New well-being initiative launches in 2019
Excerpt from Headmaster’s 2018 prize-giving address:
From my own life experiences, most of us tend to take our health and wellbeing for granted. It is only when faced with a significant health threat, do we really realise how precious an asset we previously possessed.
In the PE and Health curriculum, we often refer to and learn about the concept of Hauora, which in Mason Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Whā model, incorporates the physical, mental and emotional, spiritual, and social aspects of wellbeing. Almost everyone in this room spends time attending to the physical aspects of wellbeing, through playing sport, running, walking, going to a gym and trying to exercise self-control and good judgement about what we eat and drink. But how many of us spend much time appropriately preparing for the mental and emotional, spiritual or social aspects of wellbeing?
We all recognise that mental health is important for the wellbeing of communities; that in current times, many of our young people are experiencing increased mental health issues – in previous prize-giving speeches, I have talked about the importance of fostering grit, resilience and gratitude in order to successfully work through challenges. Teenagers today grapple with ever more complex social, cultural and environmental conditions. There is no doubt that being 13 to 19 years old today is much harder than what it was when the adults in this room were growing up. In fact, it is hugely more complex than even when I started my tenure as Headmaster here in 2010.
In many respects, our students have a significant head start on their male counterparts in other schools, with the amazing opportunity of self-discovery that they receive in Year 10 down at our Tihoi Venture campus – a programme that places huge emphasis and actively fosters, self-reliance, independence, tolerance of others, self-confidence and belief. But we need to recognise that this is not nearly enough for our boys and needs to be replicated and enhanced in a different manner for our teenage girls when they enter at Year 11, 12 or 13.
Young people on the whole at St Paul’s Collegiate are doing pretty well when faced with the huge temptations and challenges posed by, technology and screen addition with games like Fortnight, which have been shown to have a hugely negative impact on attention and concentration on the less stimulating tasks in life; porn addition – the hidden toxin that fosters expectations that are far from reality and leads to long term arousal issues in men in their 20’s and 30’s; unhealthy social media behaviour, which creates a distorted image of what happiness looks like, as well as distasteful side-line behaviour such as electronic emotional blackmail, cyber-bullying and peer pacts; today there is also increased awareness and exposure to risk, due to instant online accessibility to information; in addition we face the huge economic, parental and societal pressure, helicoptered or bubble-wrapped children, over busy families who exchange quality regular daily time for super-charged holiday experiences, the potential risk of affluenza, on anxiety, narcissism, personal expectation and boundaries. In the last ten years, we have invented a whole new vocab, cyber predators, sexting, cyber-harassment, revenge porn, online grooming, E-mental health, blue light, teen sleep … the list goes on.
But if these then are the problems, what then are the solutions or the preventative measures we need to deliver, in order to help our young people to develop a more holistic approach, to the wellbeing challenges they will face over their lifetimes?
One of the strategies that we have initiated at St Paul’s, has been to empower and inform parents and caregivers. Currently, it is clearly evident that there is an authoritative imbalance in the relationship between many parents and their teenagers. Children in families have the upper-hand as they often seem to know more about technology. As a result, it is creating a tangible and genuine generation gap. By bringing in speakers such as Nick Kardaras (digital technology); Caroline Adams-Miller (on growing grit and resilience) and in March 2019, Paul Dillon (on drugs and alcohol), we hope to better inform parents so that they, in turn, can offer greater support for their sons and daughters.
From the start of next year, St Paul’s parents will be able to access SchoolTV through our website. An effective, online toolbox of resources, produced by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg. That aims to streamline information from leading Australasian specialists and organisations, into a single, easy to understand set of practical facts and strategies on modern day issues and challenges – a resource package which is updated ten times a year. Instead of having a significant portion of our families bemused over the challenges of parenting teenagers, we hope that by working in partnership, you will feel more knowledgeable and empowered, as new generic issues and challenges arise.
Over the past six years, we have implemented a range of school initiatives that have been aimed at strengthening student wellbeing:
- An Emotional Intelligence or EI programme, which recognised that emotions can lead to our worst decisions or our best ones, and that there are strong links between EI and successful leadership, positive relationships, academic and even sporting performance. Over the past year, our Year 9 students have taken part in a 20-week EI awareness programme, which has been reinforced at Tihoi and then built on in Year 11, with a programme focussed on the management of stress in their first year of pressure-cooker national assessment with NCEA and IGCSE.
- Through our Character Education programme delivered by our Year 12/13’s to our younger students in our mentor classes. Recognising that character traits are the invisible attributes and attitudes so valued by employers, friends and spouses in relationships outside the school gate. A purposeful exploration of what is appropriate to make a good man or good woman.
- Finally, three years ago, we implemented an extensive service programme, reinforcing the values about servant leadership, delivered in this Chapel of Christ the King. Fostering a different view on the definition of success. Encouraging a healthy balance between the individual pursuit of achievement, with an empathy for others who are less resourced for life. Enabling our students to experience the happiness that comes from doing good for others in our neighbourhood, region and who are disadvantaged, in a very confronting overseas environment.
However, we have increasingly also recognised that we need to do even more and in a greater cohesive manner to address this challenging ‘Hidden Curriculum’. To ensure our teens feel well supported, educated and empowered heading into the future; in an age-specific manner to raise their awareness and a better understanding of the issues that they may face.
To this end, we have opted next year to set aside initially a 45-minute slot each Wednesday, to raise student understanding of critical, relevant and topical issues around Hauora – physical, spiritual, social and mental and emotional wellbeing. The curriculum for these sessions will encompass the key messages on EI, Character Education and Over-the-Fence Ministry, but in addition, will also take on board learnings from Positive Psychology, discussion on current age-specific issues, as well as the understanding of key life skills around flatting, banking and credit management upon leaving home.
Happiness is a state of mind or mood. Happy teenagers are usually teenagers who are satisfied with their lives and relationships. Happiness and wellbeing, while related, aren’t necessarily the same thing. Developing a strong sense of wellbeing is an important part of being healthy, happy and getting the most from life. Wellbeing has been proven important to help teenagers manage the challenges of the developmental years. It can be a key protective factor against mental illness. At St Paul’s, we are committed to continuing reflecting on, reviewing and to strive to improve the wellbeing toolbox that we are providing for our young people in our care. With the increasing pace of technology and societal changes, faced by our youth, the wellbeing tools and strategies have to be constantly refreshed and modernised, but what is constant is the importance placed on wellbeing to allow us to feel emotions such as happiness, contentment and satisfaction as well as to effectively function and master the challenges before us.
I started this address with a focus on health and wellbeing. It seems unbelievable that in attending the IBSC Conference at Southport School this year, me and the other nine St Paul’s delegates were confronted by the unbelievable information that New Zealand is leading the world in negative statistics around the health and wellbeing of young people – especially sadly in leading other countries throughout the globe in the number of youth suicides per hundred thousand. Recent surveys reporting 9% of boys and 16% of girls showed signs of depression and 18% of boys and 29% of girls engaged in deliberate self-harm. We live in what, for many overseas visitors, seems like a paradise. We enjoy some of the best living conditions in the world. We seem to have some of the best healthcare, an amazing lifestyle, and yet, for some of us, we are so troubled that we seemingly can’t see a way out.
The adults in this room know that struggling during a lifetime is the norm. Having the odd bad day, month or even year is normal. Being unhappy sometimes is normal, but feeling like you can’t face it, is something we all need to own and to do something about. We can’t be complacent that 15-24 year olds are struggling increasingly with mental health issues – 5% five years ago, 8.8% in the period 2015/16 and an appalling 11.8% in the past year.
As a school, we want to help each of our students to develop their own personalised toolbox to manage the challenges life will undoubtedly throw at them. We want to encourage our youth to talk more openly about their feelings – something that some of our older generation weren’t so good at. I’d like to think that every young person would have someone at this school that they felt comfortable to talk to and that they view that person as safe, confidential and ready to support them if they needed it. No one in this room has to feel like they are going it alone, or that there isn’t the help, or a set of strategies out there that would make a real difference to a problem or issue, they might be dealing with.
We need to actively promote and encourage a sense of gratitude. Through active service in helping others, foster a greater focus within ourselves, on “we” rather than “me”. This sadly though won’t happen by accident. It requires purposeful teaching and learning opportunities to explore personal identity, social relationships, inter-personal skills and to take a holistic approach to wellbeing.
I really like this quote, attributed to Maya Angelou, which I think fits nicely into the theme of this address, as a parting piece of advice to our leavers:
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. Do not complain. Make every effort to change things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way that you have been thinking. You might find a new solution.”
As famous musician and song-writer Bob Dylan wrote in his 1974 song ‘Forever Young’:
May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others and let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung
May you stay – forever young
May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you know the truth and see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong
May you stay – forever young
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful and your song always be sung
May you stay – forever young
It’s my wish that the leavers will take with you the values that you have been taught, the experiences that you have shared at St Paul’s and that you will maintain a pride in your experience, to positively, reflect and evaluate yourselves and the time you spent at this very special place.