The Struggle within Wellbeing

As Educators around the world are transitioning back to onsite learning I have been reflecting on the enormous load our Educators have carried over the past few months and what has caught my attention is the role of struggle within wellbeing.

Just prior to lockdown I was teaching a group of students whom you would consider to be really struggling.  Success for these young people at school looked very different from most other contexts.  Simply arriving at school was deemed a win and staying regulated long enough to do any form of work was a success.

What was interesting was that at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic I watched attendance, engagement, and performance increase in this group of students.  As the rest of the world went into chaos these students seemed to be experiencing a lift in wellbeing.  Was it that home was now more unstable than usual thus school now more appealing?  Or was it something else?

As I packed up my desk in this particular context I could not help but ponder the lift that I had witnessed.  I wondered that as young people for whom struggle and chaos was a part of everyday life, were they now taking some sort of comfort in the rest of the world “joining them” now that fear and unsettledness that was more congruent with their day to day experience of the world?

A few weeks later I was digging into some data around the wellbeing of Educators taken during this same time period.  What struck me about this data was that it somewhat reflected the scene I had watched play out in my classroom.  It appears that it is possible for educators to thrive despite struggle, and it is possible for them to not experience wellbeing even in the absence of struggle.  Curiously Educators who classified themselves as really struggling showed an increase from pre-COVID-19 across multiple wellbeing indicators, notably, they felt an increase in psychological safety. While 77.4% of Educators reported that their levels of struggle had increased our data suggests that if schools can improve the knowledge, tools, and support available to educators to help them care for their wellbeing that experiences of struggle can build resilience.

I’ll be interviewing Dr. Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education on Thursday 18th of June at 4.00 on Zoom.  We will share the key findings of this report and along with ideas to put immediately into action to support those working in our schools to support their wellbeing.

If you’d like to join us, you can register for free by clicking here

Physical Distancing With Social Connection – Please sign

As we emerge from our COVID 19 chrysalis, how is your mental health travelling? I’m hearing from many of our friends there is a lot of anxiety. One of the factors that could have contributed to this was the language we’ve used around this time. The term ‘SOCIAL DISTANCING’ connotes that we need not only keep physically spaced but socially withdrawn as well.

I don’t normally #ask for much, but if you have 20 seconds today, it would honestly mean the world to me if you’d sign this petition changing the language from ‘Social Distancing’ to ‘Physical Distancing’ with social connection to assist to build the wellbeing literacy of our nation as a positive legacy of COVID 19.

https://www.change.org/physicaldistance

Failing with Strength-based leaders

Check out this amazing leader I get to work alongside. Last week I dropped quite a substantial professional ball as a part of this team. Michelle McQuaid managed the situation like no other leader I have EVER had the privilege to work with. Her strength-based and heart-centered approach in bringing my attention to the issue ensured that 10 minutes later, I was still able to service our next client with grace, composure, and efficiency. This could have been managed in a very different way and would have had a very different impact upon my work as well as the client experience. Thank you @chelle and happy birthday to you for tomorrow!


A Strength Based Response to Covid 19 in Schools

I had diarized to write this monthly blog over two weeks ago.  I have in this one sitting already started typed the opening sentences and then deleted them three times.  I thought I’d take the liberty of sharing my half-formed thoughts here in the hope that you may find benefit in some way shape or form.

Life has certainly sent us some lessons to learn over the past few weeks as we respond to our global pandemic.  From juggling learning from home with work commitments to the challenge around buying toilet paper!  For me personally, I have been flooded with thoughts, feelings, challenges, and opportunities of which have taken me weeks to distill down.  The paragraphs that follow are a snippet into one aspect of my experiences that of schools.

When Covid 19 hit our small island of Tasmania, ironically an Island on an Island with an ocean to protect us against the global outbreak…  I was privileged, through work and life to have a front-row seat to three very different school settings and their responses to the challenges they faced.  During the uncertainty of those first few weeks prior to school closures here is what I witnessed.

Teachers are amazing.  I know I’m biased, as teachers are my friends and colleges however the capacity to lift during those weeks was something to behold.  From learning new ways of communicating and teaching, in amongst actually teaching (think – trying to eat a chocolate ripple biscuit whilst brushing your teeth!) while taking on board the daily and ever-changing Covid 19 response protocols, which in some cases caused great angst, where circumstances to actually follow the protocols to the rule (which teachers like to do) was quite simply impossible. 

All of the above was done while simultaneously developing work from home packages and responding to the mountains of emails from parents who had already opted to keep their children at home, quite simply it was a superhuman feat.  In amongst the challenges, here is what I observed worked well.

Decisive leadership.  In amongst such uncertainty, it was the leaders who consulted quickly, hedged their bets and made decisions early in amongst the ever-changing landscape who supported their school communities best.  Decisive leadership along with clear and regular communication gave teachers, students and parents alike a sense of certainty and “we’ve got this” which had a positive impact upon wellbeing.

A wellbeing focus.  Schools who had already done the work and invested in wellbeing priorities (prior to wellbeing strategies now saturating our newsfeeds and social media) were able to buffer the challenges much better than those who had not.  Schools with legitimate wellbeing priorities navigated through the choppy waters as if they were being led by a GPS using their shared framework and language while deploying tools that had been well-practiced during calmer times.

Humor.  Schools with a genuine strength of humor culturally embedded faced the same challenges as schools who did not, however, the sense of comradery that the humor contributed too made the work in these schools look and feel so much lighter and easier.

So while for some, the world has been slowing or even coming to a halt, for others, teachers in this instance, it most certainly has not.  My hope is that we can start to change the discourse around the teaching profession to help reshape school systems as wellbeing institutions where both teachers and students feel truly valued, appreciated and respected for the work they commit to every day – including the holidays!

If your school is ready to prioritize wellbeing and you would like some support around affordable, practical, evidence-based ways to do this please reach out, as I would love to help you.

Helping leaders unscramble the Chaos and build wellbeing during Covid – 19

Are you are a leader (or know of one) who could do with some support leading wellbeing in your organization right now? If so I would love to help you unscramble the chaos with practical tools to support you navigate through the uncharted territory and uncertainty that the recent Covid – 19 global pandemic has given us the opportunity to explore.

In addition, may also like to join us for the virtual broadcast of Collective Insights as Dr. Michelle McQuaid takes us behind the headlines of the latest Australian wellbeing survey data and find out why Australian workers are struggling when it comes to their wellbeing (pre Covid-19 data) and what these insights suggest for leaders and HR teams who want to improve wellbeing and resilience in their workplace.

Channel Your Strengths

Today 8th March 2020 I would like to acknowledge and celebrate International Women’s Day.

Personally, for me today is about celebrating and paving a positive pathway for the two caring, creative, humorous and adventurous girls (7 and 10 years) that are growing into perceptive and curious young women in our house.  This means helping them see their assets and surrounding them by others who can validate those assets, regardless if they fit the mold or not.

In my mind, the time has come to change the conversation from one of gender to one of strengths.  The language of strengths gives cross-gender and cross-cultural power.  You can be of value no matter where you are from or what gender you are for the strength that you innately have.  However, the society we live in tends to value some strengths more than others, for example, what do those with a tendency for kindness or love, who go into nursing or teaching get paid compared to those who have a strength of judgment or leadership who may go into more corporate settings earn?  Regardless, I have hope that with leaders such as Jacinda Arden role modeling her ability to bring a more diverse mix of strengths into play will inspire others to have the confidence to do the same.

The first step is knowing what your strengths are and then having someone validate those strengths in a way that shows you that they are useful and meaningful to the world.  The validation gives the confidence to put those strengths into action, regardless if those particular strengths match the stereotype that has preceded them.

Our strengths that represent the way we are naturally hard-wired.  They come naturally to us and using them give us energy, positively impact our wellbeing as well as our performance.  As a dad at a recent workshop said to me “you mean I don’t just have to focus on making the #$%! parts of my child less #$%!”?  The answer was YES!  You can work a weakness however it will take a long time and a lot of dedication to change it.  The more efficient route to increasing the performance and wellbeing of your child is to channel their strength in such a way that it compensates for their weakness.

If you are curious about what your strengths are you may like to take the free character strength test here: 

https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register

Coaching V’s Consultancy

In a recent conversation with a dear friend it dawned on me that a clear explanation of the difference between coaching and consultancy may be overdue.  So here goes….

In a nutshell, a pure coaching conversation will be one in which you (the client) drives the agenda, 100%.  The coaches’ job is to help you with your thinking, it’s that simple.  This means the coach stays out of judgment, advice and is ever so careful to make even the lightest of suggestion.

A consultant may sometimes use coaching strategies or a coaching style conversation from time to time however the difference is when working with a consultant you are paying for their specific advice.  This is quite a different experience from a coach who is helping you tap into your own wisdom and solve your own dilemma.

While I am a certified coach I do sometimes (with client permission) move into a consultancy role dependent upon the client’s goals.  When working in schools I use a coaching approach to drive whole-school wellbeing inquiry however I don’t expect all the teachers I work with to become expert coaches.  Instead, I teach staff to be able to hold coaching-style conversations, ones that are goal-focused and inquiry-based.

For an example of a pure coaching conversation please click on the link attached.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LY-KUovIq3s

Happy coaching!

A Tea Drinker Savouring the Coffee

Primarily a tea drinker, fifteen years ago a friend of ours introduced me to coffee.  I say introduced but what he really did was got so enthusiastic during his “coffee phase” that one could not help but to get a little swept up in the frothy wake!  This same friend gave us a coffee machine that was initially intended to live at our CrossFit gym but through the somewhat sleepless years of the past decade, it ultimately came to live with us at home and has been a ceremonial part of most of my days ever since.

This morning as I went through the daily ritual of heating the almond milk and watching the coffee drip through the dispenser I reflected upon this friend, a friend who’s life that was cut short under shocking circumstances a week ago.  Family and close friends are grief struck, children will grow up without a father and ageing parents won’t have him to help carry the load.  There will be a void on every surf trip and four-wheel drive expedition in the future.  Spaces, where he would once interject with humorous and often inappropriate comments, will slip silently by and in my mind, it will be these moments that he will be missed the most. 

The work of wellbeing is not just about happy times.  During hard times, particularly around grief or loss the skills of wellbeing can be something to hold onto to keep us afloat.  In particular, the domains of strengths, relationships and emotions have been supporting our family over the past week in the following ways:

Strengths:  We have been focused upon our friends’ strengths, namely humour, love, honesty and zest.  Our friend lived his life with his heart on his sleeve, his openness was as disarming as it could be unsettling or challenging at times.  While it did not always put him in good stead, most opportunities that life threw his way were meet with a cheeky grin and his “you only live once” attitude.  His combined strengths (often overplayed) are what made him so lovable. 

Relationships:  Grief brings with it a unique opportunity for vulnerability and connection.  Many of the connections with our friend in later life have been through CrossFit, of which has a somewhat traditionally masculine / paramilitary sub-culture.  While the situation is tragic, it is heart-warming to see the softening of the souls who trained with him on and off over the years who were all frequent customers when he was going through his “café phase.”

Emotions:  While obviously there are many strong emotions around us at the moment in our family we are intentionally spending time savouring to build some positive emotions in amongst the sadness.  We are savouring his strengths and we are taking time to appreciate the relationships and random situations he connected us to.  Most of all we are savouring that his was a life that was truly lived.  He felt every day, he shared his experience in the world with us all, and in doing so he gave his authentic self to the world.

Introducing… The Education Lab

I am at my best when supporting caregiving individuals and communities (such as teachers and schools) to grow THEIR wellbeing so that they are better equipped to enhance the wellbeing of those they serve, in this case, students.  When we are talking wellbeing I firmly believe that it is mostly “caught” not “taught” hence if we want to “teach” wellbeing we must first be well, which means having a focus on staff wellbeing is an imperative not optional first step.

Teachers are my friends, my colleagues, and my clients.  After giving of myself for nearly two decades educating students from prep to grade across multiple sectors and diverse backgrounds I then had children of my own.  After having children it struck me that if I wanted the very best for their education that meant offering up the skills and knowledge around wellbeing that I had accumulated (formally and informally) to support those doing the day to day (sometimes night-to-night and weekend to weekend) work within my children’s classrooms.

The calling to contribute to our profession in this way had always been inside me, however, it has taken a long and windy road to find a formal way to set it free into the world.  Back in 2008 when I did my neuroscience-based coaching certification there was no talk perse of wellbeing priorities within our schools or many other workplaces at the time.  I simply started applying the things that I had learned about the brain to support myself, then the students in my classroom.  I then reached out to support the first-year teachers at our school, a school in which our newly minted teachers were often towered over by our larger than life and somewhat spirited population of Pacifica students.  Permission was granted for me to run a pilot support program on the condition that there was no time release, I’m sure you know the deal.  So squeezed in between playground duty, volleyball training, the odd detention, oh and yes potentially eating something and going to the toilet the things my colleagues and I were experimenting with at the time were having a dramatic and positive impact on our wellbeing and our performance in the classroom.

Fast forward a decade and it’s now validating and reassuring that the good work of wellbeing that so many teachers have always managed to implicitly weave into their practice is now becoming a priority.  Inspired initially by Dr. Suzie Green I read everything I could get my hands on in the space of Positive Education and may have sold (with his loving permission) my husband’s Santa Cruz Heckler mountain bike to raise the funds to attend my first PESA conference…  It was then that I was awestruck by Professor Lea Waters who ultimately encouraged me to “follow my calling and do the MAPP”, which then lead me to much more reading…

In between being inspired by Suzie and awestruck by Lea I had already started offering myself up more formally to early-adopting principals in my local area.  This period of time has given me the opportunity to take the science of wellbeing and immediately apply it.  It has been the greatest privilege of my life, however, it has also been somewhat lonely and challenging.  During this phase I was heavily reliant on the generosity of spirit, practical tools and resource ideas from the likes of Justin Robinson and the team from Geelong Grammar School, Mick Walsh from The Learning Curve and Dr. Michelle McQuaid primarily through her amazing podcast Making Positive Psychology Work.

For me as I have been learning and applying there have been three ongoing questions in the back of my mind…

  1. How do we get this important work to the schools that need it most by making high-quality evidence-based approaches to wellbeing accessible and affordable?
  2. How do we take the complexity of wellbeing theory and turn it into practice in simple and systematic ways?
  3. How do we create an approach that sets schools up for success with their wellbeing priorities with just the right balance of support to increase the likelihood of transfer and sustained whole school impact?

For me, the answer to these three questions lies in being able to equip schools to be intelligent end-users with accessible online platforms.  A place from which they can learn and apply evidence-based wellbeing practices at both the individual and the systems level in ways that are flexible and meaningful to their context.  A place with ongoing support and a sense of community as we all learn and grow together.

So I am excited to announce that I have teamed up with the fabulous Michelle McQuaid and over the past few months, we have been bringing my wellbeing dreams to fruition through the creation of the Education Lab.

The Education Lab is quite simply everything I wished I had had available to me when I started working on wellbeing in schools on limited budgets.  The Education lab will give you everything you need to successfully lead a wellbeing priority within your school.   It will save you time and money by giving you the opportunity to avoid all the mistakes I have made over the years.  It takes the best of the complexities of Positive Education, Evidence-based Coaching approaches and systems science, it simplifies things for you while maintaining rigor.  The Education Lab gives you bite-size resources for you to digest, tweak and deliver to your unique setting.  An Education Lab license gives you training, resources, coaching and most importantly access to a community of like-minded educators across the globe who all have the same passion for improving wellbeing in schools that you do!

So if this sounds like something that could be useful to you and your school then please contact us through our Education Lab page at MichelleMcQuaid.com

Wellbeing as a Garden

Last month I spoke around the challenge of defining wellbeing.  This month I’d like to explore the topic of growing wellbeing.  I’d like to touch on one particular aspect, that being, the skills we need to grow wellbeing are vastly different to those we need to recover from illbeing.  As the sweet smell of spring is in the air I’d like to use the analogy of a garden bed to help illustrate this point. 

When we decide to grow a garden it may be important at the beginning to claim back the dormant bed by doing some weeding (in this analogy weeding is the equivalent to seeing something that is unwanted, a problem to be fixed or ill-being).  Once we have taken the weeds out of the soil do we now have a flourishing garden?  If we take all the problems away from a person or a system are they now well?  I would say while of value, that if weeding is our only focus then the job is only half done.  To not be ill is not necessarily to be well. 

Along with weeding a successful gardener will ensure that the soil is the correct PH, it has enough exposure to sunlight and water.  Maybe some extra nutrients will be added along with some worms to maximise the soil prior to planting.  Once these tasks are lovingly attended too, they are then repeated, a little bit of weeding, along with ongoing maintenance to ensure the plants are kept watered and feed.  The same goes for our wellbeing.  We must actively attend to our wellbeing if we are to enhance it.  We need to attend to our weeds and then embed small frequent wellbeing practices into our lives if we are to build wellbeing and potentially flourish. 

What small wellbeing practices do you use to grow wellbeing for you, your family or your organisation?

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