The importance of joy in enhancing learning, wellbeing and school connectedness In Focus webinar, facilitated by Matt Mulcahy, with panellists Kieran Denver (Principal, Kent Park Primary School), Craig Bradley (Principal, Rolling Hills Primary School) and Annette Bulling (Be You Consultant, headspace Schools) on 26 May 2022.
Welcome to this Be You In Focus webinar. We’ll be taking a look at, and discussing, the important of joy in enhancing learning, wellbeing and school connectedness. My name is Matt Mulcahy and I’ll be hosting this afternoon’s event alongside a terrific panel, who I’ll also introduce in just a few moments.
Just to give you a little bit of background about my role and experience, I’m the national education advisor for Be You headspace Schools, having recently joined the organisation after 15 years in the government education sector here in Melbourne. For the past four years I was principal at a school in Melbourne and throughout my career have had a really strong passion for strengthening wellbeing practices which support the mental health of young people, school staff leaders, and the broader school community, of course.
Now, before I do go any further, I’d like to do an Acknowledgement of Country. To start with, of course, it would be absolutely remiss of me not to mention that today, May 26, is National Sorry Day, which of course precedes National Reconciliation Week which kicks off tomorrow. This is obviously a vitally important time for all Australians as we commemorate the mistreatment of indigenous peoples and forge forward to tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation.
This afternoon I wish to sincerely acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to elders past and present, and, as an initiative with national reach, we extend that respect to all First Nations people across Australia.
I'm coming to you this afternoon from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, here in Melbourne and I'd like to thank all Wurundjeri elders for their care of these beautiful lands over many thousands of years.
Of course, I extend my greatest respect and gratitude to any, and all, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joining this webinar today, and I invite all of you out there to take a moment to reflect and privately acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands you are joining from around Australia.
Here at Be You we are always mindful of providing a safe and inclusive space for participants in sessions we run online, or in person, around the country. And, with this in mind, I’d like to acknowledge that each and every participant in this webinar brings with them their own personal and professional lived experience. So, I encourage each and every one of you to, perhaps, spend a moment considering your own actions for taking care of yourself, and to identify and think about what strategies you might put into place if something we talk about is upsetting or triggering for you.
Of course, the notion of joy and joy spreading is one of positivity, so we certainly hope your experience of this afternoon's session is a happy one. However, we also acknowledge and empathise with the fact that schools can be quite stressful environments, and the many hundreds of people joining today each had their own unique day today. Just as a side note to that, both today and for the future, our Be You wellbeing tools provide practical tools and resources for educators to look after themselves while taking care of children and young people. And I think one of our moderators might pop a link to those tools in the chat - https://beyou.edu.au/resources/educator-wellbeing/tools
On to our objectives for today, so you can see here for yourself the things we’ll be covering, but we're really looking forward to exploring the science and evidence behind the importance of joy, diving deep into practical examples of joy in both primary and secondary school settings. And of course, ideas for spreading that joy to children, young people, family and educators all across the school community.
You may have noticed that the chat function has been turned off, but we really do encourage you to use the Q&A section to pop in any questions or wonderings you may have as we move through. As I said before, we do have some Be You team in the background here who will be keen to answer your questions live and/or pass through your questions to myself and the panel to address a little later on. Also, certificates will be sent out to you via email in the communications following today's session
On to our wonderful panel, so joining me on the panel today are three wonderfully experienced people, each with their own stories to tell and great deal of wisdom to share. I do want to acknowledge and put it out there that we understand that our education-based panel members are from primary school settings, however, I just want to reassure the audience that we’ll be discussing strategies for the secondary school context as well, in both the presentation and the final Q&A.
So, first I'd like to introduce Annette Bulling. Annette is one of our education consultants for Be You headspace Schools and is part of our South Australia Be You team based in Adelaide. Annette has extensive experience working with students, educators, and leaders to promote mental health and wellbeing in school communities. She's very, very passionate about applying trauma informed practice and wellbeing science in schools and her work has influenced whole school change from different levels of the system by resourcing schools to strengthen resilience and increase student engagement. So, Annette, I might get you to turn your camera on and just give us a bit of a wave. There she is, OK. Hi Annette.
Hi everyone. Good afternoon, and thank you very much for joining us.
Good on you, Annette. Okay, so next on our panel, we have Mr Craig Bradley who is a Primary School principal with over 17 years of experience both in the UK, and Australia, and across both primary and secondary schools. Craig believes strongly in a positive whole school approach to wellbeing and the way in which this can lead to personal and academic growth for individual kids. Craig is going to share his own unique story as a young learner, and what has led him to feel so passionately about ensuring all members of a school community find the joy in each day. So, Craig I might get you to give us a quick wave as well, and a hello.
I can do and hello, but not the video at the moment.
Okay, no worries.
Good afternoon everybody, nice to see you.
Good on you, Craig. And finally, I’d love to introduce Kieran Denver who has 16 years of experience as a school leader. He’s currently a principal of a Primary School in Melbourne’s East and Kieran brings experience with both large and small school settings and has a proven track record of developing positive school culture and climate. Kieran has a very reflective nature, a great sense of fun and a passion for whole school happiness, which has seen him have a huge impact on schools facing a diverse range of challenges over quite some time. So, welcome to you Kieran.
Hi Matt, thanks for having me, I'm really looking forward to this afternoon’s session.
Brilliant, so why joy? I hear you ask virtually. Well as a teacher and principal myself over the past 15 years or so, I, perhaps like you, have always had a hunch that happy, joyful kids translate to positive overall outcomes and that's on an academic, social, and emotional level. So, today we're going to explore that hunch through looking at the science of joy and the impact this has on positive outcomes for all in our school communities. Of course, we are living in an age of heightened stress due to our levels of uncertainty and feelings of loss brought about by several factors. Things such as COVID-19, climate change, natural disasters, the breakdown of community and connection, the war in Ukraine, lack of confidence in global leadership, and the list goes on… So, how can we alleviate the impact of these stressors in the school context, what does the science tell us, and how can we embed joyful practices in what we do each day. So, to take us through the first part of today's session and the science and benefits of joy, I'll now handover to the wonderful Annette Bulling. Over to you Annette.
Great, thank you so much Matt. So, Matt has just outlined for us, all of the things that are currently happening that are putting society, in general in a state of stress and heightened sometimes distress. Because what happens is, when we feel threatened this compels our attention and it really creates a separation from us to each other. And so, if, after experiencing COVID etc… you find people are feeling very flat, the science is telling us that this is why, because when we feel separated and disconnected from others, it leads us to feeling low, maybe under motivated, or overwhelmed, or underwhelmed. And it's in those states that it's really hard for us to find sharp focus. We may feel more irritated more easily, very short-fused. And what's happening is we're leaning right into that negative bias, so we're tracking for, and amplifying things that are inconvenient or difficult. And the neuroscience tells us that we do that because we're looking out for threat. But what we really need to do is to be able to shift that so we're not in that flattened state is, we need to connect with each other, to move beyond the general malaise, we need to really find out what we have in common, to connect with each other and to build relationship. Because what we know is that trauma, and we've all been through different types of trauma, is transformed on relationship and that's why we are really focusing today on how we broaden and build our experiences of joy.
So, Barbara Fredrickson’s research and her ‘Broaden and Build’ theory has demonstrated very strongly, and her research has been replicated, that when we deeply feel experiences of joy, that this increases our creativity, our knowledge and our resilience. And so, what she talks about is that we need to increase positive emotions, because they have a positive effect on our thinking, on our future thoughts and behaviours, they expand creativity, and they create and increase our capacity to connect and to be able to play, to be able to interact with each other more effectively. And when we're in those states where we have more joy, what happens is we spend less time in negative mood states and it helps us to really physiologically recover from negative states more rapidly. And for children and young people who feel very strong emotions this becomes very important, because we want them to be more buoyant, to be able to come back into that place where they feel more grounded and comfortable. So, positive emotions can be very mild, they're just fleeting, but in order for us to make the most of it, we need to have internal skills to be able to give them attention, to be able to amplify them so that we can increase their experience.
So, what I'm going to ask you to do is; I'm going to ask you now to just become a joy detective just for a moment and I want you to go inside and reflect on a micro-moment of joy that you may have had recently. So, think of something that gave you a laugh, could have been a story that you told, or someone told you, an experience of love or where you might have seen something beautiful. It could also be just identifying, internally, feelings of when you've experienced warmth or energy, or a sense of peace. So, just burrow down through all of the day’s frustrations and irritations and everything that you might be holding and just try and find that moment of joy and really focus on it and do one deep inhalation as you really try and savour that experience whatever you've chosen, your moment of joy. And just to expand it a little bit more, I'd like you to think about what do you feel in your body as you smile or laugh, or make that connection? Just as we see in that photograph. And what we've just done then is an experience of capitalising on joy, of trying to create more positive neurochemicals in our systems so that we can become more resilient, more buoyant, more open to learning.
What Barbara Fredrickson talks about is that we need a diet of micro-moments, of what she describes as positivity resonance, and by doing that, the research shows that this increases our health and increases our social capacity. So, what do we need to do? In a school context is a great place to actually do this, to be able to mine and capitalise on positive emotions because it's a place where we're learning to socialise and to connect. We want to create experiences in schools where there is more mutual sense of warmth and positive emotion. And how do we do that? It's the old fashioned micro-social skills. Using eye contact and supporting students to learn how to do that explicitly, smiling, using people's names, pronouncing them correctly, increasing safe touch. And we need to teach it explicitly because, particularly those students who may have experienced trauma, they may not naturally know how to do these things, so we need to make it very explicit, we need to create situations where we can have a sense of mutual care and concern. So, those moments in the classroom where there's a bit of a joke, really savour those, lean into them, because that's how we move away from that negative bias. And we want people to have shared experiences so that they can collectively remember, reminisce, and once again that's a savouring thing.
Another really important thing that can happen a lot in schools is biological and behavioural synchronicity. So, when you're in sync with people, that's when you can include things in the class like patterned repetitive movements, so doing dance, or drumming, or mindful movement. Anything that really gets people moving together and you get that sense of community. By doing this, over time, what you're building is that embodied rapport so that young people get the idea that they've clicked with people at the school. And that's when they actually like their teachers, respect their teachers, there’s greater social bonds. So, you need to increase situations where there's that energise, uplifting mutual experiences and that's where we use things like positive primers or icebreakers, as they used to be called, lesson hooks that engage people cognitively. And also having little achievable challenges like puzzles and things that people can do together in teams collaboratively, all of that is really creating this positive energy that's going to increase educational outcome. And by doing this, we create mutual respect, and trust and belonging, which is what forms a mentally healthy community and that's what Be You has many resources to support, and to help everybody in their environment to really flourish.
By doing what I am suggesting, we're trying to ensure that everybody in the school community, as much as is possible, is functioning within their window of tolerance and to be able to do that, we've got to understand the idea of self-regulation. When you're in your window of tolerance that's when you feel calm and grounded, when you're curious and open to learning and much more capable of managing the distresses and challenges that come on a daily basis. So, what we're trying to do is create situations where people can work and understand how to internally regulate, and we do that through using our bodies through breathing movement and also self-talk. And if everyone in the site understands that, then you can really move and create a much more positive culture and a much more psychologically safe environment, so that people aren't hyperaroused and angry, and wanting to flee, or just in that really avoidant, numb, not wanting to do anything, withdrawn state, and not engaged. So, we've got to try and move them into that place, and by doing that internal classroom work, and external work, we're creating a positive school culture. And that culture is how we form real mentally healthy environments, so that we have a space where people can healthily express their emotions and it's a lot easier for everyone to be regulated. But a key thing that we have to think about is that educators are who creates the climate in the school, so our own wellbeing is so important, it's really essential for us to prioritise that so that we have the stamina and the self-regulatory capacity to really support students throughout the day and help to coregulate them and move them into that place in that window of tolerance, in that central grounded space.
A really helpful frame for this work is Martin Seligman’s framework of PERMA. So, I've touched on three of the elements already where we've looked at positive emotion and how that sort of engagement, through social connection, and engagement in learning can really build that flow state, and also the importance of relationships being vital to increase wellbeing. But we also need to think about meaning and purpose and make sure that we're trying to provide an environment and opportunities for students to feel a sense of agency. This is particularly important once students start reaching that adolescent stage in their secondary, so that they can have a sense of being able to be involved in the decisions that affect them, and their school life can be much more full of wellbeing if they have opportunities to do that. We also need to give them opportunities to connect with something greater than themselves, so they have a stronger understanding of interdependence. They can become, and understand, compassionate altruism more and we do this through values education, promoting hope is fabulous for addressing those issues of being really anxious about the future. Increasing gratitude can support the understanding of interdependence, and by doing that and helping students understand what's really important to them, it can help very much with focus and motivation, and once again increase educational outcomes.
So, the final piece in the PERMA model is achievement, giving students a sense of accomplishment, and pride is a positive emotion, so being able to really celebrate when things go well and really connecting the activities so that all students can feel like they can achieve something, and that can be celebrated before those stretch goals come in. And that's how, once again, you create those positive emotions in everybody there. But I’ve been working in this area for a long time, and what I've observed is, often, when we attempt to really increase positivity across the school, all our well-meaning initiatives are often met with cynicism and rejection by staff, and also by students sometimes. But I would argue that, if we fully understand the intention and the imperative, we can come to understand that this work is not tried, it's not about butterflies and rainbows, but it's actually really disciplined intentional activity that really requires focused habituated internal and external effort to build connection and belonging, and improve community mental health. And the neuroscience tells us that, if we do this, over time we will change the architecture of our brain, so that we move away from negativity and separation, and move towards social connection and cohesion, and that's how we create a more healthy society.
So, if you are at your site, always have front of mind what you want to do is to make sure that everyone gets a regular dose (of positivity). So, we want to promote those neurochemicals, such as dopamine, to promote feelings of pleasure and motivation. Oxytocin so people can feel social connection and have trust and actually feel like they belong. Serotonin is our mood stabiliser, (it’s) really important to keep everybody regulated. And then, of course, endorphins which will create that sense of pleasure and pain relief. And so people who are feeling distressed, if you can pump up those endorphins, that emotional pain can be reduced.
So, we want more moments of joy, that gives us more protection from some of those pressures that are coming to us from all of the things that Matt mentioned earlier. And we can do this by having those little micro-moments of positivity with friends and family, with our colleagues and students, but also with strangers. So, next time you see a barista you can get yourself another dose. Don't be inhibited about making joyful connections, because that's how we can have a salve for all of the things that we're dealing with.
Thank you very much, over to you Matt.
Fantastic. So amazing Annette, and really interesting, and thought-provoking content there. I'm sure there'll be some questions starting to come through. Again, I really encourage people to pop questions in the Q&A. I particularly love the whole idea that this is not butterflies and rainbows, but a really disciplined approach to building on, catching and capitalising on joy. I love that quote, capitalising on joy, brilliant.
OK, it is now time to hear some stories from the coalface, and strategies and stories from Craig and Kieran who are at the coalface in schools alongside many of you out there who are tuning in today. So, without any further ado I'm going to hand over to Craig Bradley.
Thank you, Matt. Welcome, thanks for having me. I really appreciate being asked by Matt to come and talk to you this afternoon. I’ve been a principal at my current school, which is in Melbourne, for the last two years. But my journey with school, like everybody else’s, probably started back when I was four or five years of age, in 1982 in the UK. I did seven years of primary school and six years of secondary school. I am a maths teacher, so I’ve calculated that has been 17,000 hours at school. I find myself reflecting as part of this process, on the word joy, and whether I actually had a joyful experience at school myself and I made a guess that probably about 10% of it was joyful at the time, and I reckon that was probably my recesses and lunchtimes. And I did look up the meaning of joy because it's a word that, although we're familiar with, I actually wanted to see what specifically joy was. So, when I looked it up, it said it's a feeling of great pleasure and happiness, which I think describes the feeling of joy, really, really well. I then dug a bit deeper and had a look at happiness and it said that happiness is a mental or emotional state, including positive or pleasant emotions, ranging from contentment to intense joy.
I’d probably say that I spend quite a bit of time investing in my own mental health, and I try and make a plan for how my day is going to go, and try and pick out the things in the day that I look forward to. At the end of the day I spend time reflecting and working out what I'm grateful for. I find I'm a better person if I practice those strategies, it makes me a better husband, a better dad, a better principal. I've got my own kids, and I think every night we sit around the table and we talk about what's gone well. Most nights I hear the groan when we do it, but secretly I think that they do actually love it because it always sparks conversation, and in a positive way, as opposed to when we talk about what's not going well and the emotions look a little bit differently. I've got a work colleague here that talks to me all the time about flipping their thinking, and I think that's a really nice way to try and describe a strategy for the day. So, how do you flip the negatives into positives?
I look at school, I guess, as a chance to bring about something that I'm calling joyful learning. And I think joyful learning can flourish in any school if you decide that day, that you’re going to give joy a chance. As adults we know that joy brings us happiness, it makes us feel better, it makes us mentally and emotionally stronger. So, I always wonder at the end of the day why so many colleagues actually avoid joy and decide that the day is going to have moments in it that aren't joyous. And what I do find is that kids are super honest and they certainly don't avoid joy, they spend the day looking for it, if you go out into the yard or recess, you can see their imaginations and their creativity, how much joy the day brings for them, so I just wonder why we, as adults, avoid it.
And probably, because we don't spend time in a day looking for ways to plan for it, we don't actually ask children, what does bring you joy, we tend to think that sometimes we can create that for them. We often don't think like a seven year old. That doesn't mean we all need to come to school dressed as Batman or Wonder Woman, but we do actually need to, from time to time, think what is it that they're looking for?
As Matt said at the start, it's a bit of a unique story and it definitely wasn't my plan to be a teacher or principal. I've just had my mum over from the UK, for the first time in three years, and she came to the school and aside from a lot of tears of pride, she was actually laughing afterwards. Going from where I started, she couldn't believe that I carried on in school. Because the only writing really that I did at school was probably the end of day lines for making poor choices. And I guess this has really allowed me to reflect and think about what joy means for me, or what it didn’t mean at school.
It was probably a lot of boredom and lack of engagement and not a big push by teachers to enjoy school and I actually feel a bit sorry for them now, because it was probably 17,000 hours of me using my superpowers to do the opposite of what they were asking. I did actually find a teacher a little bit later on in my school that inspired me. And it just took that one teacher to turn around my story so that one teacher to believe in me and she was an IT teacher. And I guess it was all about the creativity that I found in a classroom, that actually having a curious mind wasn't frowned upon, and it was an avenue for me to actually have an output. I was telling Matt when he came to visit me that years later I actually tracked her down and knocked on her door and thanked her for helping me find joy at school, and explain to her that I'd gone into IT and then, after having a career I had gone into being a teacher.
So, I did move from the UK about 12 years ago and the brochure said it was going to be sunny and tropical in Melbourne and I think they told me a fib. And then I found myself soul searching after I moved. Why did I carry on in teaching? I could have gone back into IT, and what was it that kept me in school? I found that it was that search for joy that brought me into education, so I found as I’ve become a principal, it's about creating a school environment that's different to the one I experienced, I know Matt’s just been flicking through a few pictures. And you can see there that I found some pictures of kids that I think are having a good time in school. I was a high school teacher so when we get to the chat if anybody has any questions around high school, I can definitely give context. I only moved to a primary school two years ago. I just found that, day after day, trying to inspire year nine children to be creative when all they were thinking about was the latest PlayStation5 game started to get a little bit demoralising, so I thought I'd try my hand in primary school and I haven't looked back.
I made a bit of a list of the things I think bring me joy and the first thing I would say is building a culture of care. We're so used to having, in our adult lives, an experience where customer service is at the forefront. And that’s one of the things I explain to parents, staff, and children. We're here to serve them and we're here to give them the best possible experience we can and that shouldn't be unjoyful, that should be joyful. I personally like to help others find the pleasure in learning so trying to make sure every moment a child is at school they're learning. And they're learning things that they want to do so, giving them choice, asking them what they would like to do, rather than telling them what we think they should do. What we often tell them to do is not what brings them joy.
My number one character strength is creativity and I find that most seven year olds have got an abundance of creativity. So, having them actually being able to demonstrate it, showing off, and allowing them to be proud of their effort. Here we record everything, we display everything that they're proud of and we send their pictures everyday home with the children for their families. One of the things I'm big into is tinkering and it isn't just taking things apart, I think it's being curious about everything in life so supporting kids with their questions. They ask a lot of them but giving them the time and encouraging others to give them the time, I think that brings joy. Making the school space inviting, allowing them to get outside as much as possible and just play, encouraging them to read, and to read good books. Offering children lots of subjects that they come up with. We do lots of things here that you wouldn't see ordinarily in a primary school, we've got VR headsets, 3D printers. The kids were curious last week about worms at a farm, so we've gone and bought a worm farm, we have an ant farm, stick insects. It's not too far before I'm asking our business manager for llamas, I think. So, whatever kids want, we do, and actually having kids involved in why we're assessing them. I think if they understand it, they get real joy out of being able to, what I call, level up, a bit like when they play video games. And we always encourage them to try and find the fun in the day, so ending the day with them reflecting on what's gone well.
And so, I guess, by starting back in 1982 and being in 2022, over that 40 years I'm hoping that what I bring to a school is a different 17,000 hours to the kids that are in my care at the moment. And I hope that teachers get on board with that as well. That's why all day, every day, I try and follow those steps. Just to leave on a quick quote, I found a book by someone called John Goodlad (A Place Called School), and it was written in 1984 so around the time I started school, and his quote says, “Boredom is a disease of epidemic proportions, why are our schools not places of joy?”. So, I actually don't think this is a 2022 issue, I think it's something that people 40 years ago were trying to solve in schools, and hopefully my impact leaves this little school, in this little part of Melbourne, a better place, and a more joyful place moving forward. And thank you.
Fantastic great. Thank you so much, especially for opening up about your own story, and your honesty there, and I love your references to student agency, student voice and their experience at school, so thank you so much Craig.
Okay we're going to go across to Kieran now to hear some more stories from Kent Park Primary School.
Thanks Matt, I'm glad you introduced me because I was enjoying the two speakers before me, I forgot I was presenting. That was really nice to listen to. I'm just going to quickly give you a background of where I suppose my leadership and community significance comes from. The first school that I was a leader in was a brand-new growth corridor, fast growing school that went from zero to 900 kids in two or three years. There was no climate, there was no culture they were building there. Definitely, my first years as a leader was a great experience, made lot of mistakes and definitely learned very quickly about what was important in terms of rapport and relationships and a lot of things that both Craig and Annette were talking about were crucial in those times, so I definitely learned a lot there about how important those things were. And then to go on to my next school, and I’ve got some of those in the slides in just a moment, which was a totally different school. It was small, not far from where I am at the moment in existing culture and climate. The school had shrunk down to about 100 students, so it was definitely a very different situation to my current school, which is just a little bit bigger.
The school I'm in currently was probably considered to be quite an elite school several years ago, and it had this really strong culture and really strong history. But it had gone through a bit of a wobbly patch for a couple of years, and I suppose our work here as a team has been, over the last four years, for us to rebuild and reinvent a community in the school. My experiences in all three of those settings have definitely been great to have in the back pocket, especially when we've gone through something like we've all gone through for the last couple of years, so if you wouldn't mind putting up that first slide Matt.
So, this is my current school at the moment, and this is what we've been using to build that climate and culture in our school. When I started, four years ago, the school had seven school values, no one could remember one of them. We've made a lot of changes. It’s hard to come into a school where there is an existing long history, but we got people on board, we've got the community involved. We use a school-wide positive behaviour framework, and so the picture on the left there, is in our assembly hall, took that only couple of days ago. Clearly, it's a Victorian Melbourne school because it’s got a big heater on the wall. Those leaves on that tree, are the kids putting them up at an assembly. So, in their classrooms the teachers and the staff are looking for the kids displaying kindness, respect, and responsibility. This goes on a leaf, they bring it to the school, they have their junior school council representative read it out at assembly and it goes up on the wall. And when we get 20 of any one colour, the school has a celebration, and the kids get to vote. So, embedding that culture and changing it.
And then the picture on the right there, we just painted that earlier this year, and that is now our community tree. So, we've only just started doing it this year, that's the entrance to our assembly hall. And what goes up on the wall there, when we're in assembly if we're reading out, “Thank you to our parents association for running an amazing family fun day”, that goes on there, so that everyone that walks in and out of that assembly hall is seeing all those things about our community, so really, really important and really powerful as well.
And that really has built and held us in good stead over the last couple years, in particular, and when I get to my final slides I’ll talk about how that came together for us, it was really quite lovely.
So, these two slides here, for me, indicate the bookends of how we try to build those communities. And you get those celebrations, you make those memories, and you make those connections, and all those things that Annette was talking about at the start. The picture on the left is my previous school, a small school, a hundred kids. We just needed something for the school to come together and celebrate and was very fortunate to have a PE teacher who was also a cheerleading coach, so we got right into cheerleading and for anyone that's been to any cheerleading event, national or state championship, you understand what I'm talking about, it is a whole new world.
Those kids there, you're talking probably a quarter of the school, trained for a year or two, got into the finals, and here they are standing there as national champions and state champions, so for a little school of 100 kids to come away with medals and trophies, and national championships, and to be able to say to a parent “Do you realise your child's a national champion?”, things like that, just are huge big events for a little school like that, they just get so much momentum. And just builds that positive culture and climate, and it just keeps going so it was an amazing time and a great experience for those kids, something they’ll always carry with them.
And then the picture on the right is probably a combination of a few little things that we were doing during COVID. We just coincidentally brought a school dog in and the little boy in that pictures is one of our prep students. His first start at prep, some of it was already remote learning at this time, so this was probably taken about two years ago this photo. Our assemblies were the things that we used at our school to celebrate and bring together everyone. So, the kids were at home, we were having remote learning, still held our assemblies on a Friday, and we did some pretty crazy things at our assemblies to try and keep the kids engaged and give them that sense of joy, when maybe remote learning hadn't been going so well. And there was definitely those sort of things like fatigue and stress and all those things, so our assemblies on a Friday, we would still present our certificates via Webex and then some of the teachers and I would take the dog, and we’d go round the neighbourhood and we would deliver the certificates to the kids and take a photo. Those little things that we were doing built those credits in the bank, as we were going through the last couple of years. And as those kids were coming back to school, they talked about how the school dog, Bear, his name is, visited, and we've got this photo and I’ve got the certificate, and the teachers came out. Our staff don't normally dress like that, we were having a doona day, I think, that day so Nikki that you see there in that photo. We were all wearing pyjamas and driving around the neighbourhood, Nikki and I, with a puppy in the backseat, delivering certificates to kids.
So, those sorts of things are really the bookends of what I was talking about, the little things as well as the big things you do, you celebrate as a community. And then we found, as Annette was talking about before, that separation and disconnection, but when you can come back together, and you can connect again, this was only a couple of months ago this event, we had a fundraising event, a fun colour run and all came together. The motivation for the kids, that's me obviously covered in slime there, was if the community could raise $5,000, we've got 200 kids in the school, then the principal gets slimed. So, I found out through COVID and all of the assemblies that we had that if you want to bring joy to kids, in particular, get someone like me covered in something like slime. We tipped all sorts of things on each other, it was pretty silly and pretty crazy, but if you want to see kids having fun that's the way to go. So, that day was just our normal colour run, fun run, but it just came together as this really joyous celebration for our community. We were back together, we're back to doing what we you know, having a great community event.
And, of course, I sometimes do get that attention and I end up the one getting slimed, but I also like to share that with my staff so the picture on the left there is one of our teachers and I happened to organise a dunk tank just on the day, so that everyone could share in the joy of getting covered in things. So, she's sitting out there, ready to go and I happened to pick out of the crowd the student that was going to hit the button for her to fall into the dunk tank. It happens to be her son as well, just random coincidence that happened, so you can only imagine the squeals of delight and laughter as the teacher went in. And I was just looking at that picture, the one where I’m covered in slime, there’s a little girl who's just in front of me in the pink tutu. I was looking at it just before and I thought “Now there's a picture of someone experiencing joy”, I hope you can see her face. It’s like the top half of her body is in pure joy and the bottom half is like “I’m running out of here because I don’t want to get covered in slime”.
And those sorts of things, we have those pictures up around the school and we’re still talking about them today, and when parents come through for a school tour and we talk about those joyous big celebrations that we have, that climate and culture that you have in a school, it just goes beyond the gates, and it goes into homes, and it continues to build those positive things. Even looking at those pictures now,
Annette was talking about before, ‘think about something and be a joy detective’, I look at those photos and the kids will look at those photos and the staff and the community will look at those photos, and you get that instant feeling of what it was like at those big events
I've got a few little things to go, but I just wanted to go over some of those things that I've experienced as a leader. I’ll definitely say during COVID, and I know Craig was talking about flipping your thinking, when we were deep in COVID remote learning in the middle of winter it was really, really hard. And I knew myself as a leader, it got to Thursday and it was like “Ah, I’ve got to do assembly tomorrow, what are we going to do that’s the opposite of how we feel?”. To flip it and have a crazy assembly, I’d send home some really random sort of compass notification to the families, and then the next morning we’d have assembly and something crazy would happen, or silly. That feeling of joy that Annette was talking about, and what we try to do in our schools, I've got a bit of a takeaway if you'd like to do it. When you get home tonight and you’re sitting on the couch, get your phone out and just scroll through your photos and you’ll see photos of people that you've taken in those moments of joy, then you’ll get that feeling of when you were there with them. And I suppose if ever there was that time when we needed to flip things, like Craig was saying, thinking about joyful things, it's been the last couple of years.
And I think the experiences we've been through for the last couple of years, definitely have made those times when you feel that joy and happiness, maybe something that we thought previously was something that made us happy, we don't think that anymore. That genuine happiness and joy. If ever there was a time to know when that's happening, I think we could all probably easily say what makes us happy and I thought I’d just add to that as well, personally, what I enjoy and what I really find joy in. I'm onto my third midlife crisis car at the moment, so I've had several midlife crises and I’m onto my third car. I’m building an old Commodore that I’m restoring so when I'm finding parts and building that, that's the thing that brings me joy at the moment.
A little bit too much information, a bit of an over share but, I just wanted to leave that with you. Probably my advice would be don't go into assembly tomorrow morning and tip slime all of your principal and think that's going to result in joy it, probably won't. But, you know your communities, you know your schools, you know your staff and your kids, and you just have to find that way that brings that together. And you do it with the team, and you just continue to build from there, so that's been my experience as a leader and things that I really have enjoyed doing so, thanks Matt.
Fantastic, thanks so much Kieran for all that and good luck with that midlife crisis. What I did really love was how many examples you gave of linking the community, not just the staff and students, and that's brilliant and I agree that the smiles on those kids’ faces, you can see on the screen right now, is just a beautiful thing.
Okay, now I am conscious of time, we are going to be finishing up in about 10 minutes, but we do have time for a couple of questions that have come through so I'm going to throw to the panel to address these, and one of the first questions that's come through, and I totally appreciate this, Annette, I might throw this one over to you. So, a question has come through saying that, creating joy in a secondary classroom can take a very different form compared to a primary setting, so what strategies can we put in place to facilitate this without leading to significant eye rolling from teenagers? Annette have you got some advice there.
Yes, certainly, and this comes from experience, because I started as a secondary teacher and spent a lot of time working with students at risk in various flexible learning centres, and students with mental health issues who are working through distance, and one of the things that I found to be very, very effective was to really think about, and lean into, that idea of agency. One thing that we have used successfully is the idea of wellbeing ambassador groups and getting students connecting in that way so that there's a sense of empowerment and having something good to look forward to creates dopamine, that's a positive thing.
Some of the examples that I've done had groups working together on what they want to do, some of the things they came up with were like, “We want to go rock climbing”, and things like that, so they then had to put into place all the plans to do that, so those little micro-moments of joy are in the creating of that collaborative practice to move them forward. So, that's just one example of that kind of agency idea.
But another thing I've used successfully is to look at the old multiple intelligences and work on having a variety of things and using students as coresearchers, in terms of, what works for us? What do you like? And trying to do that identity development and strength building in that way, so that's just a couple of tips.
But also having opportunities, when you set it up, so that kids have a chance to pass if they don't want to be part of it, so they don't just need to blow the situation so that if you don't want to be part of it, this is what the alternative option is, just two choices. And things like that can help you to get more buy-in over time. Asking them and trying to get your little champions in the class, who've got some influence with the others, on side with what they want to do like, if they're into drumming, try and really enable that and that has been my experience that's been quite successful.
Terrific. Just to go on from that, we know that most schools will have big events, fates and even the sliming event that Kieran talked about. I'm interested to hear from Kieran and Craig, perhaps, about the little moments, so we know about the big events and highlight reels of schools, whether its primary school or secondary but what about the little moments within the learning, or within the course of a general day? Kieran, I might start with you.
Yeah, relationships and rapport, I think they’re the little moments that you build with your staff and your kids. We did some work with Kristen Douglas last year from headspace and she talked about, as leaders, the leverage that we get through our staff. And the stuff that you’re talking about, just the “Hello” in the morning, and knowing your name and it's your birthday and all those little things that happen every day. But it's also, as a leader, getting into the classrooms, and when they’re down in the science room, they're building something etc. The photos that Craig was sharing before, I think those moments, and you can always catch them, those little special moments that you have with kids, or with staff, or with groups, fun little things like that. At the end of that fun run, we got this golden cheetah, so the kids have stolen it and I've got a ransom note on my desk, these grade twos have stolen it so I’ve got to go to assembly tomorrow and that's going to be our laugh for the day, I’ve got to find the stolen cheetah, so the little things that just weave their way through your every day, I think they're huge.
I think what's come through there Kieran is also that, as adults, to model the joy, to model some appropriate silliness, it's okay to have a laugh. Obviously, we need to maintain boundaries with the kids but often those relationships are built on the fact that they see you as a human being, not necessarily always an authority figure. Craig did you want to add to that?
I think just from the moment you walk through the door, whatever's going on in your own world, it's putting on your game face. And the kids deserve you to be at your very best and how you set the time from the second you get out of your car. Two funny stories for the last week, the first one is, we’ve got a kinder nearby, so a little kinder kid came past and I hear him say to his mum, “That Mr Bradley, he’s always there at the door, like does he live at the door?” because we're out there every morning welcoming whoever comes through. And then I've got another little girl who, there's been a few tough moments with families, the transition back to school, and this little girl every day has tears at the door, and we have a ‘kiss and go’, so just including her, and just saying “Hey, I've lost my voice today, I’m normally out here welcoming the kids, is there a chance you can help me?”. Out of nowhere this persona comes out from this girl, she's opening the door, she's like “Good morning! Welcome to Rolling Hills!”. And now I don't even have to do my job, she's thumbing exactly where the kids need to be every morning, mum’s dropped her at the gate and gone now, enjoying her coffee breaks and whatever else is going on, and it's just always having that little bit of time to give and it just sets the tone.
Fantastic, that's great. I love the idea of starting the day with you at the gate, or other staff members there, there's an instant connection there. While it's obviously a considered move to do that, I think that certainly builds rapport with the kids and also relationships with the parents as well, which is just such a vital thing.
Okay, again, we are conscious of time, and we know there are quite a few other questions. We haven't gotten to a few questions today, but we will attempt to address those in the post communications that we send out after the session.
What I will do now is, we are just going to flick through to a little slide here. And then I'll just talk through this really quickly. So, Be You as an initiative offers a great deal of resources and supports that you can see on your screen there. The best thing to do if you want to learn more is to head to our website. And for those schools who are registered with Be You, we really encourage you to reach out to your assigned consultant within your area. They are really responsive, please reach out to them. They do their best to reach out to schools as well, but we certainly love it when schools come back the other way to seek help and advice, so just a little snippet there of some of the things we do offer as part of Be You.
So next steps, I always felt as a teacher, as a school leader, that when I walked away from a session like this that I wanted something tangible, something to action and we've heard some great information and stories about the science of joy from Annette, as well as some terrific impact stories from the ground from Craig and Kieran. So, the hunch that I spoke about at the start of the session has certainly been affirmed by our panel members today and, now we throw to you to think about how you may take action. So, if you truly believe joy is important to you and the work that you do, then I suppose we encourage and challenge you to action that belief alongside colleagues, kids and your respective communities in the coming weeks and months ahead, safe in the knowledge that you do have plenty of Be You resources to access along the way.
So that pretty much brings things to a close. First of all, I'd love to thank our panel members, Craig, Kieran and Annette for sharing your stories, for sharing your expertise and your wisdom, it's very, very much appreciated.
To our audience, thank you so much for taking time to join the session, we wish you very well in actioning your learnings from today, and really look forward to connecting with you all in some way in the future. But for now, enjoy the rest of your evening, and goodbye. Stay well.
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The importance of joy in enhancing learning, wellbeing and school connectedness
Last updated: June, 2022