MindMatters Panel: Module 1.4 Relationships and belonging

Julia Zemiro:
Hello, I’m Julia, welcome to the MindMatters panel. Robin Williams once said “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone – it’s not, the worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone” and so today I’m building relationships with Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Managing Director, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Brain and Mind Research Executive Director and Professor of psychiatry, Professor Ian Hickie; Deputy Principal, Rob Blackley and school psychologist, Sarah Inness. Let’s take a look at how Phil does relationships and belonging at Eagleton.

Eagleton High clip:

PHILLIP
Mental health starts with good relationships.
Sup G! My homie! 
Ah Belle I love that foil work — is that cut or weave?

BELLE
Cut. 

PHILLIP
Ahhh.
Grace.

GRACE
What?

PHILLIP
How good was last night’s Noragami. So good!

GRACE
Anime was last term. We’re into K-pop now.

PHILLIP
What pop?

GRACE
K-pop. You know: G-Dragon, Epik High, B to B, Super Junior…

GRACE
Not Super Junior. XO. Maybe. 

PHILLIP
OK OK, settle down. Whoa, keep me up ay! 
Anyway. Relationships and belonging. How do we instill a sense of belonging in our students? 
Obviously we’ve got the school uniform. And the school song. But we wanted to go further – that’s how we came up with the school tattoo. 
Oh and here it is – isn’t it sensational. The Eagleton Hawk. 
Well we wanted the eagle, but Hawkesbury High already had that so… 
No no, Gemma that’s not an appropriate place. It’s only meant to be on the arm. And the leg. Maybe the neck. 

PHILLIP
We strive really hard to create an inclusive environment where we celebrate individual difference. That’s why each group has got its own special area. 
Like the nerds over there. The emos. Jocks. And of course the mean girls. 
Now each of these groups has got their own special…
Ah, Chris. You’re a jock, not a mean girl. Get back to where you belong. 
Thank you.
They do like to experiment a little bit.  

Julia Zemiro:
Yep. This is one sweet tattoo. I can’t wait to post it on Instagram or whatever the young people do. Now look, what kind of relationships are they actually talking about here? Do they need to be Facebook official and when should I update my status I wonder, Sarah?

Sarah Inness:
Look, I think, it doesn’t have to be to the level that Phil tries, he’s trying so hard, I think it’s just about having a working relationship and knowing a bit about your students that you’re working with. So sit down at the start of the year, go through the role, and is there at least one staff member who can say they know something about a student. And if not, can we make sure that we don’t have anyone flying under the radar so the very basic level is about knowing your students and having something in common or, something that you can talk to them about that they love and are passionate about.

Professor Ian Hickie:
Well relationships run across all sorts of different ways, they need to be different, we all need different kinds of relationships. Relationships with people who are like us. I love the idea of crossing across boundaries, relationships with people who are not like us, to understand their world and what might happen, relationships with people with different ages, different backgrounds, so I think with schools and obviously with teachers but also with other children from different years so you can learn and model someone who’s been through something like you’ve been through. So relationships serve different purposes but they do also make you feel part of the situation. I think the Robin Williams quote is fabulous, you know, it’s not how many you have, it’s whether you have the feeling that you’re on your own as distinct from if you are part of something, it might be with one friend, with one teacher others will have 20 good friends, but that feeling that you are connected is essential and that can be done pro-actively, you can build that. It shouldn’t be random.

Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg:
I’m very big on the idea of keeping kids busy in groups so Art, Music, Dance, Drama, Sport, all done under the umbrella of the school, I think it does 3 things; one is it encourages those really important peer relationships, two, it actually gives you the opportunity to take healthy risks at a time developmentally, when you really need to do that – to figure out who you are but also, it actually exposes you potentially to yet another charismatic adult – that might be a teacher in the form, of a coach, everybody wins.

Julia Zemiro:
In the mid-eighties, there was no drama in high school, so I couldn’t do it and so my mother luckily found a class where you could do it on Saturdays, 4 hours of stuff. For me, it wasn’t just about all of that but also people had created for you this identity at high school. You’re allowed to go somewhere else and be a bit different and be a bit more bold and just knowing there was that Saturday day where you were going to do something that you really love with different people and you thought ‘actually, I don’t have to be like that all the time, but I’m in that rut now so I’ll have to stay in it’ – there was an escape.

Professor Ian Hickie:
Well you raise key issues, schools can’t do everything, in fact these days, many other issues like sport outside of school, things that you do differently; you might do drama or music outside as part of your local community. So I think one of the problems that we have is that the school does everything, school is the only community, you know, there are more diverse communities out there.

Julia Zemiro:
And you don’t need 50, you only need one thing that you connect with sometimes.

Professor Ian Hickie:
So, developing skills, developing self-esteem, but picking up Michael’s point, particularly for the boys – if you say you’re going to sit down and talk about relationships – 

Julia Zemiro:
Forget it.

Professor Ian Hickie:
You know, half the audience has gone, and the other half’s worried about what the other half’s going to say about them. You know, as distinct from doing things in common, we’ve seen this in grown-ups and the kind of men’s sheds movements – doing the common activity, that you enjoy, you’ll get the conversations and relationships that often build skills together, build common interests and that’s, you know, at the heart of the thing and I think when we’re talking about relationships it’s creating the environment in which you do relationships in ways that suit you.

Julia Zemiro:
Rob, what do you do in your school to build relationships?

Rob Blackley:
For a start, with our home room structure, most schools might have only one teacher who’s assigned as a home room – where they meet with them each morning. We’ve actually got a structure where we have two, in some cases three teachers – and not just teachers but there’s also our support staff so that might be integration aides, our librarians who are also acting as home rooms so that the kids can actually identify with not only one but maybe two or three staff members. Now that’s a unique situation I haven’t seen that before in my previous school. And it works well. Our school has only recently moved into having year 11 and 12 so it’s changing the culture of the school so that’s allowing our years 7’s to identify with our senior students , our year 11 and 12’s. So it might just be in a school assembly, someone celebrating someone’s success in Music or Drama in assembly rather than just me standing there at the front lecturing the students. It might be we’ll have a music performance from our students so again it’s celebrating that success.

Julia Zemiro:
What about students or parents that teachers find difficult or challenging?

Rob Blackley:
Not all relationships in real life are good.

Professor Ian Hickie:
There’s difference, so one of the learnings about relationships is we intrinsically get on with people who do the same thing – drama, whatever else - but other people we don’t get on – there’s the issue of respect and of not creating an adverse environment but relationships are big challenges as well as they are great support and that’s a key learning through this kind of period and you might need to change relationships, change peer groups – I think you’re right, there’s more than one teacher, the one assigned to you might not be the one that’s best for you. There’s somebody else that you identify with better, is sort of there in the world the way you are, having that opportunity to work through relationships are complicated business for life.

Julia Zemiro:
But how do you deal with… sometimes students are just difficult. How do you build a relationship with that difficult student? 

Professor Ian Hickie:
Like parenting, you know, it may not be a popularity contest, so if you’re hoping to be loved by everybody, forget it. You know, because the modelling issue here is really important in these particular set of issues – they’re really important issues where teachers are having to respond about appropriate behaviour in certain situations but within respectful ways of dealing with it so these are really models for life about how to deal with other sets of issues. So I think the issue about you know – teachers are still teachers – just like parents are still parents – that doesn’t mean you can’t have a very high quality relationship and I think the other issue is that really the relationships that really matter are peer relationships at most of these ages. So facilitating better peer relationships as part of what actually is also going on, a lot of what’s going in kids’ lives isn’t about you at all, it’s about what there’re struggling with at a peer level but they may not – when you have 15 year olds asking 15 years olds for advice – they may not have the answer.

Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg:
One of the things that the ‘higher life forms’ as I refer to psychologists,  engage in on a regular basis – is we try and teach kids, and again the curriculum material here from beyondblue’s SenseAbility package, the MindMatters framework curriculum material, it’s about teaching those kids to pick up on Ian’s point – conflict resolution, anger management, problem solving, decision making, those social and emotional competencies, they might not have because of their age or because of their parenting, but it’s really important that they get them from somewhere.

Julia Zemiro:
But, your popularity contest thing is interesting, I mean as a kid I know I was the real – I wanted to be the teacher’s pet. I wanted to be liked, and it’s a terrible thing to take into life because you can’t be authentic in anything you do, so as an actor it’s even worse because you want to be liked all the time. And I luckily had this teacher at acting school who took me aside and said: “You do realise that you’re always trying to seek my approval?” And I went “No – I’m…” And it all came to me. She gave me the great service of saying “I will not be your guru, this is not how I work. I’m – You’ve picked the wrong person”.

Professor Ian Hickie:
That’s a key self-confidence thing.

Julia Zemiro:
It was incredible. 

Professor Ian Hickie:
No matter how good you are, other people, because there’re in the world differently, aren’t going to like that. It’s not what they’re attracted to. So the authenticity issue, which is a self-esteem issue – this is a critical transaction going on every minute of every day in a teenager’s life, you know so, older people, experienced people can provide that.

Julia Zemiro:
Michael, what about you?

Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg:
I think you start with a clear understanding of the kid. And the way I break that up is that in every kid – we talked about it right at the beginning – there’s risk and protective factors in a whole lot of different domains so within the individual, within their family, within the school and within their peer group and it’s really about maximising the protective factors, particularly around peer and school. So you’ve got to have a knowledge of the kid, understand their strengths and weaknesses and then give them multiple opportunities to use the skills that they do have in a way that’s meaningful to them.

Professor Ian Hickie:
A lot of people need help. You know, if you’re good at social relationships, school’s a ball. You know there’s lots of opportunities. If you’re not so good, bit autistic, bit anxious, bit whatever, just a bit reserved, a bit shy it’s hard. So facilitating that, I mean, because we’ve seen all this experience, if kids can name friends they have at school, if they can name more than one other, if they can name more than one teacher they feel much better about the whole thing. You know, but they don’t necessarily easily do that so, you know, when you’re saying that the kids are not good at it, well what you need to do is go make more friends, you know, if they could do that they would, so schools have an opportunity through facilitation, through participation, through recognising the more vulnerable kids. Making sure – particularly critical transitions like primary school to secondary school, early years of secondary school, you know, some of the issues that are going on – of making sure.   

Julia Zemiro:
So that kind of inclusion comes from everywhere.

Professor Ian Hickie:
So that you know – I think the idea where teachers know, really know different kids, you know, facilitating the connections is a key role for schools to take on, everyone’s life is simpler if people are connected.  

Rob Blackley:
And it’s about also providing a range of different activities across the school, it’s just not meeting the needs of the school football team or the aths team or those sort of things; it’s a whole range of different things.

Julia Zemiro:
And do you have to only ever celebrate success? Can you celebrate the effort as well?

Sarah Inness:
I think it’s absolutely essential to celebrate the effort in this world where we are very driven by success and praise and false praise, you know that ‘oh you look beautiful’ or ‘excellent grade’ – we focus on the outcome rather than the effort.

Professor Ian Hickie:
It is a challenge though for schools at the moment isn’t there, I mean I had a debate with a principal recently. Who are they marketing to? You know, the marketing of schools to be successful or it’s in NAPLAN or it’s in the market or whatever, big issue, saying they’re marketing to parents. I had an argument with a principal saying actually I want my kid to be connected and socially successful after school, you know, and that’s a different kind of thing so I think the celebration of the degree of participation, the degree of connection is harder to get a hold of then ‘we won a prize’ or ‘we won a trophy,’ ‘This many of our kids did well at the year 12 completion type thing.’ And so there is a real social challenge for us here about marketing what’s really important. And I say it as a parent what really matters to me is to have a kid who’s competent after school, who’s grown up, and can really exist in the real world. 

Julia Zemiro:
So what you’re saying that, even though they may be successful in high school, in that environment. 
Professor Ian Hickie:
It’s just the start, it’s the skills being developed here, the goal is not to just graduate high school. After that we’re on our own as parents, we have them again.

Rob Blackley:
Yeah, but I think if you surveyed any parents ‘What do you want from your child when they finish school?’ ‘I want them to be happy.’

Julia Zemiro:
Inclusion is easier said than done though, how do you actually go about it?

Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg:
There’s a particular group in schools that I think are incredibly vulnerable and that’s the GLBTIQ group. We know that in any school there’s going to be at least 10% of the population. What we also know is they have much higher levels of mental health problems then kids who are straight. Therefore I think the idea of having the rainbow coalition for example, which exists in this particular state, where schools sign up to a particular charter and go out of their way to develop policies and procedures to make sure that that group is recognised and made to feel comfortable. That to me is absolutely essential.

Professor Ian Hickie:
In some ways I’d say cultural diversity is easier to address, it’s obvious, someone doesn’t speak the same language, they dress differently, they eat differently. Individual diversity is much harder so in any school 10 or 15 % of the kids will feel absolutely alone, isolated and it’s anxiety or the autistic spectrum issues or depression. They don’t find it easy and they are different, in a sense. So the inclusiveness issue, the connected is incredibly relevant so the teachers knowing who the students are, having a sense of who’s connected or not, monitoring that within schools and classes so that kids have friends and those who need the assistance. So diversity comes in many forms, the obvious ones we see, but some of the others ones are not so obvious and I think what’s happened is a recognition in the community, that these issues are much more important and we’re all on a sort of journey about – ok do we see it? And then how do we respond. The key issue here is that those people have the opportunity to make relationships.

Julia Zemiro:
Well, we’ll finish with this thought about relationships from Jarod Kintz; “I think the key indicator for wealth is not good grades, work ethic or IQ. I believe it’s relationships. Ask yourself two questions: How many people do I know and how much ransom money could I get for each one?” Enlightening.