Well-being For Children’s Success at Primary School

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This article was written by Chikita Kodikal and published in the MediationWorks Magazine 2015 Spring Edition.

In most New Zealand schools, student well-being is a central requirement. The inability to secure a safe environment for students at school has a direct impact on their ability to learn. As of February 2015, The Education Review Office (ERO) devised a report that delved deep into the different avenues schools had taken in order to create a culture that promoted the well-being of not just teachers and students, but also of their whanau (family). The report also looked into the various outcomes obtained with these schools having adopted different approaches to enhance well-being and student learning.

In term 1, 2014, The Education Review Office evaluated 159 schools from years 1 to 8 in order to understand how well they ‘promoted’ and ‘responded’ to student well-being. According to the report, nearly half of these selected schools promoted and responded reasonably well, while the other eighteen per cent had a relatively better approach as compared to the former lot of schools because well-being was promoted through the curriculum. A minor proportion of the listed schools chose to espouse The Extensive Approach, which students have found ‘deeply rewarding.’

The Extensive Approach is a revolutionary method that enabled students and teachers within the school to weave student well-being into their school’s core values and goals, consequently altering the culture of the school. The schools that used this approach had students, parents and teachers, collectively, agree to a set of goals that accentuated primarily on student well-being and learning. These goals guided their actions, reviews and improvements. As a result, students found school ‘deeply rewarding’ as it not only improved their ability to learn, but also provided them with opportunities to develop leadership, self-efficacy and resourcefulness while participating with others, thus creating a ‘high trust’ culture and enhancing safety within the school. With this approach, students developed the ability to ‘take accountability for their own choices’. One of the reasons this approach worked successfully was because student leaders, alongside their teachers, were actively monitoring the well-being of students at school, while also reviewing the effectiveness of the approaches that were implemented.

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These are the desired outcomes that will materialize when schools implement all-inclusive practices with student wellbeing and student learning as the prime focus. (Source: Well-being for Children’s Success at Primary School, pg. 7)

The report devised by The Education Review Office states that there is not just one definition for ‘well-being for success.’ In fact, it assumes that young people are ‘active participants’ in not just their learning, but also in developing healthy lifestyles. The report further elaborates, ‘[a] student’s level of well-being at school is indicated by their satisfaction with life at school, their engagement with learning and their social-emotional behavior. It is enhanced when evidence-informed practices are adopted by schools in partnership with families of the students and their community. Optimal student well-being is a sustainable state, characterized by predominantly positive feelings and attitude, positive relationships at school, resilience, self-optimism and a high level of satisfaction with learning experiences.’  Adopting all-inclusive practices, such as The Extensive Approach, will materialize the desired outcomes.

It is important to understand that inclusivity plays an integral role in the mental, emotional and social well-being of a student. A sense of inclusivity is correlated to the way in which the student perceives themselves and their ability to learn inside and outside the classroom. Students want to feel accepted and valued by their peers. They also want their teachers to understand them and actively participate in their learning, while also caring for them and proving that they are trustworthy.  On a similar note, parents want their children to be happy and feel safe at school.  They want their children to be able to relate to their peers, and also develop skills that will enable them to become independent. Parents want to ensure that if in case anything goes wrong at home or school, the teacher will aid the student in generating strategies that will help solve the conflict.

The schools that were unable to ‘promote’ and ‘respond’ to student well-being effectively lacked student involvement in creating an environment that enhanced their well-being and ability to learn. According to the report, some schools did not understand the relationship between values and well-being. This was mirrored in the ‘narrow’ definition of the school’s health curriculum and the very ‘compliance based’ method in which the schools had conferred with its students and the community.  Some schools did not ensure that students and teachers acquired a shared understanding of the values. In a few cases, the principal or leadership team had established the goals and values without referring to others and they were not illustrated in the curriculum either. This lack of interaction between students, teachers and the community prevented students from not only developing their leadership abilities, but also prevented them from creating a learning network that was supported by people other than their teacher.

It is essential to keep student well-being central in order to successfully implement The New Zealand Curriculum as it has a direct impact on the student’s ability to learn inside and outside the classroom and also because it fosters students into ‘confident young people.’

If you would like to know more about well-being for primary school students, please read ‘Well-being for Children’s Success at Primary School February 2015.’ If you would like to know more about well-being for secondary school students, please read ‘Well-being for Young People’s Success at Secondary School February 2015.’

Peace Symposium 2015 with Messages to Mumbai

On 14th August, The Peace Foundation, an organization here in New Zealand, invited me to share some Words of Wisdom with students and teachers from 10 different schools based all over Auckland. Here is the guidance I shared with the students and teachers on the day:

This picture was taken by Aurelie Baulard at the Secondary Schools' Peace Symposium 2015.

This picture was taken by Aurelie Baulard at the Secondary Schools’ Peace Symposium 2015. If you would like to see the other photos Aurelie clicked on the day click here.

A few days ago, I was asked to deliver a speech for the Words of Wisdom segment of today’s event. So, on Tuesday afternoon I sat in front of a blank piece of paper, all pumped up, in the hope of writing something exceptional. Minutes turned into hours and hours turned into days, but that piece of paper remained blank. It was precisely 2am this morning when I cursed myself for having accepted this offer for it had made me think – What could I, a 21 year old university student, share that would make me sound wise? Then it occurred to me – why not talk about being a teenager. I don’t know if it will make me sound wise, but at least I will have something to say.

Adolescence is one heck of a wacky ride. Trust me, I know. I have been there. During this phase of life, there will be times where your fear of failure will drive you more than your desire to succeed. There will be times when you feel the need to become someone else – someone perhaps of superior intellect, or an exquisite figure, or in my case someone who talks a little less – in order to feel accepted and appreciated. There will also be times when you feel lost, confused and maybe even hopeless.

As you grow older, you will find that the boundary between right and wrong is becoming relatively more transparent. What appears to be right is not always right and what appears to be wrong is not always wrong given the situation, of course. You will also notice that change is the only constant. But with change comes a certain degree of resistance. If you are a night bird like me, the act of waking up in the morning comes with a certain degree of resistance.

Know that no matter what kind of twists and turns your life takes, you always have a choice. You have a choice when it comes to what you think, what you say and what you do. You have a choice to react in a constructive manner or react in a destructive manner. YOU ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE. And those choices will shape your reality. Sometimes it is important to hear that, even if it is from a 21 year old university student.

After participating in today’s event, you may (or may not) feel compelled to ignore the stereotypes and/or avoid trying to fit within the walls that society creates for you. Living your life authentically – so as to match your infinite potential – is most probably the only way to live a life without regret because it guarantees a degree of inner peace. Peace is not what exists on the outside; it is what radiates from within. It is empowering and, for some of you, perhaps even daunting to know that you are able to impact people’s lives simply by existing.

I would now like to end my not-so-short speech with a quote by a Greek philosopher named Plutarch – “What we achieve inwardly will change outward reality.”

Candid Chat 2015 (Mid-Year Edition)

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I normally upload these types of posts at the end of every year. But this year I have learnt so much that I feel the need to upload one now, before this blog post turns into a novel.

  1. “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”Aristotle

This year started off on a very bad note for me. The details of that account I shall keep to myself. Honestly, life felt like a series of (unwanted) things happening to me. I wasn’t in control and I most definitely wasn’t happy about it. Happiness is such a crucial part of our lives. I feel like a lot of the things we do in life is to ensure the happiness of oneself, and at times, others even. If we are not happy in our current job, we would seek another one. If one is not happy in a relationship, he/she either tries to restores it to its former glory or lets it go. Everyone, without exception, strives to be happy. But, we tend to forget one thing as we intertwine ourselves with life’s daily grind – Happiness is not a destination. Happiness was once just a state of being, however, now a lot of us (myself included) equate it with commodities, situations and/or people. And that is the same with other emotions such as anger and frustration. As Brene Brown states, ‘blame is a way to discharge pain.’ To that I would like to add, blaming others for the misery that has besieged our lives is the easiest way to escape taking accountability for our own actions. Taking accountability for our own actions is the best way to regain control in and of our lives. (Side note: What happens is when we are stuck in certain circumstances we expect the other person to change – he/she to take the first step. The reality is: we would be waiting all our lives for that person to change and there is no guarantee whether he/she will or not.) Happiness should come from within. When you are truly happy with who you are and what you have become are you able to radiate that feeling of absolute happiness to others.

  1. “Take the highroad, there is less traffic there.”Dr Phil

Throughout the course of this year, I found myself in absolutely undesirable situations; consulting people whom I otherwise would not have wanted to have any interaction with. We all, at some point in our lives, will find ourselves in situations like that where we feel unheard, disrespected and at times even humiliated. And at times like those, I have learnt (correction: am learning) to take the highroad. In an ideal situation, I would love to control what others think, say and do, especially if I am on the receiving end of it all. But I know well enough that I cannot do that. What I can do, however, is stay in control of my thoughts, words and actions. How the other person behaves is a reflection of him/her, on the other hand, how I respond to that behaviour is a reflection of me. This is not to say that you should not address the issue. By all means, please do. Address the issue, with the person concerned, in the most appropriate manner where both individuals come out as winners.

  1. “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” Henry Winkler “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw, Leadership Skills for Managers

Sometimes, we underestimate the power of effective communication (and effective listening). Firstly, it is really important for us to understand that while we all have a right to freedom of speech, we also have a responsibility to freedom of speech. Every right comes with a responsibility. We have to realize that our thoughts, speech and actions have an impact (be it positive or negative) on not only ourselves, but also others. In the last few days, I have really understood how situations can take a turn for the worse if it has not been addressed in an appropriate manner with the person or people concerned.

To be honest, I have had those days where I am not able to confront the individual and let him/her know how his/her words and/or actions has inconvenienced me/caused me a great deal of pain. And that, to be frank, has landed me into a lot of trouble. I had found myself internalizing a lot of those emotions that later strained not only the relationships that I had with others, but also the relationship that I had with myself. I also found myself painting everyone with the same brush. Person X hurt me in the past, I am sure Person Y will do the same.

I found myself in a situation not too long ago that made me realize that the delivery (how you communicate or method of communication) of the message is important if not MORE important than the actual message (what you communicate) itself. If you want people to hear you, furthermore, if you want people to understand you, you have to deliver your message in a manner that is respectful and polite, yet firm and clear. Respect, after all, is a two way street. Ultimately, we all want to feel accepted and appreciated (for who we are) and that is not possible if our individual needs are not met or if we feel unheard, disrespected or even humiliated.

In a case where you feel disrespected, it is good to just have a chat with that person to let him/her know about what you are feeling/thinking. Simply assuming that he/she knows already and does not want to rectify his/her mistake is most definitely a big problem.

  1. “Chang-an writes, “If one befriends another person but lacks the mercy to correct him, one is in fact his enemy.” The consequences of a grave offense are extremely difficult to erase. The most important thing is to continually strengthen our wish to benefit others.”Nichiren Daishonin

I have no issues with people correcting me in a constructive manner. I really do not. In fact, I would expect my family and friends to point me in the right direction if I have gone astray. And I sincerely appreciate all those who do because it takes an immense amount of courage speak out.

  1. “Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.” Heath L. Buckmaster, Box of Hair: A Fairy Tale 

I am by nature a talkative and opinionated young woman. And unfortunately, these characteristics are not always widely appreciated in the society I live in (even more so if these qualities exist in a young woman). In my teenage years, I was severely picked on for having these qualities. So much so that I absolutely hated having to talk to people or voice my opinions. But these are the same qualities that helped me change my life around. Today, I am not only invited by individuals/organizations/schools and universities to talk about issues such as bullying and gender inequality, but also called to host events. Through my speeches and because of my opinions I am not only able to form strong connections with people from all walks of life, but also actively change a situation that is often times seen as vexatious. This would have never happened if I had not embraced who I am. Hence why, today, I am unfazed by comments that seemingly attack those qualities of mine. Furthermore, I learnt never to be apologetic for being you. You can apologize for unintentionally inconveniencing someone or doing something inappropriate, but you should never have to apologize for being who you are.

  1. “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”Phil Collins

Yesterday, I was invited to a primary school here in Auckland, New Zealand to conduct a workshop with the students. Mind you, these students are between the ages of 8 to 10. There is so much you can learn from having a one-on-one interaction with them. What an awe-inspiring experience! I am always told that I should become a teacher because I work well with kids. Personally, I believe that to be able to teach (and likewise, to be able to learn) is such an important skill to have. Teaching, in my opinion, is not just a name of a profession; in a way, it is a way of life. When you are in a situation where you do not know something and want to learn it, you become the student. When you are in a situation where you know something and need to teach it, you become the teacher.

I have been to a few schools this year and unfortunately I almost always hear at least one student say: “I am bad at this” or “I am dumb.” It breaks my heart to know that these kids have so much potential and they do not even know it. Unfortunately, our society and education system programs children to avoid, and furthermore be afraid of making mistakes and/or failing. What these kids (and adults) do not know is that when you stop making mistakes, you stop learning. We all make mistakes and learn from them. That is the beauty of making mistakes. People carry this false idea of success being a straight road. It is only when you truly embrace failure and rejection that you are able to create a springboard to success.

Well, that is all for now. Have a great rest of the year, everyone!

For Candid Chat 2014 click here

For Candid Chat 2013 click here

Remembering The Great War: Terror in the Trenches

Picture From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery/07/magazine_faces_of_battle/img/3.jpg

The mass warfare exerted during the First World War is documented as the epitome of medical, psychological and technological innovation at the cost of tumultuous bloodshed. During this time, the combatants underwent excessive mental trauma as a result of the conditions in which they were made to live in. The degree to which their treatment was performed depended heavily upon the attitude of not only the doctors, but also the military and the government, as a result not only affecting the soldiers, but also the entire nation.

The soldiers that participated in the Great War were familiar of the physical dangers that came along side combat and trench warfare, however most of them were oblivious to the mental effects that are spawned during a state of war. Shell shock was one such psychological disorder that originated during the time of war. This disorder primarily aroused as a result of the shell blasts and ‘intense artillery battles that were fought along the muddy trenches causing neurotic cracks to appear in otherwise mentally stable soldiers’. Furthermore, the burden of having to survive under filthy and inhumane circumstances (blood and fecal matter besieged the trenches during World War One) in the trenches coupled with the soldier’s inability to obtain adequate rest dehumanized them, not so much in the ‘mechanical’ or ‘industrialized’ sense as much as its ‘primitive’ features. As a consequence, life in the trenches was demarcated, thus redefining not only the physical, but also the mental boundaries for the men living in it. Soldiers were made to witness their fellow comrades being mutilated and in worse cases, slaughtered causing them to undergo severe shock. Those that later survived the horrors of The Great War were plagued with survivor’s guilt syndrome. As a result of the exposure to such traumatising events, the mind and the body is unable to work cohesively, therefore, restricting a soldier’s ability to fight effectively, whether it is in the offensive or defensive, thus influencing the army’s dexterity to defeat the enemy in battle.

Shell shock drastically diminished the will power in a soldier causing him to descend into a state of depression, consequently, influencing him to resort to self-medication. W. H. R. Rivers, a notable British neurologist and psychiatrist, asserted that it was a natural tendency for soldiers that suffered from shell shock to apply a technique called ‘repression’, wherein they would ‘thrust aside the painful memories of war as if they were avoiding a dangerous or horrible event’ altogether. The soldiers strongly believed that all the distressing memories of war would cease to exist if they applied this method, enabling their mind and body to function normally. However, this treatment did exactly the opposite. The symptoms of shell shock were triggered and exacerbated when the soldier was placed in a situation even remotely similar to that of the war. Rivers claimed that ‘repression may take an active part in the maintenance of war neurosis,’ directly affecting the morale of a soldier. The men at war also were able to vent out their frustrations and fears by writing poems and memoirs enabling them to better cope with their trauma through artistic expression without being accused of being effeminate. The third, and most common, technique soldiers ultimately resorted to self-inflicting wounds by shooting themselves in either their hand or foot. The purpose of this was to escape from the trauma caused by excessive violence during wartime. However, according to the military, this was regarded as a grave offense. The punishment for this offense was death – ‘cowardice shooting’.

Military norms had established a relationship between cowardice and shell shock. The term ‘coward’ was often used to describe the men who were incapable of hiding their fears while at the front, despite their attempts to do so. Exhibiting fear, especially during war, was regarded as a sign of ‘mental and moral infirmity and “pathologised” as a potential symptom of psychological instability’. Fear was primarily aggravated by ‘immobility,’ as opposed to intensive combat, as long hours in the trenches, particularly under bombardment, gave men a chance to ponder over their future. Fear was regarded as the principal reason for both cowardice and shell shock. Hence, at the time, the military had claimed cowardice to essentially be a ‘failure of character’. According to certain military ideologies, the men participating in The Great War were to regard it as an ‘invigorating male experience’ that would revive and even ‘re-masculinize’ them (a man’s virility, along with his patriotism, could only be vindicated by his ability to control his emotions by suppressing the need to express fear or distress. A man who fell victim to shell shock was regarded as feminine, as he was not in complete control of his emotions), while simultaneously reconstructing a deteriorating society. Soldiers were obligated by the military to reinstate their masculinity by abiding by ‘old male codes of honour and military virtues such as personal courage and heroism, but the war laid courage, heroism, honour and masculinity to waste’. Interestingly enough, the 2nd September 1922 issue of ‘The Times’ professed that the ‘members of the shell shock committee had failed to clearly define cowardice’, therefore, it could never have been identified whether those who were subjected to ‘cowardice shooting’ were genuinely a victim of shell shock or not.

Picture of Sigmund Freud Picture From: https://jl10ll.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/freud.jpg

Doctors struggled to understand the role of war with regards to war neurosis; as a result they formulated several theories that could have been potential solutions for this conundrum. Majority of the doctors claimed such cases to be fraudulent. In an attempt to prevent wartime ‘malingering,’ (the idea that soldiers were pretending to be a victim of war neurosis, when in actuality they were just faking their symptoms) the military authorities proclaimed that doctors should view all cases of shell shock with suspicion; consequently ‘punishments were thinly disguised as treatments’. By providing treatments such as electric shocks doctors were able to single out the men that were bluffing. Similarly, Joseph Babinski, a French neurologist, claimed that shell shock developed from ‘false suggestions implanted in the minds of patients’ as opposed to ‘organic lesions,’ therefore it could not have affected the nervous system. Babinski claimed the appropriate form of treatment was for an ‘authoritarian doctor’ to make ‘strong counter suggestions’ in order for the shell shock symptoms to disappear. Paul Sollier, a French psychologist, considered shell shock to be a ‘psychological disturbance of the brain’ that could be cured by ‘awakening the brain from its somnolence while the patient is in isolation.’ Although Sollier’s premise was different to that of Babinski’s, he too endorsed the use of an authoritative attitude in order to ensure the quick recovery of a patient. Interestingly enough, several doctors were influenced by Ernest Dupré’s idea of “mythomaniac” personality types. He asserted that shell shock victims were essentially ‘wilful liars.’ Compulsive lying, in his opinion, was an inherited trait that is deeply embedded in the personalities of those types of men. In contrast to these theories, Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist, claimed that the foundations of war neurosis is located in ‘unconscious psychological conflicts.’ He asserted that shell shock was the product of ‘one’s ego protecting himself from both the physical dangers of war as well as the danger of psychological disintegration.’ Although this was a revolutionary idea, it was highly unpopular especially amongst the French doctors. Freud had argued that most neurotic men were merely ‘succumbing to the irresistible forces of their unconscious mind,’ for this reason treatment via the use of electrical shocks would not provide a permanent solution. French Doctors rejected Freud’s assessment primarily because it contested ‘malingering’, hence disregarding man’s ability to fake the symptoms.

However, providing treatment for the victims of shell shock meant that war neurosis was an acknowledged problem. There were institutions set up for shell shock patients ‘with programs of marching, indoor recreation, outdoor games and manual occupations’. Its purpose was to get the soldiers to relax and strengthen their bodies in order to return to the front later. Naturally, many men favoured these activities over fighting in the trenches causing the depots to become congested quickly. The drastic increase in shell shock patients was reducing manpower on the front; therefore treatment was the only way of rebuilding the troops.

Some regarded the First World War as an opportunity for the nation to overcome its perceived enervations by ‘culling the weak and degenerate,’ leaving only the strong to survive. Therefore, those who were weak and unmanly – the victims of shell shock – would be expelled from society, either by the means of war or ‘cowardice shooting,’ as an attempt to cleanse the nation from its ‘malingers.’ The Social Darwinism Theory claimed that nature, as well as societies, regulated according to survival of the fittest regime. The War Office Committee members in Britain did not operate any differently. They were mostly of the conservative cast from the middle and upper strata of the society. During the war, majority of them held influential positions in the government or military. They reflected the ideals of the eugenics movement and racial degeneration. It was anticipated that the nation would revive and flourish by expelling the so-called malingers, instead the war brought to light its hidden defects. Those who did not fall victim to the atrocities of war or the cowardice shooting were left physically and psychologically disabled. For this reason, their inability to work compelled them to remain unproductive members of society surviving, majority of the time, only on state pensions.  

Shell Shock was essentially a ‘bodily protest against the war’ to which the doctors did not have much understanding about. Majority of the treatments and theories that were devised was tainted by the idea that shell shock was not an organic injury, but instead a form of ‘malingering.’ The sudden incline in shell-shocked soldiers was reducing manpower on the battlefront; therefore treatment was the only way of rebuild the troops. It could be deemed that shell shock was unsuccessfully addressed by health professionals as the nation, post-war, was funding those who were once productive members of society.

Quotes of the Day

Picture From: http://www.pxleyes.com/images/contests/ko-ps-tournament/fullsize/A-Light-In-Darkness-4f71b632b0f70_hires.jpg

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt, This is My Story 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

– Martin Luther King, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

The Auckland International Cultural Festival

The Auckland International Cultural Festival, proudly sponsored by Auckland City Council, came back with a big bang for its 16th year. This free one day event was an extravagant cultural hub that featured everything from international music to Gaelic football.

With more than 55 cultures represented, all the attendees were able to celebrate diversity in Auckland together. The arena was filled with food stalls containing cuisines from all over the globe. Aucklanders had the opportunity to indulge in some mouth watering culinary delights such as Argentinean Empanadas, Japanese castellas, Spanish Paellas, Indian Samosas, Hungarian Gundel Palacsinta and much more.

The day was coloured with international music and vibrant dance performances prompting the audience to get up on their feet. The music and performances were from countries such as Indonesia, France, Thailand, Ethiopia among many others.

Sports lovers also got their own domain where they were given the opportunity to play fun, interactive games such as Gaelic football, softball, kabaddi or curling. At about mid-day, there was a Cultural Football Tournament that aroused a lot of enthusiasm and conviviality.

Here are some pictures from my time at The Auckland International Cultural Festival. To check out some of the videos of the performances head over to the Messages to Mumbai Facebook Page. 

These photographs were taken by Chikita Kodikal. If you would like to seek permission to use these photos you can send a message by clicking on the contact Messages to Mumbai tab. Messages to Mumbai logo designed by Vidyut and Chikita Kodikal.

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