Interconnect ED

'Only connect...' E.M Forster

Tag: anxiety

Slow

“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
~ Moliere

An attitude of gratitude

Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture.  ~Kak Sri

 

A few weeks ago MLC School was energised by the presence of two powerful thinkers, Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett who came to introduce staff and students to The Design Thinking Process as a means of re-envisaging learning. The men from NOTOSH did much more than that in the short time they were with us. Through a number of reflective practices, collaborative activities and robust discussions we reshaped aspects of what we used to term ‘curriculum’ and isolated a number of areas that we believed needed radical rethinking. We each pledged to work towards changing just one area for the better. I like a challenge, so I chose one that appeared in many places and in many guises over the two days – even in the workshops themselves. See the picture below to know what I want to work on.

I've pledged to address the pace of life at MLC

Anywhere. Anytime… All the time?

At MLC School we are proud to be a school that is embracing the ‘Learn Anywhere, Anytime‘ philosophy that is enabled by our innovations with online learning, virtual spaces, mobile devices and immersive experiences. We are risk-takers and future-makers. But this can lead to a ‘Anywhere. Anytime. All-the-time!‘ approach that favours stimulation over reflection, consolidation or even down time. When do we stop, turn off the email, stop updating our online units and rest the mind? Sometimes everything is just too fast, too connected to others and not to our own state of being. The drive to be connected all the time means that we can lose an awareness of our own needs and sometimes even what we value most. On a most basic level I am troubled by how many teachers who revel in the use of IT (including myself) complain of poor sleeping habits, primarily due to late nights updating online resources. What impact does an unrested mind have on professional practice and personal lives?

So how does one, amidst all this creative energy find space to stop, to rest, to reflect and to open the heart? Well, I just share what works for me and the millions of others around the planet- we meditate. So, in addition to the much-loved ministry of the school’s reverends, I have been offering meditation classes on and off since 2008. This year these sessions became weekly and increasingly well attended. Last term, many teachers, executive staff members and some senior students attended the early morning sessions whilst this term, up to 20 middle and senior school girls have been meditating in our new retreat space. They report increased levels of calm and reduced busyness of the mind. More needs to be done to support creativity with receptivity in order to alleviate the stresses supported by the Culture of Quick

Reflection in a time of change

This week I was invited by our new Principal to lead a reflection/meditation following on from her feedback session on our school’s new Master planning process. Being sensitive to the impact all the changes have had on staff, and the diminishing energy levels we face towards the end of a school year, the session was devoted to developing gratitude and kindness towards ourselves and the school community.

We shared what was on our minds, what we were feeling and what our needs were. Responses were recorded on different coloured paper and then  randomly distributed. Its a curious experience to have one’s own personal responses shared by another. It can soften attachment to one’s own problems and open up to a more empathic response.

Some of our needs were for-

  • reassurance
  • strong coffee
  • rest and sleep
  • a personal assistant
  • to go

Inspiration and perspective

To help us move into a more reflective mode, we watched the startling TEDxSF presentation by Louie Schwatzberg in which he invites us through stunning time-lapse photography and the reflections borne from youth and age to reflect on how much we have to be grateful for. You can see the ten minute presentation below.

Taking the cue from Schwatzberg’s words, ‘We protect what we fall in love with‘, the participants were challenged to open their hearts not to the wonders of nature on the scale put forward in the presentation but in our own school context. Meditating after wards, we called to mind those in the school who have supported us, both those we know well and those perhaps who we are not so close to. We recalled moments of connection with these people and brought appreciative ‘eye’ to bear on them, wishing for their welfare, imaginatively expressing our gratitude. This was extended to even the challenging people in the workplace and, most significantly, ourselves – what within ourselves and our lives are we most grateful for?

The same reflection task with the coloured paper was repeated after the meditation and the changes in emotional states and mental preoccupations were significant. Many were moved to think of their families and loved ones and the prevailing emotional state was one of calm. The final reflection was subtly altered from ‘What do you need?‘ to ‘What you can give?‘ The results are worth repeating. What can you give?

  • attention
  • happiness and joy
  • passion
  • smiles and hugs
  • care
  • a gift of my time

Cleary, it was a rewarding experience for the participants. An attitude of gratitude takes time to develop and when it does, time is what it want to offer others. It’s ironic that we often feel we lack time to achieve our aims but when we take time, our perspective shifts so we want to share even more time with others! Our self-orientation is reduced and the heart is opened to the needs of others. We feel calm, centred willing to act from that space.

I look forward to offering more sessions of this kind.

Virtual World’s Best Practice in Education conference – reflections

Below you will find a brief overview of some sessions I attended at the VWBPE 2011 conference. One highlight not mentioned in the Voicethread was Botgirl’s discussion of how we construct identity in online spaces. Whilst I found the cheesy ‘reveal’ that Botgirl was actually a man, ‘hir’ comments were extremely intriguing and I hope to look into that in more detail later.

So, below you will find a brief summation of some of the conference including an audio of a pre-presentation discussion I had with Marianne Malmstrom (aka Knowclue) about our session together. Whilst I was not altogether pleased with how our sessions went, I think this conversation captured the essential elements we wished to convey.

‘GenerationNext’ Conference – the Menace of the Past

Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson:  you find the present tense, but the past perfect!  ~Owens Lee Pomeroy

On Friday 10 September I attended the Generation Next conference at the University of New South Wales, ostensibly for the session on Cyberbullying delivered by Susan McLean. The day was aimed at teachers, youth workers and health care professionals who work with children and young people, with the intent of bringing us all up to date on recent data and developments. Though there were some brief instances of how to lead young people forward, for the most part, the day was an exploration of the dark places that some, and I emphasise some, young people inhabit.

What follows are some brief notes on some of the sessions; key points, personal observations and questions that arose.

About the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young people with Dr Ramesh Manocha

The learned and entertaining Dr Manocha defined what he called ‘A Crisis of Consciousness’ citing research into growing rates of mental illness which he attempted to argue was due to rapid societal change. He argued that contemporary consumerist, permissive culture emphasises an ‘Anything, Anytime, Anywhere’ values system that young people are not cognitively or emotionally mature enough to negotiate or critique effectively. He put forward the argument that the social/cultural environment was one that added extra stressors to the lives of young people – peer pressure, bullying, increased sexualisation and violence that was adversely affecting their mental health.

  • Question – Hasn’t it always been the case for older generations to bemoan the developments in youth/mainstream culture that seem to undermine their own values systems?

Alcohol and Other drugs – Current issues with Paul Dillon

In what could have been a series of Motherhood statements on why drugs are bad, Paul Dillon gave an impressively balanced presentation that aimed at clarifying some of our misconceptions about drug usage in the country, misconceptions that are manipulated by the media in order to create an environment of fear. What was most striking was the way in which he inverted statistics in his graphs to highlight the number of students who are successfully NOT taking drugs. These he uses in schools to validate the choices the majority of young people are taking in abstaining. He also clarified the issue of caffeine in our culture and in energy drinks. Apparently there is more in our morning freshly ground coffees than in the most common brands.

Tom Young – Beyond Blue Youth Ambassador

In a brief but affecting recount of his life journey, Tom spoke of being burdened by excessive anxiety and the steps he took to manage it. A young role-model to everyone who can empathise with intense feelings of unhappiness despite evidence to the contrary.

Depression and Anxiety in Young People with Dr Michael Carr-Greg

Suicide is seen as a problem solving device’ – An interesting remark made by Dr Carr-Greg early in his presentation gave us all cause to reflect. Apparently 75% of all young people in Australia are mentally well but the remaining 25% need some careful intervention as untreated depression can be, in his words, ‘fatal’. These are the young people who strive to hide their conditions behind masks of seeming normality. In some cases it can take from 5-15 years from a diagnosis to receiving treatment. He outlined the sorts of behaviours that manifest in young people that might be warning symptoms. Notably he remarked that kids retreat online in order to escape their problems but this might only increase their sense of isolation. He raised 5 key questions for parents-
  1. Are you tackling the tasks of Adolescence? Identity issues, developing freedom from parental influences…
  2. What is your child’s ‘cognitive map’? What is your child’s self-talk?
  3. Do your children have a track record of keeping themselves safe?
  4. Do they hang out with safe kids?
  5. Do they have a sensation seeking temperament?

He encouraged us to teach optimistic thinking and suggested the works of  Sarah Edelman, Mood Gym and the Youth Beyond Blue resources to assist us and our students/children.

Sexualisation, Commercialism and the Media – ‘Girls Too Sexy, Too Soon’ by Melinda Tankard-Reist

This was, by far, the most confronting presentation I have ever attended. The ‘hypersexualised and pornified‘ images of young girls that were presented to us, each of which were liberally drawn from the mainstream media, were utterly horrific and clearly (if sensationally) argued that the media is eliminating the years of Middle Childhood (9-13) Girls are encouraged to present a ‘prostitute-like version of themselves to the world‘ through fashion and online games that promote young women as brainless, surgically enhanced ‘sexual service stations’ for men and, sadly, for boys. We were all encouraged to stay informed and become advocates for change by joining http://collectiveshout.org/ The session ended with a hopeful, charming short film which played with the idea of Loss of Innocence in an affecting way. Please click here to see a trailer for Ruby Who?

The Resilience Donut by Lyn Worsely

In response to the previous speakers, Lyn commented that if we look at the risk factors to young people alone, we might ignore the outcomes that are fine and lose the opportunity to bolster strengths where they already exist. Her main argument was based around what builds resilience in young people – what are the tipping points and the turning points. She defined resiience as-

  • the ability to face, overcome and be strengthened by adversities
  • it is a life-long changeable process of development
  • the ability to navigate and negotiate strategies to cope with life
  • an inoculation against stress which ensures quality of life

The Resilience Donut is a Visual Aid to assist people of any age to take a diagnostic review of their life and ascertain areas of strength and weakness in the support structures. She has defined 7 Key Factors.

  1. Parent Factor – Resilient kids have parents that have a 50/50 balance of discipline and openness.
  2. Skill Factor – the child has skills in a particularly field that is recognised by a trusted adult.
  3. Family and Identity Factor – coming together as a family group that has positive expectations and may have come through difficult times together.
  4. Education Factor – child feels valued by teachers who connect with them.
  5. Peer Factor – not necessarily harmonious as conflict can help develop necessary skills
  6. Community Factor – adults outside the family connect in an environment of confidence and faith.
  7. Money Factor- learn to give and take

Whereas one might expect to focus on the deficits, the approach is to bolster and further develop the strengths – to look at what is actually working for the child already. Children at risk are those who have three or more factors under threat so lets look to that which is already strong and support it to be even stronger.

Cybersafety and Cyberbullying by Susan McLean

As expected, Susan McLean have us a ‘Reds Under the Bed’ presentation on the nasty, evil dangers of technology that many had apparently not heard before. For someone familiar with the territory of fear covered by media commentators, it was a great disappointment to have nothing new shared with us. It is true what she says, we are on public display when we use technology so we need to have a comprehensive curriculum that addresses cybersafety but not, in my opinion, one that solely focusses on the negative impacts of social technologies.

She shared some useful, if disturbing statistics –

  • 50% kids on America have been cyberbullied
  • compared with 30% in Australia
  • 69% of kids aged 13-19 have sent sexual images of themselves to a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • 79% in older age groups (!)

Susan presented some potentially useful strategies to protect young people online-

  1. Never be angry when a young person shares a bullying experience with you
  2. save and store the evidence
  3. delete and block bullies from friends lists
  4. never respond to a cyberbully
  5. use the report abuse button
  6. change passwords frequently
  7. have downtime away from technology altogether
  8. shoulder surf with your kids

Lastly, she suggests that parents implement five Top Tips

  1. Never allow computers, internet capable phones in the bedroom
  2. Have a ‘Family Online’ contract for all family members
  3. Have conversations about computer useage
  4. Know about the technology that is being used by all
  5. Set up Filtering software on all computers.

Susan’s voice is an important one but her fear based rhetoric, loud as it is, does not address the fundamental need to present alternative ways to connect online. Her approach is only part of the solution. The only positively worded remark she made in her presentation was this, ‘Your school must embrace cyberspace as the valuable tool it is not the problem that it may become.’ And even that is framed in the negative! So, how exactly is it a valuable tool to create connections rather than destroy them? This is, I suppose, what my Churchill Fellowship is based upon.

Conclusions

Whilst much of the conference was stimulating, challenging and occasionally disturbing, I left the day with the overall impression that the attitude of the presenters was that the best way to support and serve youth was for them to be whisked back to the past where they would obviously be much happier. There, through our discerning rose-coloured glasses, there are no bullies – it is a place of peace and joy – the supportive village atmosphere is experienced by all. Back in the magical land of ‘Then’, children had manners and knew to look you in the eye when they were speaking to you. And most important of all, there was no evil child molesting Internet lurking the the bedrooms of our precious Innocents.

With the noteable exception of Paul Dillon and Lyn Worsley, the predominant discourse was one of Fear. Ironically, Generation Next was a timewarp where the 30+ audience ‘s nostalgia for an idealised childhood (which many may never have actually experienced) was emphatically affirmed by graphs, data, irritatingly diverse Powerpoint slideshow transitions and empassioned quotes from grieving mothers. We were encouraged to pack great reams of Fear into our sample bags that were already stuffed with stress balls and pens. Yearning for security is based on a fallacy – there is no ultimate state of security because life is an intricate web of conditions that shift and change with alarming regularity. Helen Keller communicated the dangers of security far more effectively than I.

‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.’ ~ Helen Keller (1880 – 1968)

I thank the Generation Next team for presenting their view of the future… sorry, ‘A’ future where we react from fear of what might become. I prefer to select a different future, a ‘daring adventure’  in which we invest attention in building upon positive connections of today that may support a more collaborative future.

Are you willing to take the risk with me?

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