MindMatters Panel: Module 2.3 – Resilience Programs and Planning

Julia Zemiro:
Hello, I’m Julia, welcome to the MindMatters panel. Pam Leo once said ‘Let’s raise children who won’t have to recover from their childhood”.
Good advice, but if we’re going to do the same thing with teenagers, we’re going to need a resilience strategy. To help us figure out which one to choose, I’m joined by clinical psychologist and family therapist Andrew Fuller, teacher Nerissa Rodriguez, assistant principal George Massouris and teacher Martin De Clercq.,But of course, before we get started, let’s see what the staff at Eagleton have come up with.

Eagleton High clip:

PHILLIP
People say a resilience program isn’t a magic bullet, well clearly, those people haven’t tried Belgian Fire walking.

I first saw it in a TED talk and I immediately ordered the whole kit. You should’ve seen people’s faces... I mean, you use the term “fire pit” and people immediately think, “Ugh! Fire licence, first aid training...”. But in comparison to some other resilience programs, this one is absolutely easy. All you need is a 3 by 5 space, some lighter fluid and a rake.

They literally go from cowering in fear to racing across these flesh-eating coals like little Terminators.
It’s inspiring.

Cameron had a little mishap in the firepit, but he’ll bounce right back.
Won’t you Cameron?

CAMERON
It’s all good!
PHILLIP
What a great program!

Well it still hurts

Julia Zemiro:
Did those students have their feet in ice buckets? Phil’s thought of everything, where can I find his Ted talk? And I hope you enjoy my pineapple earrings. 
We’re going to talk seriously now for a little while. Now Belgian fire walking isn’t for every school so what programs are out there and how do you choose the right one?

Andrew Fuller:
Love the outfit by the way, it’s suiting you.

Julia Zemiro:
Thanking you!

Andrew Fuller:
Well, the first thing we know is that there are forty key predictors that predict resilience and good outcomes for kids and they can be loosely grouped into eight major areas and so the first thing we really need to do is assess where the kids stand in terms of their strengths in those areas. The first one is connectedness to adults, the strengths of relationships in the school or the community. The second one is empowerment. The third one, really, is boundaries and expectations – do we expect much for you and are there clear boundaries in the family. 

Then of course there’s school engagement, there’s values, there’s social skills and there’s personal identity. And having obviously, each school, each year level will vary in terms of which ones are strong and which ones are not quite so strong. And then it’s a task, really, of thinking how do we best capitalise on the strengths of our students to increase those to remedy some of the areas that are not so strong. So in answer to your question, there’s not so much any specific program, it’s more really identifying in that group of kids, what are those strengths that I can call upon, what are those vulnerabilities I need to address and planning it from there. And often from that, basically you start to get the answer.

Julia Zemiro:
What are the challenges of using a Bolt-On resilience program in isolation?

Martin De Clercq:
If you go searching for a program and get one it may not be catered directly to the school. What you’re targeting in resilience might be different, so if you get the one program sort of a “one stop shop” or “one fixes all”, it may not be targeting what you need.

Julia Zemiro:
Yeah, but it’s been working for you at your school?

Martin De Clercq:
Uhm. It has yeah. The challenge we had is it can’t look like tokenism, so you can’t just fix something by implementing a program. It has to be part of the culture of the school too.
So we do a lot of work, not just the program but also in terms of changing the language staff use, and inside the classroom. So we have set times for them doing wellness stuff and resiliency stuff, but I think it’s, the more important time and the more effective stuff is done outside when they’ve taken that and implemented it in other situations whether it’s in other classes or at recess or at lunchtime.

George Massouris:
I think getting everyone on board too, getting all your staff to go with you, because if you have sections of your school not having to deal with it on a day-to-day basis it doesn’t flow through right through your school. You want your staff to be all on board and all sort of practising it in some way and building those relationships with the kids.

Julia Zemiro:
What are the benefits of integrating a resilience program into the curriculum?

Martin De Clercq:
I mean the benefits are that you get benefits in their behaviour, cooperation, the atmosphere in the class, the work ethic of the students and the students themselves, their wellbeing – which is the most important thing that you’re after.

Andrew Fuller:
I think what’s valued in schools is what’s measured and so unfortunately we live in a nation that measures literacy and numeracy and not terribly much else. I think what we really need to do is think about how do we measure students’ resilience and wellbeing and have that as one of the clear outcomes for all schools. And the way to achieve that can vary, it can be a continuous program as Martin said or other schools will do it in very different ways and I think that’s fine.

There’s many, many ways to achieve the same outcomes. Some schools will decide we’re as busy as bumblebees in terms one and four, so we’re not going to try and add anything more because we’re exhausted at that stage, but terms two and three we’ll run a program then. Or other schools say well we’re not going to do a program as a continuous kind of stream of sort of sessions, we’ll basically run festivals and we’ll have a festival of friendship or we’ll have a festival of ideas or a festival of not knowing. 

And it’s really, its horses for courses here, it’s really thinking about how do you achieve that outcome. But the best resilience initiatives – it’s a bit like creating a tapestry, and so it’s almost like it’s woven in to the very fabric of the school culture so it affects everybody and everyone sees that it benefits their life as well as the life of people around them and it changes the relationships between people in that school.

Julia Zemiro:
The festivals idea sounds great fun, I love that but it, just because it’s fun does it mean that it’s actually doing anything, are they, is it working or is it just ‘Ah we get this day where’s it fun but…’

George Massouris:
I think it does and our program, well, I found it very difficult to bring a program into our busy curriculum so with the student programs that I’ve sort of led, I’ve done it in their time at lunch time and we get together, we meet then and then we build these ideas that we want to sort of promote throughout the school in the times when kids are out in the yard.

Julia Zemiro:
Anyway, yeah.

George Massouris:
So I avoided the constraints of a timetable and used the off time and it’s surprising how many kids don’t want to go and have their lunchtime, they’ll come along and have a chat with you and want to organise things. And then you can build it into free dress days, festivals, after school events, camps and all the other things that you can do outside of your curriculum.
Julia Zemiro:
What does the resilience program look like at your school, Martin?

Martin De Clercq:
At the moment, we’ve got two levels, we’ve got a life skills subject and so we do the education about stress and wellbeing and things like meditation and also explore stress relief activities for kids so they can try different things from circus skills to Zumba.
That’s the official stuff where they kind of do some surveys and stuff and work out where their resilience is and then we also have a senior program that we’ve just started this year to target it officially because they don’t do the life skill subject. So we’ve got that curriculum base. But then we’ve got the unofficial, which is where it’s become part of the culture of the school.

Andrew Fuller:
Well, I know year 11 and year 12 are incredibly vulnerable years. We know that about 20% of students in year 12 have some suicidal thoughts during that year, so it’s a very, very – 

Julia Zemiro:
Is that the pressure just of year 12 that brings that on?

Andrew Fuller:
Yes. Am I going to get the marks that I want? Am I going to get into the course that I want or the job that I want? So it’s an incredibly vulnerable time so much so that we really have to rethink our model around wellbeing, particularly at years 11 and year 12. Honestly, critically is helping parents as well as students to understand how to succeed at school – is important – that journey often begins around the middle of year 10, that’s often the time when schools really need to reconnect with the parents that they’ve lost along the way. But the other thing is to really think about how you utilise your past students as well and so in a number of areas in Australia we’ve had past students who’ve mentored current students. But just seeing a future path way beyond these marks that kids get so focused on is really helpful I think.

Julia Zemiro:
People want to see results don’t they? How do you know that these programs are working? What results would you expect to see, Andrew?

Andrew Fuller:
We’ve surveyed over 22 thousand young Australians in terms of this, and you do see incremental shifts in terms of those 8 keys areas that I mentioned earlier as schools embark upon initiatives. But beyond the stats, the thing that really shows me that it’s working in a school, which might sometimes surprise you is firstly the level of energy in a school lifts and so people kind of look brighter eyed but the other real key indicator is that forgiveness creeps into a school. 

Forgiveness is a critical key in all of this because, I suppose the results of those 22 thousand surveys that we’ve done, tell us that young Australians are quite good at forming relationships. What they’re not very good at is, when a relationship falls upon tough times how do you patch it up and so it’s far easier to kind of do a geographical you know ‘I’m not talking to you again’. We’ve had a falling out and move on rather than go ‘hang on, maybe, you know, Martin didn’t really mean that, maybe I need to have of just, have a chat and sort it out?’

Julia Zemiro:
Is that cultural, do you think that’s something particularly that it happens in Australia or would it happen in other countries do you think?

Andrew Fuller:
I think it certainly happens around the world but I think Australians do have a bit of a cut and run kind of mentality.

Julia Zemiro:
Do they? Yeah, I’m genuinely, yeah it’s interesting.

Andrew Fuller:
I think maybe our convict origins are a part of that, we often split off from our families, many of us, not all of us and have come out here either as refugees or as convicts or as new settlers and so it has been a kind of pioneering individualistic kind of model.  

Martin De Clercq:
And another one is attendance. Attendance from staff and students.

Julia Zemiro:
From staff?

All:
(laughter)

Martin De Clercq:
But you can, you could probably vouch for this that the amount of sort of mental health days that staff take, you’re reduced with those things so you can –

Julia Zemiro:
I think teachers should just have to do 4 days a week and they have 3 days off and they’ll probably be a little bit more – have the energy – because it’s a big job.

George Massouris:
We’ve got our data that we get every year from our students. We go and survey them and they come back to us with a range of responses but one of the things that we’ve noticed since we’ve started to put a bit of time into some of our programs is that kids feel safe at our school and connected to their school. We’re working on the attendance issues that you talked about, but they also have improved in say the last three years, so yeah, the safety for us has really improved in the space of three years and it’s – the kids are telling us that.
Nerissa Rodriguez:
We’ve had significant change. From 2008 we had nineteen-hundred and fifty suspension days – which is equivalent to ten years and in 2011 when the café started we were down to three hundred and fifty at the end of 2011.

Julia Zemiro:
That’s fantastic.

Nerissa Rodriguez:
It’s phenomenal.

Julia Zemiro:
But you also do PBIS? How does PBIS work?

Nerissa Rodriguez:
So it’s recognising positive behaviour and for each time you are recognised for positive behaviour you get a merit card, or we actually use an online modelling system where we can just tick and flick a box to say ‘Mohammad’s done a great job today, and he’s been a safe, respectful learner’ and that goes on his record. Once he gets to ten he gets a year advisor award. Once he gets to three lots of year advisor awards he goes on an excursion.

Julia Zemiro:
So where do we find these resilience programs and where can we find the good ones, the evidence based ones?

Martin De Clercq:
Well for the information for our life skill subjects, the resiliency stuff, I actually swapped what we’re doing with our school with someone that I met at a PD from another school and we just exchanged our programs and talked about what worked and what didn’t work and so you kind of – I know it sounds – the best ideas you steal from other people so –

Julia Zemiro:
Oh, I’m a big fan of stealing – you should always steal.  Nothing’s original you know, you steal all the time.

George Massouris:
Yeah, our youth workers in our community have often brought ideas along and then we’ve sort of gone and asked other schools how they’ve worked with them so you’re comparing notes with local schools. Yeah, our multi pride programme is in maybe 5 or 6 schools, it started off in one school, adopted by others and each school’s probably ran with it slightly differently. They’re all student led, but kids pick the types of issues that are important to their school so multi pride in one school might be slightly different to the other except that they do meet and they talk about student issues.

Julia Zemiro:
Andrew, can you find these things online?

Andrew Fuller:
Yes, I mean, alongside the beyondblue website obviously –

Julia Zemiro:
And the MindMatters website.

Andrew Fuller:
…and the MindMatters website, there’s also – I manage a couple of Facebook pages where I collect ideas. One’s called Resilient Youth Australia where I put up ideas that are used by schools all around the country and overseas in terms of resilience initiatives, which have basis in research and another one is for teachers, which is all of the stuff on neuroscience and learning and how brains work and activities for classrooms called ‘The Learning Brain’.

Martin De Clercq:
I’ve actually downloaded information about – educate students about sleep hygiene and stuff from Andrew’s website too so there’s a lot of, yeah.

Julia Zemiro:
We talked a lot about sleep yesterday we loved it. I got given a sleeping bangle, which I don’t need just quietly.

Andrew Fuller:
There are many, many resilience sort of programs, initiatives and strategies and the fit between the program and your school has to be pretty tight, so you’ve really got to think about, as George said, what’s going to bring most of the people onside? You need to think about things that are going to rev-up and kind of, have a sense of meaning and compassion, as Martin said.

It’s taking something that has clearly the capacity to show you a pre-measure not just of the problems but also the strengths of students and then give you the capacity to re-measure, maybe, twelve months down the track so you can kind of see. We know that we’re not going to tackle all of the resilience issues in one twelve month period but we want to have a different profile in a year’s time than we have now. Some areas will have increased, hopefully not too many have decreased but at the same time what we will be tackling probably a year from today should be different than what we’re tackling this year because there’ll be different priorities and that also applies at different age groups as well.

Martin De Clercq:
Andrew brought up a – just reminded me that it’s really important to review too and to keep reviewing and you can’t just implement a program and go ‘problem solved, we’re done now’. You need to keep checking back and reviewing how it’s going and tweaking it.

Julia Zemiro:
And the MindMatters survey can help with that?

Martin De Clercq:
Yeah, definitely.
Julia Zemiro:
To finish, I’ll leave you with this quote from the resilient Thomas Edison who said ‘I have not failed, I’ve just found 10 thousand ways that won’t work’.