community standard (perhaps even peer driven) and policed by themselves, i.e., looking beyond just their own well-being they start to actively look out for others and encourage their peers to participate - it creates an inclusive purpose to well-being that is generally missing. Michael Hands also raises the point about moral enquiry - the encouragement of children to discuss and think about moral elements and scenarios. What if we had pupils engage in this type of discussion regarding well-being and mental health issues they may face? Giving them the ability to understand and justify reasons for and against some and other well-being interventions. This gives them the moral capacity to want to look after their own and others well-being and mental health. The ability to self-reflect as well as judge the wider-communities approach too and implementation of well-being and mental health strategies is empowering and creates a more universal purpose to strategy.
So, perhaps, when considering your well-being strategy for your school, look at moralistic and ethical values that could well underpin and influence your well-being structure, engage your pupils with the processes and have an ongoing evaluation from all parties to ensure that there is real purpose and meaning to well-being and mental health.
(Image from lavnatalia on Pixabay)
Tis the season to spend tonnes of money on things that people will forget about by the time the New Year clocks in. Cynical much? Not really. I am a present giver, to a certain extent, and whilst I love the idea of giving, I think that we have to think more about what we give and how. Growing up in my family we go to ask Santa for one big present and we would get a stocking chock full of little presents. And that was it. The one big present would have to be something that we really really wanted and the little presents were normally things that meant something. Nothing beat the excitement of going to sleep on Christmas eve and waking up the next morning to spy a fat stocking hanging on my bedroom door.
Also, nothing beat the family coming round for Christmas lunch, kids running around, cold ham and salads, trifle and Christmas pudding, jumping in the pool, playing Christmas carols at top volume, and the laughter, of the laughter around the Christmas table. Do I remember all of the presents that I received?.... nope. Do I remember special moments with family members? Yes. And these special moments are even more precious now that some of those people are no longer with us.
Relationships and experiences matter more than the material, the object, the disposable. I did a gratitude survey on Twitter this week asking what people were grateful for this year, the choices were: experiences, material, relationships, and career. 43 people voted, 73% said they were most grateful for relationships, 20% said experiences, 5% said careers, and 2% said material. I was only slightly surprised. I thought it would be closer between relationships and experiences, but the people have spoken (no I am not chucking a Theresa May), or rather the very small sample size have spoken.
So, I want you to think of celebrating Christmas from a less material perspective, and approach it from how can I cultivate good, positive relationships this season. How can I act and behave that will nurture the relationships I have? But also think, instead of buying a gift for someone can I perhaps provide them with an experience instead.
That new jacket, dvd, or phone won't help you thrive and flourish (though of course, it is nice to get new things, but the point is....), but relationships and experiences will have a larger impact on your mental health and wellbeing.
Think outside the box this season - especially if you have left your Christmas shopping to the last minute and you don't want to have to face the crowds of last-minute shoppers this weekend. Here are a few ideas:
1. Write a Thank You letter (or Christmas Card) to someone you love as a present. Make sure you write about something that they have done or said that you are grateful for. Be effusive, be descriptive, and be open hearted.
2. Think of a person you love and what their character strengths are, i.e., brave, creative, hopeful, and then buy or create an experience that fits with that character strength. If they are creative people perhaps they would love some vouchers to life drawing classes, if they are curious perhaps they would love a visit to a museum, if they are humorous perhaps they would love a homemade book of jokes (google for jokes on the internet, type them up, and present them to the person you love).
3. If you have a bit more money to spend, look at going to a company like This Pampered Life where they can create a package, that suits many budgets, of experiences for the recipient.
Merry Christmas everyone!
"Rather than knowing more, I think I've got more open-minded."
- David Bailey
I have been quiet on here this month, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been exploring the wide spaces of openness and open-mindedness, and understanding what this means and getting to know intimately the personal stops and gaps in my own path of being open and accepting.
This month has been busy. Busy, but inspiring - on a global level and on an inner landscape level, specifically when it comes to being open-minded. What I have discovered is that being open-minded is being conscious of everything, it is being aware at the wider scope of difference and also the minutia of the self, and multitude of selves that we cover and peel back and cover again.
Who are you?
Who am I?
These are the two "real" questions that have popped up this month.
These questions stem from the openness I have actively cultivated. And it has been tough, and so where do I start, how do I catch you up on what has touched me, blown my mind, and ultimately created a desire to open even further to that which is life and life-giving.
I have been on two trips this month - Canada and Ireland.
Was a long felt for visit to a friend who was there for me at one of the toughest times of my life. T is so important to me, a kind of sister-figure that is here to challenge me, that is a reflection of the parts of me that I want to develop and grow. Spending time with T was like communing with the open-minded angels on a deep, fun, joyful, intense level.
Canada was also attending the IPPA (International Positive Psychology Association) Annual Congress. The biggest illustration of open-mindedness, on an intellectual and global scale, made itself apparent here.... THE POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY COMMUNITY IS QUESTIONING ITSELF!
What became apparent and openly discussed was the acknowledgement that not all positive psychology interventions that appear to work work for all people. What became apparent was that science is not perfect and should not be treated as perfect, and yet it should be respected, because of its ability to question itself and evolve, question itself and evolve, question itself and evolve.
(perhaps us humans should take note - question ourselves and evolve)
(the ultimate in being open)
Was the return to a deep spiritual relationship with music. U2 have been a band for me that evokes such strong emotions and feelings, ever since I was a child. These strong emotions burst into feelings of the sublime and joyful, wild abandon, to the physical manifestations of goose-bumps and tears.
(I know not all love U2, and even find them pretentious.... so I've been told *wink wink* Each to their own I say, if you don't like them that is fine with me, there are musicians much loved in the world that I am not a particular fan of, and guess what, that is fine as well! Remember open-mindedness includes being accepting of others likes and dislikes)
To see U2 perform the Joshua Tree album in all it's glory, to play their classics, their iconic songs of the 80's and 90's, it bought me back to being fearless. Why fearless? Here's a story:
Years ago I went on exchange from my university in Australia to Leeds Uni in the UK. I had a hell of a trip; I was supposed to arrive in Leeds before lunchtime on that particular day, my flight into Heathrow was on time, but there were gale force winds, and my quick nip of a flight from Heathrow to Leeds/Bradford airport was cancelled. I remember feeling sick, that familiar feeling of tingling liquid ice seeping through my veins tickled my consciousness. British airways told me they had organised a bus to take the passengers to Leeds. What should have been a half an hour flight ended up being a 10 hour bus trip filled with nightmares. We trundled into Leeds/Bradford Airport at 11pm, I had no idea where the security office for the university was (if you arrived to the uni late that is where you could find your key and instructions on how to get to your accommodation), I had to trust the taxi driver knew where to go. He did.
I got to the security office, on the verge of tears, exhausted, nervous, scared, not knowing what to expect. The security guy must have looked at this messy, smelly, sad looking body of mine and said "I have your key, if you can wait a few minutes for my colleague he can give you a lift to your house." By the time the other security guy got me into my house the other students were already in bed. I stumbled, almost blind with a strange feeling of grief and sadness, into my allocated bedroom, dropped my bags, and foolishly used my mobile to call Australia. The moment I heard mum's voice I burst into tears, as quietly as possible, I didn't want to disturb anyone who might be sleeping - absurd considering there were walls and hallways separating us. I sobbed into the phone I clutched tightly in my left hand "Mum I just want to come home, why did I decide to do this?" I could hear the worry in mum, I didn't mean to worry her, but she was my mum and it was inevitable.
Mum's solution to getting through the night: "Get out your Mp3 and put your music on. Listen to some U2, they always make you feel better."
When mum died two and a half years ago I couldn't listen to U2. It took me well over a year to be able to listen to most of their songs; there are some songs I still can't listen too without descending into a fit of grief and tears.
My grief is still there, but going to the concert last weekend? That sense of the awe and the sublime is back. That inspiration is back. That connection to the meaning of their songs, on a wider, global and universal scale is back.
I am open to the music again.
I am filled to the brim with openness.
(image from pixabay)
It was the end of my first year of uni (doing my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree) and I was nervously awaiting for my final results to pop up on the computer screen. I alternated between looking everywhere but the screen, and giving furtive little glances to see if the page had loaded yet (remember this was before high speed internet and just after we had graduated from dial-up). Inevitably the page did load and there were my results: passes and merits.
Not bad, not bad at all, especially from a kid who had failed to get the marks to get into uni straight out of high school, but was determined enough to make a go of it as a "mature student," i.e., in Australia you are considered a "mature student" at 21.
Yet, my little competitive heart clenched.... it was good, but not good enough. I wanted to be better, much much better.
And so I hit hard the obstacle that stops many of us from improving ourselves - was I prepared to accept (with an open-mind) and take on board the constructive criticism from my lecturers? Was I willing to step over my ego, embrace some humility, and step with open arms into the abyss of contradiction and argument in the hopes that my marks would improve by that time next year?
When we want to improve in life, whether that be our academic results, labour skill, hobbies, or even character strengths, we have to actually embrace the notion of being open to constructive criticism from those that are further down the path then us. We have to accept our imperfections, our mistakes, and we have to acknowledge that others may see what we don't see, that they may know well an easier path to take, and that in having made similar mistakes to ourselves, know how to rectify and improve themselves.
If we want to be truly open minded we have to accept that this will include constructive criticism - in fact we can't avoid it whether we are open or not - but your level of openness will predict how well you take the criticism and whether you will use it for good, or discard it for the status quo.
Constructive criticism generally comes from a place of support and encouragement - why would you be closed to that?
In my second year of uni I voraciously read the side note commentary written in the margins of my essays and art journals. I noted each approval and each criticism, most especially I noted suggestions for improvements. As the year went on my marks started to improve, until I finally found myself at that end of year again, nervously waiting for the screen with my marks to load.
Results: merits and distinctions.
Liz: 1, Ego: 0.
Being open to constructive criticism works.
(image from pixabay)
Another month and a new trait to explore.
This month it is open-mindedness that I am exploring... this does not mean that I will be open-minded enough to do something that I do not want to do/think/say, but it does mean that I am going to try and be more open to new and interesting ideas, to explore activities and concepts outside of my usual, and not reject activities/concepts/stories at the outset. I think this month is going to involve a lot of mindfulness and reflection... it should be interesting.
Since writing the above I have got my research project for uni started and I have popped on a plane to Canada. I am now in Toronto staying with my wonderful friend and soul sister Tara and I am loving it. I have been here almost two days now and I have been challenged, opened, and revealed, and come to the realisation that I am more open-minded and accepting then I give myself credit for.
And standing in this openness I am stronger, in my own sense of what is right for me, and finding beauty in what is right for other people. It is seeing other people so comfortable in their skin, in their differences, in their acceptance of themselves and others, that has made me reflect on my own acceptance of myself and what this means for me now and in the future. In the space of two days I have come to question what is it that I want in life, and be open to confronting blocks I know I haven't even faced or acknowledged before, and being open to facing what it is that is causing these blocks.
Travel is transformational, and I think this is why I love it so much. To be exposed .... to new cultures and ideas, but to .... be exposed, in the sense that your self is exposed beyond measure, imagination, and want. To crack that shell of what is closed, to open to life as it is right here and right now, and to not be afraid; to step boldly forward trusting in your own self and judgement, knowing that what is laid out before you is for you to decide.
This should be interesting....