Mind Your Head
by Roma Claudius
It took quite a long time to get the pilot off the ground and so only nine sessions remained before the end of the school year, so one of the hardest things was choosing which guidelines to do. Depth rather than breadth seemed more important so we ended up looking at 7 guidelines.
I ran the course voluntarily in a large local secondary school with a group of twelve Year 9 and 10 students (age 13-15) who the school had put forward. Some of them were ’school phobic' so attendance was a real issue. It probably didn't help that the sessions took place last lesson on a Friday afternoon. Though the low numbers I am fully confident that those who attended all, or most, of the sessions truly benefitted from the course. This makes it all worthwhile. The whole journey has been incredibly rewarding for me.
During the project I followed Craig Mackie's advice and evaluated the success of a session on the level of participation, rather than any specific goal. I noticed that, once an atmosphere of trust had been established (they didn't know each other or me beforehand), they really began opening up and participating more and more as the course progressed. Looking back to the first session and their defensive postures and understandable reticence, it is amazing how quickly and thoroughly they opened up to, what I quickly realised, were radical ideas for them.
I was surprised at the level of their cynicism. I also sensed behind their pessimism and outrage (at the world's conflicts and horrors) a deep sense of shock. I didn't fully understand beforehand that a large and important part of doing this work with this age group is about showing them a worldview that is positive and compassionate. For 'forgiveness' I showed them a clip on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission it left them speechless for about ten seconds! I think it was wonderful for them to even have the space to talk about feelings and responses to the world and others, let alone begin to integrate new ways of responding and sense the possibility of being able to choose responses that favour wellbeing.
I really enjoyed facilitating their discussions and I learned so very much from this one group in nine weeks. I love how supportive they became of one another, how they got better at listening, and noticing the moments where they could say, as I encouraged them to do, “Yeah-me too.”
I collected qualitative data in the form of questionnaires. The feedback the group gave the course blew me away and really encourages me to continue. Here are some of the comments, the best way of illustrating the outcomes achieved:
'I have found the gratitude lesson most useful and the things taught in the lesson have swayed my view on things and helped me be more positive.’
'I find the meditation really useful and I also regularly think back to what we have learned.'
'It helps me look at life differently and easier and I feel more confident about myself and me in the future.’
'I have discovered more about my principles, which I feel makes me more aware of who I am. I am also more aware of how I feel. '
'I have learned that life is not as black and white as I believed and that happiness is a lot more achievable than I thought.'
'I feel more in control of how I feel and react to certain things, e.g. being left out, wanting something, forgiving people.'
'I can recognise my feelings and why I am feeling them which helps me react to them better.'
'Lots of the things that make me feel down and sad are not able to be changed by me but I have felt a bit more in control over some of my reactions.’
‘The course really helps you to make yourself better and understand yourself more. It is phenomenal.'
I also received feedback from one parent:
'My son seems to be less anxious than before, able to sleep better, able to talk to us more, seems more mature and talking about the future in a positive way. He has really enjoyed the sessions which we were surprised about because he wasn’t a person who could open up. We feel this course has helped him so much.'