The Positive Schools Conference is about building happy, healthy and flourishing school communities and focusses on the mental health and wellbeing of both teachers and students. Educators from around the State gathered in Fremantle last week to learn and share stories on topics such as nurturing creativity, the importance of honesty, practical mindfulness, empowering youth, building resiliency skills and prevention of youth suicide.
While serious topics were explored by the Presenters, this was broken up with humour by host Mikey Robins, one of Australia’s best-loved entertainers, who joked with me, “I’ve been waiting 40 years to tell the teachers to be quiet”. When I asked him what he had learnt from the Conference, he said he felt that these days there was a “more multidisciplinary approach to teaching and teachers require a much broader holistic skill set.”
Professor Michael Bernard’s presentation echoed this when he spoke about educator workloads, the need for stress management and a resilient mindset for educators. A survey on occupational stress ranked teaching as the second most stressful job out of 26 analysed. He spoke to me about the need for “regular discussion about stress management methods, self acceptance, seeking support and exercise” and gifted me a smiley face stress ball.
A leading child and adolescent psychologist, Dr Michael Carr-Greg, presented findings from a survey that found that there are more people in the 15-19 age category in psychological distress than there were 5 years ago. He informed me that the latest research shows that, “wellbeing has never been worse than now, there is a connection between wellbeing and learning, young people check their phones 57 times per day and bullying used to be in the school yard but now it is 24 hours with cyberbullying. Rural and remote wellbeing is worse with 3 times the suicide rate to major centres.”
Michael demonstrated how online technologies can play a major role in the delivery of mental health services and support for young people and their families. One of these is an app developed by Smiling Mind, for which Michael is an Ambassador. The non-profit organisation works to make mindfulness meditation accessible to all and its vision is to see it on the Australian National Curriculum by 2020.
In attendance at the Conference was Bindoon Primary School’s Principal Linda Toms and Pre-Primary teacher Katy Fulker. Linda said, “The Conference was amazing. It provided us with a wealth of strategies and information that can be applied to our school context to help to develop resiliency, healthy thinking and wellbeing. The keynote speakers were inspirational.”
There were few dry eyes at the end of Li Cunxin’s keynote presentation, the last for the Conference. Li was born into poverty in Mao’s Communist China and went on to be one of the best ballet dancers in the world. His inspirational story is recounted in his memoir, international best seller ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’, and was made into a blockbuster movie. More on this in the NVN next month.