Expert Strategies to Grow Resilience and Well-Being
Our CEO, Dr. Mollie Marti, recently represented the National Resilience Institute at The Ultimate Wellbeing in Education Conference (#IPENWellBeingEd) in London. In this blog, she shares key takeaways. A future blog will share highlights from the keynote speaker, Dr. Martin Seligman, a researcher whose body of work includes learned optimism and positive psychology.
The event focused on creating positive school environments that support unique expression in young people and use elements of positive psychology to grow resilience and wellbeing. In a time when a growing number of our young people report mental health issues, including suicide ideation, this is an important conversation to be fostering.
At the same time, the event provided lessons in how to make more of our own lives. As host, Sir Anthony Seldon of International Positive Education Network, reminded us throughout the day, “We are the difference.”
Here are some key points that reflect my integration of information and links to some speakers in case you want to learn more about their work.
“You cannot improve anyone else’s well-being without nurturing your own.” ~Bryony Gordon. In a powerful moment that brought home that wellness requires acceptance of and care for self, a journalist known for first interviewing Prince Harry about the topic of mental health communicated via letter that she chose not to attend the event in care of her own mental health. She shared that the worst lesson of her youth was a belief that mental health is a destination, rather than it waxing and waning, just like our physical health. She said that the irony and beauty in choosing self-care over presenting as scheduled reflected her greatest lesson: embrace your flaws and frailties because they are part of you — and part of every single person – and they make us human. Be present for yourself and ask for help when needed.
“Learning is deeply affected by well-being.” ~Gilda Scarfe, Positive Action. We can teach skills that support people to be healthy, cope well, make good decisions and use an external perspective to process setbacks. When we prioritize well-being as part of our education system by imbedding it in curriculum and in cultural change, we grow a resource to draw upon to persevere in the hard times and to thrive in the good times.
“The aim of leadership is to enable those around us to flourish and to live joyous, fulfilled lives. In other words, to be happy.” ~Mike Buchanan, Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference. Leadership is about understanding people and building trust, not flexing muscles. If we don’t understand that leadership rests on a foundation of being selfless, we can undermine everything we are trying to achieve.
“When we honestly connect with the needs, emotions, passions and goals of each young person, we can create an environment in which all kids can thrive.” ~Ammar Khan, YouHue. Consistent with our research on American students, You Hue reported that in addition to mental health issues, one-half of UK youth don’t feel teachers care about them and one-third don’t feel comfortable asking questions in class. The path forward? Provide a safe place; give opportunities for students to pause, reflect and do a self-check in; build a common vocabulary of resilience and well-being; remind youth that we care; and be consistent.
“When we’re having fun, we learn better.” ~Stephanie Davies, Laughology. The point isn’t that we shouldn’t be sad or should chase happiness. Rather, humor, happiness and laughter are tools that can increase memory and retention. She led us in a brilliant exercise that integrated structure and humor to enable us to easily recall 10 random items. My biggest takeaway: Most of us don’t have a memory problem; we have a problem with how we are using our brain to learn and recall information.
“To help all children, we must have a window into the most vulnerable children.” ~Richard Crellin, The Children’s Society. This presentation, closely aligned with our work in adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), addressed the complicated issue of childhood trauma. Traditional measurements include low wellbeing, high depression and emotional and behavioral symptoms, with questions like, “In the past year, have you purposefully hurt yourself in any way?” Richard inspired me to review the measurements we use in the field with research indicating that one question best predicts the young people who need help: How happy are you with life as a whole? With research showing that 89% of young people have high well-being, there is great possibility in simple measurements that can focus interventions on the small percent who report a lack of happiness. Can we really go beyond cumbersome, negatively phrased survey questions to get to the core of mental health issues with a question about perceptions of happiness? It is worth serious consideration. Check out The Good Childhood Report 2018.
“A leader doesn’t claim to have all of the answers, but rather plays a part of the solution.” ~Lucy Bailey, Bounce Forward. Champion for our resourceful young people by not claiming to have all of the answers and allowing space for students to be part of the solution. Focus on helping young people create authentic connections and listen to the voice within that says, “this person fills me up, doesn’t drain me and I trust them.”
“If we can learn how to treat ourselves as we treat others, we will be happier.” ~Dr. Mark Williamson. Action for Happiness. We cannot effectively lead others toward well-being if we don’t prioritize it and model it for others, and this includes practicing self-compassion. Check out these free monthly theme calendars that provide simple daily actions to help you behave your way to greater well-being.
“I never lose – I either win or learn.” ~Luke Rees, Step Up to Serve. Luke courageously shared his journey from a disengaged student planning suicide to a young leader on fire to help others through a path of volunteering. Importantly, the event included many voices of those with lived experience, including author Rachel Kelly, who used nutrition to manage her anxiety and depression. Performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company further enhanced the event by bringing to life the healing power of the arts.
“Education reform is about human dignity.” ~Geoff Barton, General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders. I’m actually not certain that this is a direct quote or that those words were resounding from my core as I listened to Geoff. Either way, it ended up in caps on my note page. Geoff drove home that we adults must lead the way to help young people thrive by teaching them that their value is not measured by “likes” on social media but by their intrinsic value. Let us stop using standard assessments to judge students, teachers and schools… and turn toward our human dignity, one essential piece of which is learning. We need to reclaim our sense that the arts, creativity and teamwork are our birthright. They are central to who we are.
This IPEN conference made clear that positive education is a key path for children to escape negative or limiting life circumstances. Together, we can unleash the power of education to serve young people beyond their experiences. Along the way, do not take your own learning for granted. Be protective of it. Celebrate it. Set your own standards rather than answer to the limitations or judgments of others. Creativity, arts and self-expression are a means to happiness, resilience and mental health – and essential to a life well lived.
I hope these learnings encourage you to think in both/and rather than either/or terms. With growing research showing that resilience and well-being curriculums increase academic performance, we do not need to choose between the arts and desired outcomes. Organizations, from schools to large corporations, can integrate the richness of arts into an environment of well-being and have high performance. The key is to support people in expressing their unique selves rather than to expect them to say and do certain things.
“This is a conversation about how to get government and metrics to focus on what it means to be a good human being and serve other human beings.” ~Sir Anthony Seldon. This process will require us to create a new narrative, do a better job of telling the story by highlighting organizations that are doing it right and mobilizing taxpayers who demand better for our children.
And a final word from Sir Anthony on the power of collaboration: “The more we can support each other and work together, the better our world will be.”