One of the core aims of our Personal and Social Education (PSE) programme in Middle School is to help students identify, celebrate and manage the many personal and social challenges they face while at school and in the future. Our developmental PSE curriculum, delivered through weekly Life Skills classes and tutor group sessions, deals with real life issues that affect students. It engages with the values, experience, attitudes and emotions which students bring to their learning, together with their knowledge and understanding. Because of this, it is often said that PSE starts where the children are. Young people need to be emotionally and socially healthy if they are to be able to learn.
In Term 2, we were fortunate to have two of the leading experts on adolescence from Australia work with our Grade 7 students. Dannielle Miller spent a morning with the Grade 7 girls, while Michael Carr-Gregg worked with the Grade 7 boys. Their sessions complemented the workshops they delivered to Middle School teachers and parents during the accompanying Middle School Conference in mid-April at the Centre for International Education.
Has your Grade 7 son been asking for blueberries after Michael’s talk? Michael covered the Pieces of Life Advice You Need to Get Through School with the boys. In his very entertaining manner, he explained how the brain works and listed some key ‘brain foods.’ He also looked at what happens when we sleep, and parents will be pleased to hear that one of the key take-away messages reported by the boys was that the average teenager needs 8¼ hours sleep.
The greatest impact, however, was his message about resilience and the importance of positive thinking. Feedback from the boys reflects this:
“I thought the most important advice was about staying happy and thinking about things the way you want. This is because unfortunate events are going to occur in your life so you need to know how to deal with them.”
“I think that the ‘if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it’ advice was the most important because even if you experience a devastating thing, carrying on is really crucial.”
“Look at the world as it is, but focus on the good bits. I find this the most important because you can choose whether to be happy or not.”
Dannielle Miller covered three themes with the Grade 7 girls:
Forever Friends—Research tells us that friends are more important to teenagers than their parents or teachers. How do we make friends? Who should we make friends with? How should friendships be maintained? How do we decide if a friendship is helping or harming us? This workshop addressed these issues and equipped the girls with the necessary skills to make safe, important decisions about their friendships.
Love the Skin You’re in—Negative stereotyping, sexism, media images, the fixation on being thin—these are all issues today’s girls are facing. In this workshop, the girls were encouraged to consider and evaluate more critically the messages that bombard them every day and develop strategies that help them respond intelligently and objectively.
Chill Out—Relaxation, visualisation techniques, massage and more. Learning how to manage stress effectively is essential for our modern lives. Relying on crutches like alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or other unhealthy behaviours is destructive and wasteful. In this workshop, the girls were encouraged to seek balance in their lives and learned some skills to achieve it. They also explored skills to help them cope with exam and assessment pressure to help enhance performance.
Some of the girls responses afterwards:
“Forever Friends was the best part because it made me feel really good and special. I learnt that we need to trust each other, to be happy with who we are and everyone is beautiful inside and out.”
“My favourite part of today was exchanging comments because it was a good way to tell someone to believe in themselves. I learnt to respect myself; we don’t need to be a model to be pretty, we need to believe in ourselves, and that real beauty is on the inside.”
“Forever Friends was my favourite part of today because I could see what I mean to others. I learnt about being myself, to love myself, to be confident, be assertive not aggressive and that a little insult can affect a person very strongly.”
“I liked Chill Out because it really helped me to relax and get ‘unstressed’—thank you! I learnt that models’ photos get Photoshopped a lot, that there are a lot of ways to relax and don’t be mean to yourself. It was awesome and funny!”
“I liked the part where we went into more detail about how the media is fake and how we should think better of ourselves. I learnt to just be me, not to get pressured to look perfect, to be real and to stay true.”
Both Danni and Michael told the students that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit, and Danni gave the girls a wristband to wear to remind them of the key messages. When 21 days had passed, we held a special non-uniform day for Grade 7 and revisited the content and impact of the workshops. Did they really have an effect on the students? Had they changed any of their habits? The overwhelming feedback from both girls and boys showed they had taken away the core messages, and they were using them on many occasions.
Powerful personal and social education indeed!
Vice Principal – Pastoral
Middle School, Dover Campus