Anxiety burners to resilience builders
We understand implicitly that deep, sustained learning is only possible when a child believes they are in a safe, nurturing space where their wellbeing needs are met. Children who are fearful, upset, anxious and worried have their cognitive brain capacity consumed by such concerns. They do not have space to focus in class to new learning demands or the ability to cope with minor setbacks. Everything appears 'too hard' and unachievable.
It is for this reason that throughout the Junior School this year, we are making student wellbeing our focus. It is also for this reason that I invited our Director of Wellbeing and Counselling, Liz Cannon, to speak at the Parent Information Night on Tuesday evening. Liz warmly shared research and strategies summarised here.
The motivation to revisit this topic has had multiple drivers. The 2017 Wellbeing Survey data from our students tested in Years 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 by the Australian Centre for Educational Research (ACER) in Melbourne revealed that our girls are generally enjoying very good, positive levels of wellbeing when compared to same age peers in other schools across Australia.
Our girls scored highly in the following domains:
- I am a happy person
- I love to learn
- I want to know more about how things work
- I know how to make friends
- I like helping someone with a problem
- I try hard not to say or do things that hurt other people's feelings
- I want to do my very best in my schoolwork I have a teacher who cares about me
- I get along well with my teachers
- My teachers try hard to help and be nice to me
Our girls, in the main, are socially gregarious, inclusive and have good skills in building and sustaining friendships. They model a passion and enthusiasm for learning and love to reach out to help others.
Yet equally, the data showed that there is room for us to strengthen the girls' emotional skills in the in their response to the following areas:
- I talk to someone when I feel bad
- I get nervous a lot
- I feel very stressed
- I can control how nervous I get
- It is hard for me to describe how I feel
- My feelings are easily hurt
- When I do badly in my schoolwork, I think, 'I'm stupid'
We need to focus our teaching and parenting on how to support our girls in building skills of resilience, positive self-talk and the ability to self-regulate their emotions.
Of particular concern is the recent emerging trend of an increase in anxiety across primary schools in Australia. School psychologists are reporting that students presenting with anxiety occupy more than 70% of their time. We are committed to 'taking this bull by the horns' by being proactive in helping our girls build skills of resilience and the ability to engage in positive self-talk and adopt known strategies to combat this negative trend.
Interestingly, the ACER Wellbeing survey was written by Prof Michael Bernard – the author of the You Can Do It! Program that we implement from Early Learning to Year 6. The program has been recently revised and we are now also delivering the program for high school students to our Senior School girls as well. In assembly last week I charged all girls with being vigilant and reporting to me peer behaviours that modelled the wellbeing keys of getting along, persistence, organisation, confidence and resilience. We have created bookmarks to be presented in assembly to highlight the behaviours we are seeking to 'call out' and reinforce.
In addition to this, the NESA (formerly BOSTES) PDHPE curriculum has just been rewritten, so we are in an excellent place to review the delivery of our programs to ensure that we are specifically targeting those areas of researched need and continuing to build on the already strong attributes that our girls, in the main, display.
As a resource to parents, we commend to you the work of Prof Carol Dweck who researches, speaks and presents extensively on the topic of 'growth mindsets'. In relation to intelligence verses effort she comments:
'Emphasising effort gives a child a variable that they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasising natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to failure.'
She goes on to state:
'When you praise kids' intelligence and then they fail, they think they're not smart anymore, and they lose interest in their work. In contrast, kids praised for effort show no impairment and often are energised in the face of difficulty.'
I commend this article to you titled, The Secret to Raising Smart Kids (link: xxxxx) , where Carol's research on this topic is accessibly presented. Additionally, I share here the 2017 research (link: xxxxx) from the Alliance of Girls Schools on the importance of parenting that builds independence, self-efficacy and resilience. This article speaks loudly to the limiting paradigm created by 'helicopter parenting' in particular.
Additionally, I share the following top tips from Liz Cannon on how to support your daughter to be a healthy, happy learner:
• Do not over-schedule
• Listen to and validate feelings – work towards eliminating ANTS – automatic negative thoughts, and replacing them with POTS – positive, optimistic thinking
• Help enhance resilience – build skills
• Monitor access to media
• Manage your own stress
• Appreciate, show gratitude and kindness
• Be benefit finders through conversations at evening meals around WWW – what worked well and HGS – hunting the good stuff
• Have a love of learning
• Have high standards, but realistic expectations
• Talk to a teacher if you are concerned
I conclude by sharing a quote of grounded advice from Ellyn Satter who writes:
'Your job as a parent is not to make your child's way smooth, but rather to help her develop her inner resources so she can cope.' And I would add 'thrive'.