‘It’s about everybody feeling included in the community, because we know that the most important factor in a student’s wellbeing journey is the wellbeing of the parents. We cannot ignore that fact. Like that is so important. So that’s where I think schools have the opportunity to be a community of learning where they can provide learning, not just for the students but for parents and for the teachers, for everybody to continue to learn and grow.’
Meg Durham is a wellness speaker, educator and coach. She is known for bringing out the best in others. She is an expert in the area of wellbeing education and wellbeing coaching. Meg has a unique skill set that she has developed from working in a variety of teaching roles across Australia and now heads Open Minded Education.
It was inevitable that Meg Durham would become a teacher. Being the youngest of four children, and because she was the baby, the golden child, she played a lot of schools growing up. This led to a genuine love of educating and her dream of being a real teacher came true. But as Meg explains, nothing can prepare you for that first week of your first job as a teacher. The intensity of school was way bigger than she ever expected so her mission now is to focus on student, teacher and parent wellbeing.
Dealing with the number of issues that pop up that you have never come up against before was hugely confronting. The job is so big, and the problem is there is no preparation for the human element of being a teacher.
Meg said she was prepared with the academic content as a science and PE teacher but was not taught how to deal with the human content, with young people’s lives, parents who are breaking and crying, going through transitions of separation or colleagues going through their own issues. It is incredibly hard to teach, and learn, with these challenges.
This rather confronting introduction to teacher life forced Meg to believe there had to be a better way. Surely there were skills and strategies she could learn. She was so frustrated she decided to go on and study her Masters in Student Wellbeing. She realised how much more there was for teachers, parents and students to live well.
An interesting point Meg makes is that school has not necessarily served everyone she knows. Some of the people she looks up to the most are in fact school drop-outs. This got her even more curious to understand the layers and complexities of school. Everybody’s experience is so different.
Being a rural girl, she looks at schools in much the same way she looks at farms where the weather and soil effect everything. In context, if the school is the farm, leadership is the weather and staff are the soil, then this is what creates the kind of environment for the students. The student will then have the opportunity to thrive, or not, based on this environment.
Every school and every classroom is so different and yet Meg believes there is still a lot of work to be done in the wellbeing space. Schools are not there to just give out information. We have come from the origin where the teacher was the font of all knowledge. There was no internet or You Tube. Teachers had the information and students had to listen. And if students didn’t listen there was a physical punishment. It was very much a power over model.
We have come so far in many ways, but we still need to honour the human element, give students power, walk with them in a shared learning experience and get the work done that needs to be done.
One of the silver linings of covid is the idea around student wellbeing. How to help students with their life at school and outside of school is becoming more and more important.
A school is a system and every human in that system has an impact which creates a ripple effect. The Principal’s impact can be huge. It can be incredible or detrimental depending on their leadership ability. Meg believes true leadership needs to be led with the head and heart not just the head and when students are feeling well, they respond so much better. The best Principals have the biggest and best impact.
The greatest schools create a great community too. Parents working with teachers, teachers working with leadership instead of us versus them. Everyone in the community needs to feel a part of this community. Schools have the opportunity to be a community of learning.
Dynamics have really caused disruption in the system, but it is important to note everyone is doing the best they can in that moment. When this happens, we need to get curious around why that behaviour is being shown whether it is the student, parent or teacher. It is part of human nature.
If we can get to the point where we can acknowledge, accept and show compassion to each other then, that will be a good thing. We have to remember we are all on the same team, all there for the benefits of young people, to educate the future to create a future, to prepare these young people for life. We are not there to protect them from life, we are there to prepare them for life.
The 5 P’s For Preparation For Life
We talk about how to prepare our students to be better, by acknowledging we ourselves need to be better parents. It starts with how parents are taking care of themselves. Living the way they want their children to live their lives and not sacrificing their needs, desires and wants in order to just serve them.
When they do, children look to their parents and don’t want to be adults. They don’t want that life and question why they would want that? Parents need to take care, get to know and honour themselves… this is key. Parents need to be the role model.
To stay on top of this everything comes back to the Battery strategy. Depending on the answers to these 5 questions will highlight how you are feeling, functioning and relating on any given day.
In the last 24 hours answer these questions:
1. Have you had enough sleep?
2. Have you moved your body?
3. Have you nourished your body?
4. Had some rest?
5. Had some form of connection?
The battery is vital. If we want to prepare our young people for life, we need to take care of ourselves better and show them how to recharge the battery daily and live well with amazing energy.
A lot of the things we do that are good for us require that energy and we need to take care of ourselves so we can move through the pleasures and discomforts of life.
If we can get young people feeling good and energetic and hopeful about the future their world literally opens up. Meg believes it is important to charge your energy so you can charge your life and your children’s.
Meg runs ‘Mind Fit’ and ‘Thrive By Design’ Programs for teachers and parents which are available here for more information: https://openmindeducation.com/#services
Supporting parents means normalising the struggle, realising that no one is perfect. Parenting is so hard, there are brutal moments. Meg believes it is important for parents to connect, share, laugh and learn together too.
We talk about the kids who are struggling at school. Meg says trauma informed behaviour is a message that these kids are more likely feeling the effects of being:
– Things are not working out for them
– They cannot sit in a classroom
– Find it hard to even get to school
– Their resting heart rate is 120 not the normal 70.
– Have anxiety
– Struggle with perfectionism
– Have eating disorders
Kids need to feel connected to their body and notice when they are stressed and also when they are calm. Bringing these physical elements together with the wellbeing space helps these beautiful kids to have the opportunity to heal, learn and thrive.
Meg states there is no school without issues. If we can work in a way that supports our young people, then it will be a whole lot better. It is important to build the trust and believe in them with unconditional positive regard, that they, as a human, are ok and worthy and loveable.
The impact of teachers themselves is profound. But there are a lot of teachers questioning if they can keep going, handle the intensity, adapt with covid and manage feeling the pressure. There are a whole cohort of teachers questioning if this is really for them which is really sad according to Meg.
She says there are 3 pillars to continue taking the Wellbeing steps:
A good teacher is always available. Teachers who are energised have clarity and vision. We can build a community of energised educators that change lives.
On the topic of home schooling it has been proven our youngest students do well at home, however our adolescence are not designed to be in small spaces with adults. During Covid our teens have had their wings clipped and there is going to be an amazing adjustment as we navigate our way out of this. There will be a rapid catch up and it is important we are open to what to do.
We have to question if this is indeed the right thing for us to consider. We need to ask if this is going to work for the parents. If it doesn’t work for the parents, it will not work for the children. Is it financially possible to home school? This is why the school system, regardless of its challenges, allows parents to work if they choose. You just need to ask the question… can you home school in a way that serves everybody?
Meg’s definition of Self Love is knowing it is a process of getting to know yourself, accepting yourself – who you were, who you are and who you are becoming – and appreciating yourself. Your love is not determined by what you produce or get done on your to-do list. It starts with liking yourself. Honour yourself, care for yourself, listen to the whispers and honour them. It sounds easy… regard yourself, respect yourself, take care of yourself… and yet it can be really hard and complex especially when marinating in a system and culture that to love yourself is arrogant. We have to move beyond that.
We openly discuss the huge topic of technology and social media. No one is immune to the pull of technology. There are parts that are beautiful with connection and openness and seeing different people in the world. In previous generations you only saw what you saw. However, the challenges of comparison and not being good enough can be incredibly difficult to understand for anyone let alone young people.
Brene Brown talks about the difference between fitting in and belonging.
There are strengths and challenges, but it is more around the how, when and why they are using technology that should be addressed. It is also most challenging when we as parents are exhausted and depleted.
Technology feels good in the moment, explains Meg, but it’s a bit like sugar, you feel the urge and crave the temporary buzz. And then the drop is much the same as a sugar fix. Start to notice out of all your technology what is the trigger? Is it your emails? For kids it could be Tik Tok? Technology is part of the attention economy. In order to reclaim our own attention we need to get back to the basics, and recharge the battery, doing the best with what we’ve got and role modelling the behaviour we prefer.
Technology also takes us away from meaningful connection and what we need to do. Become more mindful of your own use of technology.
We go back to the conversation around how we punished in school in decades gone by. It was acceptable to hit children, it was the norm. But we have learned now it is not helpful, it is really corrosive to relationships, and relationships are the foundation of learning. Physical punishment is not the answer.
When young people behave inappropriately, we as adults and teachers can all get into the soup of fear and shut it down. There are some who just fall apart and please their way out of it too. Neither serve anyone.
To get the best out of young people it is having that firmness with boundaries but also that kindness, that you are human. Addressing the behaviour without disrupting the relationship takes practice.
We talk about vulnerability and open-hearted conversations and how we can do so much better when we are authentic and show up the best way we can. We talk about male teachers and the wellbeing space for both male and female teachers who have such a high emotional labour.
We also talk about homework… that everlasting bug bear for so many students and parents!
Meg’s final message is to keep listening to the whispers, your body and heart knows what it yearns for, take courageous action. Keep showing up. Greatness requires consistency. Consistency requires courage.
Her favourite quote is: If it is meant to be it is up to me.
Links to follow Meg:
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/meg-durham/
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