MindMatters Panel: Module 1.1 Getting started 

Julia Zemiro:
Hi I’m Julia. Welcome to the MindMatters panel. Now I quite liked high school; I liked the structure, I had some good friends and there were a few teachers that made me feel great. They made me feel intelligent and strong. That was a great gift. As it happened my first job out of acting school was with the Bell Shakespeare company touring high schools performing to huge gyms full of students, and trying to get them into Hamlet. And doing that job for years, what I noticed was, that you could see and feel the environments that were helping students flourish, or leaving them struggling. And it wasn’t just about posh schools or poor schools, bad teachers, good teachers, to me it seemed like simple things, talking and listening and laughter. They were the keys to creating a flourishing school. So in the spirit of that I am delighted to be here, with some great panellists, to talk about how schools can improve mental health. Helping us to get started are Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Managing Director, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg; Principals Australia Institute, Executive consultant, Tracy Zilm; deputy Principal, Rob Blackley; and School Psychologist, Sarah Inness. But first let’s take a look at an example of how the enthusiastic staff at Eagleton High School started their journey with MindMatters.

Eagleton High clip:

PHILLIP 
We’ve been doing MindMatters here at Eagleton High school for the last two years and the results have been fantastic. It’s really improved school culture. But a strategy doesn’t just implement itself. You need a driver. And for us, that driver is Trisha.

Trisha is one of our history teachers, and she’s become our MindMatters guru. She’s passionate, she’s knowledgeable. And as I like to say, as long as Trisha’s on the scene mental health at Eagleton is on the up and up! Having a bit of a tidy up are we Trish? 

TRISHA
I’m going on maternity leave.

PHILLIP 
How long have you been pregnant?

TRISHA
Eight and a half months.

PHILLIP 
A Strategy doesn’t just implement itself. You need a team so that it doesn’t just rest on a single point of failure.

TRISHA
Hey…

PHILLIP 
Oh Trish, no I didn’t mean you, I promise. I was just explaining that you need a team. 

EUGENE
Hey Phil, I’ll join your mental health thing. 


PHILLIP 
Good on you Eugene, that’s great. Looks like we got a start!

Julia Zemiro:
I’ll join your mental health thing too Phil. It’s just water… Delicious. 
Now look, seriously, why is it important to have a team when trying to strengthen mental health and wellbeing across a school community?

Sarah Inness:
Well I think Trisha highlights that, people leave, you often have one or two people in a school who are our wellbeing warriors who are really enthusiastic about wellbeing and willing to drive that cause but other things in life come up and they leave, they move schools or go and have families or unfortunately get sick so to have a team there is always going to be other people around who can drive that message forward and MindMatters you need that message to continue going: It’s no good just starting and stopping you want it to be sustainable, so a team will continue that message over time and it also represents a range of people within the college or school so it’s not just about one person’s point of view and because we need to represent staff and students and parents and the whole school community. It’s very varied so a team can address that.

Julia Zemiro:
Is there a best team composition, Tracy?

Tracy Zilm:
I think the point that you make about making it a diverse team is probably the best because when we talk about mental health those people who might be struggling at any point in time are often more marginalised and if you’re talking about a whole school approach to wellbeing, the more voices that you can get on a team that’s planning what you’re going to do about that and what might need to happen, often you don’t hear from some of those people. If you have staff from across roles in a school is really important. If you have a variety of parents who are involved and keen to involve other parents, if you have the voice of young people themselves: Who they’re the ones that really know what’s going on and what might be needed so you don’t want a team that’s too big but you do want representation and that representation will look different in each environment, you know so schools – those passionate people who get it started and it’ll probably start small.

Julia Zemiro:
And what’s the principal’s role in all of this?

Tracy Zilm:
The principal has to be across what it is that’s tying to done, what mental health is and what it looks like in a school and why you would pick it up and take it forward, because we know that if you are looking after young people’s wellbeing – they are going to achieve better, they are going to attend school and engage and their learning is going to be improved and let’s face it, that’s what school’s there for. Sometimes if the principal’s the only driver, it maybe doesn’t go as well, so having an executive leadership person who is going to drive it forward is important but is certainly needs the principal to be aware of it, encouraging it because it’s going to require resources and time and kudos across the school community and if your principal is saying “This is important and we’re going to invest time and effort into it,” then people go “Oh, ok”. 
Julia Zemiro:
Well teachers have a lot to do already, and it seems to be increasing all the time, how do you recruit, Rob? How do you get people, teachers, everyone interested in maybe wanting to be on MindMatters?

Rob Blackley:
For a start the team’s more than just your counsellors or your psychologists, there would be other staff members out there who have a genuine interest and passion but they may not have had that opportunity or have been invited to be part of it. So it’s actually taking it out to the staff and if there is support coming from leadership and it’s seen as being important, that then encourages staff to say “Ok this is a priority of the school, this is something that I’m really interested in, this is something that I’d actually like to be involved in.” I think you will find that there will be staff happy to put their hand up, and also saying that there would be students who would like to be part of that team also.

Tracy Zilm:
I think it’s important that staff understand what it is that you’re talking about when you’re talking about a whole school approach to mental health because they do have a lot of excellent practice and they have been building relationships with kids – that’s part of learning for example, but you need to make sure that you’re staff understand that you’re not asking them to teach a new curriculum for example or you’re not asking them to necessarily change their practice, you’re just building their awareness and we often talk to schools about putting on mental health promotion glasses so that you’re just starting to look at what you do as your normal practice through mental health promotion lens so that you take away some maybe their fear of it and improve their understanding of what mental health is, and what it looks like in a classroom, in a school and what positive relationships look like in terms of learning.

Julia Zemiro:
When you’re recruiting though Sarah, are there barriers to overcome?

Sarah Inness:
Oh of course, the barriers, I think the very big one is that, I think we’ve mentioned already is that teachers are very time poor – they’re not just able to just pick up and make time in their timetable, they’re going from one thing to another and barely managing to get lunch so I think feeling like it’s another extra thing on top of everything else they’re doing, it’s really important to send the message to them that that’s not the case. And in our school we decided when we were starting to recruit staff was that we wanted them to be very clear that there would be something that they would get out of this as well, and that’s still part of what we do – we have a staff representative, so the person on our action team is there to think about staff wellbeing and how we can continue to promote that and then model it to our students so that’s one of the barriers I think is definitely that senior leadership can help with and that certainly helped us.

Julia Zemiro:
Michael, would you agree?

Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg:
Yeah I do, I think a lovely way to think about this is getting staff to remember that the way they come across to students is vital so you’ve got to actually look after yourself, for me, MindMatters has always been about giving schools this whole of school approach where you’ve got policies, practices and curriculum material, which basically all talk about trying to create this environment where people feel safe, valued and listened to, but teaching is not an exercise in martyrdom, what we actually have to do is look after ourselves and I don’t think some teachers, with great respect, are very good at that – they need to get better.

Tracy Zilm:
Eventually it becomes a way of operating, schools that have implemented MindMatters in really concerted ways, talk about, it’s just the way we do things around here and it starts to filter in and I think that one of the barriers is doing too much too quickly, and that wears everybody out and so, you know, the schools that are successful often chip away, drip feed and know that they’re planning for this to be a long term change and we know that you actually have to think about change management because you’re trying to change the culture of a school.

Julia Zemiro:
And that’s true isn’t it? There will be resistance, and that’s a really fundamental thing to remember.

Tracy Zilm:
Yeah, so overcoming that, I know of a school who used the approach, they had about 7 or 8 people on their action team, they knew there was a lot of resistance, there was a lot of talk in the staff room that was being overheard and what they decided to do was to split the entire staff up, went and had a one and one chat, “This is what we’re trying to do, tell me about what is worrying you, what would it take for you to feel that you could be on board with this” and then they all came back together and shared; these are the sorts of things that people are saying and they were able to say “well, what are we going to do about that? This is reality”.

Julia Zemiro:
What are some strategies you might put into place to increase a school’s commitment to student mental health and wellbeing?

Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg:
The wonderful thing that I’ve seen recently in schools is an emphasis on sleep, exercise and mindfulness and it’s really amazing how kids need 9 hours sleep according to the latest research, sadly they’re not getting that. They’re getting about 5.5 hours according to some research. There’s a fantastic school, which recently got hold of a TED talk by the world expert on sleep – his name is Professor Russel Foster from Oxford University and they played it to the kids and the kids formed a committee to figure out what they were going to do, and they coined a term – Beducation. They had a beducation week, these kids rang up Caption Snooze and Captain Snooze put up a bed for a week and they had a sleep week. The school also went to one of the popular sleep trackers - Jawbone …

Julia Zemiro:
You’ve got a sleep tracker, Michael?

Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg:
Yes my darling, I can show you. Do you want to put it on? Are you feeling sleepy?

Julia Zemiro:
Yeah. It’s nice.

Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg:
What this does is, it literally tracks your sleep cycles and what they did is, they managed to get a bulk order so the school actually got them for about 10 bucks, distributed them to the kids who paid the 10 bucks which is better than $149, which is what you’d pay in the shops, and suddenly all these kids were aware of how important sleep was. They used other apps like Smiling Mind to teach these kids mindfulness and they used another app called Couch to 5k to actually teach these kids how important it was to exercise so in terms of boosting mental health you’ve hit the 3 big ones there that we as psychologists are constantly talking about. You’re doing our job for us, it’s fantastic.

Tracy Zilm:
And I think that one of the keys is in developing the strategies that you might use, the examples of where students have come up with ideas I think it’s the way that you come up with those strategies, like we can’t sit here and say “you need to do this, this and this” because that’s not the way it works but if you can involve people in the school setting and you then involve the people in how are we going to address this – that’s just as important.

Julia Zemiro:
So after you’ve formed some goals and strategies what does the action team do then?

Tracy Zilm:
They monitor what’s going on. They meet regularly, they check whether you know, how they’re going with all their work. The concept of change management, are we actually bringing people along with us?’, what is the reaction now? – and not being afraid to change course if needed. So it’s that constant monitoring and I think another thing that’s really important is as soon as we get a success we need to celebrate it. Incorporating the F word. Fun.

Julia Zemiro:
It’s about fun and it’s about teamwork –didn’t know where you were going there for a minute there Tracy, but look thank you also Michael for my sleep bracelet – thank you for giving that to me for free. I’ll leave you with this thought from Darren Kinse who wrote “I love teamwork, I love the idea of everyone rallying together to help me win.”