Category Archives: Happiness

The Power of Telling Our Stories

I was thirty-eight years old when I first visited San Francisco.

Walking against the evening rush-hour we came to rest at a bookstore; my partner Mike submerged himself in historical texts, but my gaze was caught by an untidy pile marked ‘young readers.’

I uncovered a book cover featuring two men seated in a wooden boat; a young boy pictured in front of them feeding two white water birds; the cover read ‘Daddy’s Roommate-written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite.’

Intrigued I began to read…about a boy living between his mother and his father separately. Father had a new roommate (Frank) and together they undertook regular activities: working, sleeping, eating and occasionally having disagreements. Father and Frank took the boy to the beach, zoo and baseball. Later in the book, the boy asked Mother about Father and Frank; Mother explained that they were ‘gay’- simply another form of love. The book ended with the boy’s acknowledgement that since all of his parents were happy, he was happy too.

My tears came suddenly and relentlessly; fortunately Mike spotted it.

‘Are you ok?’ he enquired.

‘I’m thirty-eight years old and for the first time in my life I have read a book that, had I read it as a child, it might have made me feel like I belonged in this world’. I blubbed messily.

At primary school, despite knowing that I fancied Benny (not Frida) from the pop group Abba and Sean Connery (not Ursula Andress) in the film ‘Dr No’, I (like many others), was provided with not a single book at school or at home that helped me understand identity.

My transit through state education was punctuated with homophobia, bullying and beatings, so sustained and overwhelming that my story very nearly ended at the age of seventeen.

Diverse human children must experience diverse stories and role models to feel welcomed, validated, celebrated and natural, yet it took thirty-eight years to see my own experience of life on Earth reflected in any children’s books.

May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, an opportunity to explore identities histories, experiences and suffering of those who identify as LBGT+ and to stand as allies in the ongoing struggle against hate.

Ten years of facilitating LGBT+ inclusion in schools has shown me that prejudice-related bullying can be targeted at anyone who is perceived as ‘different’. We are all naturally diverse and therefore all potential targets.

In 2009 my primary school uncovered (via pupil data) that 75% of our children were experiencing bullying related to LGBT+ identities, whether or not they identified as LGBT+.

As a school leader I had a simple choice; ignore the data and be negligent or be pro-active.

9781472961501.jpgUnable to source relevant training at primary level I devised an LGBT+ inclusion teacher training programme, delivering it to over one hundred staff. I also sourced books for our classrooms about diverse identities, including ‘Daddy’s Roommate’ the very same book that had once moved me to tears.

 

Shaun Dellenty is an independent education trainer and inspirational keynote speaker who has been working to positively prevent LGBT+ and identity-based prejudice in the UK education system since 2009. His debut book, Celebrating Difference, publishes on 30th May.

Resilience Or ‘Bouncebackability’

I have been lucky enough to take the wonderful journey involved in writing a children’s non-fiction book in the areas of wellbeing and emotional health, several times. What I absolutely love about this process is the distillation of all I have researched and learnt over the years into a simply worded text (supported by illustrations). What’s Going On In My Head?, a book about positive mental health for young children, made me embark upon another such journey. I had to consider everything I knew about maintaining mental health – a key component of which is resilience – and put it into simple words.

Resilience is a word that’s been bandied about for a while now with the general understanding that it is one’s ability to deal with and ‘bounce back’ from life’s negative events. There is a fair amount of certainty that it is a good thing and it is so good in fact, we can’t have too much of it. However, even though the term is on most people’s radar, how to increase our resilience is a little more elusive. My book aims to make it less elusive so children can start thinking about and addressing the issues relevant to developing resilience.

In the book I have covered many of the well-known components that contribute to resilience, such as….

Molly's Blog

…but I also made a few further reflections relating to resilience that I think are a little less obvious. They are as follows.

Self esteem

I was there at the start of the ‘self-esteem’ movement in schools. I remember running INSET training on the stuff in the early days of the national Curriculum. I would say most people’s understanding was quite primitive back then and more or less amounted to, ‘we must praise the children more.’ We have certainly moved on but I still think there is room for further fine tuning.

I think we focus too much on the positive. Yes, you heard right! I think that genuine self-worth comes from not only enjoying and celebrating our strengths and achievements, but also from the complete acceptance that there are things we are not naturally talented at. It doesn’t mean we can’t practise and get better at those things, but there will always be others who excel in some areas with considerably less effort. (It makes sense therefore that if we have become good at something through exceptional effort, this is indeed praiseworthy). We need children to know that being less than great at some things is absolutely fine.

Emotional literacy

I could go on about emotional literacy for hours. In fact, I do! But a message about emotions that I think we are often being too indirect about or not delivering at all, is that we really do need to stop believing the unrealistic idea that we are meant to be happy all of the time. It’s partly advert and social media culture that promotes this idea. We need to help children understand that negative emotions are to be expected, and as long as we are mentally healthy, they will soon be replaced by another equally transient emotion. Humans experience a huge range of emotions – both comfortable and uncomfortable – and this is how it is meant to be. Negative emotions need to be fully acknowledged, validated and accepted so we can then move on and develop healthy coping strategies for when we are experiencing them.

Coping strategies – rumination

 Rumination – a thought that is bothering us by going round and round in our heads, and our ability to prevent or moderate it can have a huge impact on our mental health. There is no doubt that some people are afflicted with a tendency to ruminate more than others. 9781472959232 (1).jpgHelping children, especially the more anxious ones, to recognise 1) what rumination is, 2) when they are doing it, and 3) what they can do to ‘park’ it, can help maintain positive mental health. What’s Going On Inside My Head? explores all these messages and what’s more, it says it in ‘Kidspeak’!

 

Molly Potter has taught in both mainstream and specialist provision primary schools as well as being a county PSHE advisor. Her new book, What’s Going On Inside My Head?publishes on 21st February 2019 and is available to pre-order now.

My Journey to Writing a Book

I am extremely excited and proud to announce that my first ever book, Wellbeing In The Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide To Teaching Happiness was published on Thursday 6th September, 2018. A dream had finally come true! Except, the reality was that I hadn’t ever really dreamed about writing a book. Ok, so I had thought about it in the past now and then but a dream? No, not really. So, for all you budding writers out there (ones that are dreaming about it and ones that aren’t even aware you will actually write a book one day), here’s how I wrote a book about teaching happiness to children:

  • My ‘quarter-life crisis’

In my late 20s, I experienced a period of acute anxiety which led to a period of depression. Up until that point, I had always been quite a positive and happy-go-lucky type of guy. This was easily one of the most difficult periods of my life but I learned something very important – nothing matters more than your physical and mental health.

  • Researched what happiness isBlog 1

As a result of my ‘quarter-life crisis’, I began to research the causes of anxiety and depression in order to make sense of what had happened to me. In doing so, I also learned about the key factors that contribute to good mental health (regular exercise, good diet, strong personal relationships, a strong sense of purpose, and meditation all help) and began to make changes to my life.

  • Started to practice happiness

The Dalai Lama once said, “Happiness is not something ready-made – it comes from your own actions.” And he’s right. Leading a happy or happier life takes action and effort. Just knowing what contributes to wellbeing doesn’t make you feel any better. So, I signed up to mindfulness courses, I took up weekly sports again, I made space for spending quality time with friends and family and I started journaling. I talked the talk, and I started to walk the walk.

  • Volunteered

A key thing that came up in my research about happiness was that happy tend to volunteer and help others. So, I signed up to become a mentor to a 9-year-old boy at risk of being kicked out of school through the charity, Chance UK. I also took up the offer of a teacher friend who was looking for a governor for the school she taught in. Both of these experiences gave my life a lot more meaning and purpose and had such a profound impact on me that I decided to retrain as a primary school teacher.

  • Realised our education system is broken

Schools are generally not set up to focus on the happiness and wellbeing of their pupils as a primary concern. I learned this through mentoring (the boy I mentored had a school that showed little interest in helping him fit in there) and through my first year as a primary teacher. With such a relentless focus on academic attainment, and the need for children to make rapid progress, children’s emotional concerns are often ignored in favour of the mighty god, ‘Data’!

  • Started to take positive action

Fed up with ‘the system’, I started to make changes to my classroom to integrate some of the things I was using to support my mental health and happiness. I introduced a morning meditation practice, we started exercising daily and I taught my class mini neuroscience lessons about how their brains learn and how ‘happy hormones’ affect their mood. Despite working in a challenging inner-London school, the behaviour of my class improved, their grades went up and they enjoyed being in school more.

  • Learned more and spread the message

I became a passionate advocate for ‘teaching happiness and wellbeing’. I completed more courses in positive psychology, I read more books about neuroscience and Blog 2happiness, and I attended conferences and talks about the science of wellbeing. Every time I learned something new, I’d make subtle tweaks to what I was doing in class. Other teachers in my school noticed the positive impact it was having on my class, so my headteacher gave me staff meeting time to share the research and ideas with my colleagues and also with parents. A charity called Action for Happiness heard about the work I was doing in schools and invited me to speak at one of their events. It happened to be an event where their patron, The Dalai Lama, was also speaking. It was definitely one of the proudest moments of my career, especially because three former pupils spoke on stage in front of the 2,500 capacity audience!

  • Planned to write a book

In all of this research I was doing, I couldn’t find any books that focused on teaching happiness and wellbeing in primary schools. At the Dalai Lama event in September 2015,Blog 3I promised a fellow speaker that I would write a book about teaching happiness to children. It wasn’t until World Book Day, March 2016, as my class were writing stories to go with their comic strip drawings, I took the template they were using and sketched out the chapter plan for my book.

  • Wrote a book about teaching happiness to children

I then did what most people do which is procrastinate. I filed the book plan away somewhere and forgot all about it. Around November 2016, I rediscovered and thought to myself, ‘Sod it, why not?’ and I began writing the introduction. I then wrote two more chapters and got my wife to read them. My wife is a fantastic writer. She has a Masters in English. I was extremely nervous about what she would think. ‘I love it! It’s brilliant!’ was her only feedback. Having a cheerleader when you write is very helpful!

  • Published a book about teaching happiness to children

It took a chance conversation with my best friend at Christmas, 2016. I told him I’d started to write a book and that I might approach Bloomsbury. ‘I know someone that works there!’ he replied and before I could procrastinate for another six months, he’d emailed his friend, told her about my book and that was it. His friend at Bloomsbury asked for a paragraph summary. She forwarded it to the commissioning editor who liked my idea and asked me to fill in their book proposal form. It got approved and then sent out for review (to see if teachers would actually buy it) and it passed that test, and then it went to the editorial board meeting. Blog 4In April 2017, I signed a contract to write my book about teaching happiness to children. I submitted the finished book December 2017, a few rounds of edits in early 2018 and then my editor, Hannah, (pictured with me above) handed me my first printed copied in July 2018.

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If I can do it…

So, that’s how I wrote a book about teaching happiness to children! There’s nothing special about me as a writer. Yes, I enjoy writing. Yes, I have an English degree so reading and writing was a big part of my higher education but, ultimately, I’m just a primary school teacher with a passion for teaching children how to look after themselves and each other.

If you’d like to be a writer too, my advice is: you need passion, a plan, and some luck.

 

Adrian Bethune‘s debut book, Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom, is out now.