MindMatters Panel: Module 2.2 Developing resilience

Julia Zemiro:
Hello I’m Julia, welcome to the MindMatters panel. In 1997, British anarcho-punk band Chumba-Wamba released their hit song Tubthumping. It worked its way up the charts to become a number one hit around the world. Its anthemic lyric, “I get knocked down but I get up again”, was as true then as it is today. Well, perhaps not for Chumba-Wamba’s music career, but it certainly is for the rest of us. 
And so building resilience with me today is clinical psychologist and family therapist Andrew Fuller…

Andrew Fuller:
Hi Julia.

Julia Zemiro:
…teacher Nerissa Rodriguez, assistant principal George Massouris and teacher Martin De Clercq. But first, let’s get some inspiration from Eagleton High.

Eagleton High clip:

PHILLIP
One thing we’re at great pains to teach our students at Eagleton is how to bounce back when things don’t go your way. Take young Cameron, for example. 

Cameron moved here from Launceston and he found it hard to make friends. He was a bit down, but he joined the footy team and he bounced right back...didn’t you Cameron?

CAMERON
It’s all good!

PHILLIP
Cameron broke his arm playing footy, which was very disappointing because it put him out of regional trials. But now, he helps out with the sausage sizzle at each game and he still feels part of the team.

Don’t you Cameron?

CAMERON
It’s all good!

PHILLIP
Today Cameron had a bit of a hiccup in chemistry class, but we’ll bounce right back from that too...won’t we, Cameron?

Hmmm. I’m gonna have to phone that in.

Are you wearing pyjama pants?

Julia Zemiro:

What? Look! Sometimes you’re in a hurry and sometimes you forgot to do the washing and you have nothing else to wear … so comfy though. What are some common life-challenges that adolescents face?

George Massouris:
I think, ah, fitting in, finding the group that you’re going to be with is a real challenge because I know, ah, that in the younger teenage years the kids sort of go from one group to another until they find their place and spot. And then I think as they get a bit older, they pretty much stick with a core group of four or five kids. But finding those four or five kids can take quite some time.

Julia Zemiro:
A lifetime challenge at high school.

Martin De Clercq:
Finding their identity too. Yeah, and they sort of explore, and that goes along with the groups too. So they might hang out with the muso group or hang out with the sports group or the one that’s interesting.

Julia Zemiro:
Or the drama group?

Martin De Clercq:
Or the drama group, sorry! The drama group, as well.
Julia Zemiro:
That we didn’t have.

Martin De Clercq:
So sort of exploring. Exploring those things.

Julia Zemiro:
What do we mean by resilience? We hear it a lot.

Andrew Fuller:
Well I like to define resilience as the happy knack of being able to bungee-jump the pitfalls of life.

Julia Zemiro:
Wow!

Andrew Fuller:
So that when tough stuff happens you’ve got something that kind of helps you rise above…

Julia Zemiro:
Boi-ing

Andrew Fuller:
That’s right. Um, and it’s about that flexibility of being able to respond to whatever life throws up at you in different types of ways and that requires you to call upon the outer and inner aspects of your world. It requires you to kinda think about who are your support people, who are your family, your loved ones, all those kinds of people. And it’s also about thinking about internally, who are you? What are your strengths, what are your capacities, what are your flaws, what are your vulnerabilities? What do you tend to do when you’re over stressed – and is that self-defeating or useful? 
So that requires self-knowledge. And it also requires knowledge of being prepared to say “Hey would you mind helping me George? I want to talk about this, is that okay?” you know, “do you mind if we spend some time together Nerissa?”, you know, going for a walk and having a bit of a chat about stuff. 
So, sometimes just being able to call upon the people in our world is a really important way of building our resilience. 

Julia Zemiro:
Resilience isn’t just about bouncing back and being strong. Resilience, I think, people think if you’re not strong or if you’re crying, you know, resilience means different things to different people – doesn’t it?

Martin De Clercq:
It’s allowing people to fail. It’s building, like Andrew said, the ability to bounce back. I think schools can be guilty of, ah, being too protective.  I’ve got a colleague who coined the term “white-horsing”, there’s too much white-horsing going on, that people come in on their white horse and rescue kids when they are and not allowing them to fail.
So it’s okay, we’ve talked about giving students autonomy and allowing them to take charge of maybe an assembly or something like that. And it’s okay to not come in and rescue it if it’s all falling apart, but allow that to fail and then afterwards debrief and unpack what went wrong. But you need to provide those opportunities because you’re not sort of helping by protecting them all the time either.

Julia Zemiro:
I can’t stand the expression “it’s all good!”. It’s a real mask of saying “oh I’m being resilient by just saying it’s all good”. And I think a lot of kids would think that’s a good way to do it, I’m showing you I’m alright but I’m actually not.

George Massouris:
Sometimes I use the ‘it’s all good’ back, because the kids will say that to me…

Julia Zemiro:
Ah.

George Massouris:
… and I use it back to have that next line in, because it’s almost like a “hi”, “hi” kind, I use it like that, it’s an acknowledgement and then you can have a chat about what is it that you’re experiencing that is so good.  And uhm, I didn’t like it either, but I use it as sort of an ice-breaker to come back into a conversation.

Julia Zemiro:
What about the resilience of our community? Is that there? What if that’s not strong?

Andrew Fuller:
That takes quite a lot of planning. One of the things that I do around Australia is, I work with a group called Resilient Youth Australia, where we survey communities in terms of the strengths as well as the vulnerabilities of people and really look at devising projects on a whole community basis. To really then tie those communities together, and it’s about social cohesion. 
We know that basically when you live in a community where there’s high levels of, kinda, friendliness, support and so on, it’s not just a mental health benefit you get; people live longer, you know, they live healthier. And so, there are enormous gains to knowing your neighbours, knowing the people down the road, and even just that slight “g’day” to the shop keeper or having a brief chat, makes an incredible difference to your own wellbeing.

Nerissa Rodriguez:
We had a very serious incident at our own school, and it shocked the school to the core, and for us to bounce back we had to band together as a community. And it was about building social cohesion, and about spending time together, supporting each other, listening when somebody had a problem and trying to create a supportive relationship between not only our school but the wider community.

George Massouris:
Your school, when it goes through some of those tough times, whether it be an issue that’s causing fights in the yard or a child is sick and had to leave school, I think, ah, they look towards their teachers for that common togetherness that you were just talking about.  And when you share that and experience that together, whether that be in a small forum or large forum, and talk about it openly I think they feel a sense of community and that does build resilience. 
This is our school and we’ve got this problem together. I know in the multi-pride program that we’re running in our school, we’re looking out for the kids that don’t have a community and so we say you can join ours. Come and talk to us, we’re there, this is our zone.  So everyone’s got a place to go to, and part of a broader community, and we talk about “us” rather than “it”.

Julia Zemiro:
Andrew, how do you develop resilience?

Andrew Fuller:
Well, developing personal resilience requires you to look back over your life from time to time and take a bit of a stock-take, in terms of what’s gone well for you, what’s gone not quite so well and recognise that, well,  you’ve managed to stay intact so far.  You know, to really review one of those optimal growing conditions, basically the areas under which you, yourself, seem to thrive or flourish and also to look around really clearly at your world and say, well, who are the friends that I can rely on? Who are the people in my life who give me good feedback, who actually give me stuff that I can do? 
And, it’s really useful in anyone’s life, at any age, to be able to identify a couple of people that you know, if they say something like, for example, “oh Martin, you’re looking a bit tired”, rather than going “no, no, no, I’m fine” and you brush them off, to actually go actually that’s right. Maybe I need to take that on board. And having a few people, and men particularly need this more than women – women sometimes do that for one another and believe it, whereas men sometimes are more inclined to brush it off, and that’s adolescent boys as well as men. And having that person helps you then to really start to take stock again, and then it’s about thinking well, also, our winning game plan is not always our best strategy. So some of us scrape through life by the skin of our teeth, and we get away with stuff, you know. You can kind of think “that worked, I told that lie” or “I made that excuse”, or you know…

Julia Zemiro:
My charm got me through, yeah.

Andrew Fuller:
Charm got me through. Or I talked that person, I over-rode them and all that kind of stuff. Okay, that might have worked that particular time but is it really the best thing you can do? Because, often, well all of us want to pretend that we never feel anxious and all of us do. And so the way that we camouflage our anxiety is by sometimes behaving in what I call “tricky ways” and those tricky ways always cost you, and they cost you in terms of intimacy with people because friends sort of go “oh I don’t think I’ll spend too much time with her” or “I won’t hang around so much” because they smell a rat when there’s a rat there to smell. It’s important sometimes to recognise those sources of anxiety in our life and face up and go, okay, I’m actually going to have to work out a better way to handle that because if I just offload it on to George or Nerissa or you know, basically…

Julia Zemiro:
Or fake it.

Andrew Fuller:
Or fake it, that’s right.

Julia Zemiro:
Which is not authentic, yeah.

Andrew Fuller:
No. That’s right.
People pick that up. In fact, we’re probably more tuned as people just to picking up inauthenticity in people than authenticity. So when we kind of suss out that kind of person, we do tend to stay away from those people. 

Martin De Clercq:
It kind of gets back to what George was talking about before, with that superficial “how’s it going?”, if you ask a student “how’s it going?” they’re going to say “good”, like, it’s that automatic first reaction. So as a teacher it’s seeing past that and then trying to get to… 

Julia Zemiro:
The follow-up question?

Martin De Clercq:
Yeah, and say, oh well I did notice, or challenge them on what you’re observing. We did the MindMatters survey, and resilience came up as one of the things that was a real deficit – it was really easy to see, especially in the senior years. I think, the stress and pressure from VCE is, I’ve noticed that change and so we’ve actually, instead of re-inventing the wheel, we went from evidence based and we’ve actually gone with a program that’s available out there. We’re lucky enough to have gone from a four period a day to a five period a day timetable, which has freed up a couple periods a week for us to have an extra subject that’s gauged just towards wellbeing and resilience.

Andrew Fuller:
It’s interesting, some schools do exactly what Martin’s school does and they kind of roll out a program over a period of time, and other schools hate that. So it’s interesting to watch how they hate that.

Julia Zemiro:
Why would they hate that?

Andrew Fuller:
Well, it becomes the twenty minutes before lunch on Tuesday and what’re we going to do with it, and we’ve got no idea and we’re all bored.

Martin De Clercq:
It has to be done right, definitely.

Andrew Fuller:
Yeah, yeah.

Martin De Clercq:
It only takes one person to put a spanner in the works, if a homegroup teacher, ah, ours is done in an hour block and so it can be a superficial mark the roll at homegroup and by the way we have to do this five minutes of meditation or you have to do this survey. And again, students can see through that.  

Julia Zemiro:
Yeah, of course.

Martin De Clercq:
So if they’re writing, doing their goal thing and they hand the piece of paper in and it’s never referred back to or anything, it’s just superficial.

Julia Zemiro:
What do you do in your school, Nerissa, to build resilience?

Nerissa Rodriguez:
We have a program called PBIS, which is Positive Behaviour Intervention Strategy. It was devised with the help of the senior executive, the bosses, and the students. So the students had a real voice into what they saw as positive behaviour and what teachers could do to recognise that. And then in turn, they also looked at negative behaviour and said, this is what negative behaviour looks like and this is what the teachers should be doing about it.
So it gave them a real opportunity to voice their own opinions and what they viewed as positive.

Andrew Fuller:
There are four major ways of tackling resilience in schools. I suppose the first one is, sort of, the idea of positive thinking and that’s the idea really of being able to change your thinking and identify thinking traps like “I’m no good”, “I’m never going to be good at this”, that kind of stuff and then modify those. Really start to build a positivity around that. That sometimes gets criticised as being a bit happy-happy land, at the same time it’s not a bad way if you’re feeling glum to learn or to basically think your way out of it.
Related to that is Cognitive Behaviour Theory, basically the idea that our thoughts basically dictate our behaviour and so by changing the way that we think about things we basically change the way we view the world. So if you change the way you think about the world, then you’ve changed what you do and that’s also very powerful.
The third one really is sort of the idea of presence, or as its more commonly called, mindfulness. The idea of somehow that we need to pause and attend to really where we are and who we are, and so really coming out of the Eastern philosophies idea rather than analysing thinking, which is a more Western idea, that idea of acceptance and presence and it is something that certainly is a skill worth learning.
The third one, oh sorry, the fourth one rather, is resilience ambassadors, which ties to positive education. But in resilience ambassadors, what happens is that kids then devise projects, plans and strategies that they can implement in their school, in their community, in the world, that make a difference to other people, and so what happens is rather than a lesson occurring on, say, anger and what you do about it, through teamwork and through resolving issues as they do a project that they believe in they actually deal with those issues as they come up. So it requires a sort of mentor or a teacher to really have a kind of idea and can work with the students to basically come up with a project that they believe is meaningful.

Julia Zemiro:
What about social and emotional learning, Andrew?

Andrew Fuller:
Well social and emotional learning really is all of those in a way, so basically you can do social and emotional learning in all sorts of ways. You can do it through mindfulness and presence, you can do it through analysing your thinking, you can use basically the idea of that sort of positive self-talk, or you can do it through actions. 

Julia Zemiro:
Resilience is something that comes up a lot in MindMatters, why is it so important to be resilient?

Andrew Fuller:
Well, we’ve all got a life

Julia Zemiro:
Because you’d fall down!

Andrew Fuller:
That’s right. Resilience is really what gives us the wherewithal to pick ourselves up. And we all have to do this from time to time.

Julia Zemiro:
I know, this is the thing – it’s like “oh, just adolescents” – everyone, I mean it’s the stuff of life.

Andrew Fuller:
Exactly. So we all have to pick ourselves up from the odd occasion, dust ourselves off and go “ah well, I buggered that up” or “that didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped”, or you know, basically “gee I really stuffed that!” and really analyse it a bit and go “what am I going to do different next time?”. And if you don’t do that, you don’t grow as people.

Julia Zemiro:
Failing is good.

Andrew Fuller:
It is.

Julia Zemiro:
As long as you can keep going. To wrap up, here is a quote from novelist and playwright J.B Priestley, to remind us of the important of building resilience in students. He wrote, “Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves”. Tough.