#13 Resilience: the principal’s best friend. Part 2.

#13 Resilience: the principal’s best friend. Part 2.

Resilience: the principal's best friend. Part 2.

Are we on the verge of the next paradigm shift with the building of wellbeing in people? Active resilience is the 'looking forward' movement that incorporates taking care of ourselves and focusing our own health. Maria Ruberto talks about neuroscience, resilience, the healthy brain, and much more....


Loretta  00:03

You're listening to Loretta Piazza, experienced school principal, mentor, and coach. And together we're talking out at school. You will hear from leaders who have lived and breathed so many experiences, good and bad, agonized over decisions, and who have tossed and turned through countless sleepless nights. These are the people who will help you stay ahead of the game.


In this continued interview with psychologist Maria Roberto, we hear about some of her work in Melbourne primary and secondary schools, and how resilience is taught. Maria believes we are on the verge of the next paradigm shift with the building of well being in people. Did you know the teachers were the only group to demonstrate a rise in resilience during COVID?  Maria provides us with some plausible explanations as to why this might be the case. This is exactly what active resilience is all about. It should also be noted that resilience is much more than our ability to bounce back. We now know that it's also our ability to bounce forward. When we understand the neuroscience components of a healthy brain, the function of each one of these components, and we learn the corresponding behaviors, we are on the right path. And let's not forget the most important element of active resilience. It's the replenishing of self care, and looking after our own health and well being.


Okay, let's talk about resilience and the work that you're doing in a large secondary school in Melbourne.

Maria  01:49

Yeah. So first of all, I want to talk to you about well, where it started was that, and I have permission to talk about this. So there's a principal out at Diamond Creek East Primary School, his name is Robert Rostolis. And Robert and his AP Stephen Campbell. In in one of those leadership conferences that I gave that you that you were present at, Robert was also there. So probably about six or seven years ago. Now Robert came to me and said, I'm really interested in this brain stuff. This is how principals normally come to me, they go this brain stuff. I'm interested in that. And I think this is great. Do you want to come and talk to my staff, like, you know, like you did? So So I did that. And the feedback was, Wow, this is very interesting. But it also helps me motivate towards wanting to do things differently. So then Robert said, Can you come back? And I did that a couple of times. And then Robert said to me, what if we were to teach this to primary school children? And I said to Robert, I don't know about that. Robert, this stuff is really heavy. We're talking about brain parts. We're talking about prefrontal cortex, anterior singular cortex, we're talking about the insular, we're talking about the limbic system. You know, we're talking about the parietal cortex, we're talking about big words, the hippocampus, the thalamus. I don't know whether primary school kids can hold this information. And Robert said, Don't under don't ever underestimate the curiosity of children. And I went, Okay, and he said, if you're up to this, I am too, and I went, Oh, yeah, okay, well, let's do this. So what we did is that we created a two day program for primary school children, senior primary school children, and we started with grade fives and sixes. And we ran a two day conference. Now what we did what they did what Robert and his staff did, and they are an incredible school is that they turned their entire library and open area learning into a pseudo conference area. So when you walked into it, it was completely refurbished into what a conference room would look like. They had two massive screens. They had conference tables set up, kids walked in, they had lanyards with their names. They had booklets, they had pins, they had caps, and it was called the brain fitness conference. And for two days, the senior kids sat as conference delegates, and they were referred to as the delegates of the brain fitness conference. And they would have take notes as they would in a conference. And what they did is that they had one massive screen that that showed the delegates' responses as they learned, so these kids had these iPads, and on these iPads in real time, they could type in questions or they could type in feedback and it would come up on one screen in real time. So as I'm presenting information that content, these kids would be asking questions. At the end of two days, these students asked over 938 questions over two days.

Loretta  05:13

So Rob was right. Don't underestimate these kids.

Maria  05:18

So over that time, so what they then did, because it was such a success, and they were given notes to take away, parents said, well, we want to know. So then Robert brought the parents in, and we had sessions with the parents to give them an overview of this learning. Over about six years after the fives, and sixes have gone off to secondary schools, some of these kids have come back to Diamond Creek East to say, I want to come back. And I want to tell you what's happening to me. And these kids have come back. And they've said, I've got friends who are suffering from anxiety and depression. But because I remember the amygdala, and I remember the role of the hippocampus, and I remember what the thalamus does, and I remember all of those things that I should do, in order to keep my brain healthy. I'm not like them. I've actually, things happen to me, but they can happen and I can be okay. So Robert started to realize that we're actually creating generations of young people who can learn this information, and then continue to apply those skills when challenges hit during adolescence. That's really big. Now, unfortunately, for us, we should have collected data, we just thought we were being creative. So that's what we've what we've started to do. Now out of that, then came the secondary schools that heard about that and said, well, we want to do that with our kids. So this resilience first aid, we are now running with a major secondary school in Melbourne. And we are working with all of their staff and teaching them the domains of resilience, first aid and taking them through a two day certification. They, there is an app that adults can use every day to build these skills. The app is incredible. It has all of the research based techniques and skills and tools that are required. It's interactive, it has some AI into it, artificial intelligence, there's a little robot that can talk to you. But there are also skills that you go in and do. And, and it tracks the development of your resilience and well being and we are running that with a secondary school. And the principal has been outstanding, and the assistant principal, who has been incredible at organizing, you know, a staff of, you know, well over, well, a couple 100 people what know well over 100 people to participate. So it's it's an exciting time, Loretta, and I think we are on the verge of the next paradigm shift where we are really looking at how do we build wellbeing in people and sustain that and do that via measures and also via an evidence based program. So I'm, I'm so excited to be alive in this time.

Loretta  08:24

You've got some pretty fabulous Aussie data, haven't you about teachers and, and other employment sectors? Can you tell us about this.

Maria  08:36

So this data doesn't belong to me, it belongs to Yuri. So Yuri Russell is a CEO of Driven. And that is the organization that I'm partnering and consulting with at the moment. And URI is very data driven. And he's a he's a clever young man. And he has just published the National Resilience Australian Index. And the report itself is gobsmacking, because what it's managed to do unbeknown to him, because he was he was collecting and tracking resilience data. And as he was doing that COVID hit. And so he then continued to track this data. And you know, if you go onto my website, you can go on to the links and download, download the report, it's for free. But it actually looks at the comparison of some major industries in Australia. Namely it compares the emergency services with the health care sector with the finance services, and then compares it overall with Australia but more importantly, it compares it to teachers. So the educational sector has has its has its own to stream. And when you go in and have a look, you will see that during COVID, there, there are many, many dips, and also some some rises in the data. But teachers are the only industry that have demonstrated a rise in resilience, as we are moving through and out of COVID. At this time, all of the other industries, the financial, the emergency services, the national average sits, still sits at a lower level, but education is on the rise. And, Loretta, that's incredibly interesting, because we would need to be asking, you know, why is that?

Loretta  10:45

Well, that was going to be my question. What is it about teachers? Is it is it just their personalities? And, and the fact that, you know, with teaching this generally that high level of efficacy and, you know, wanting to be carers and giving,and that sort of thing, is that a personality trait? Or is it about environmental factors? And can we assume, then, that principals and leadership teams and schools are doing a damn good job in looking after their teachers?

Maria  11:24

I think it's all of that. And I also think it's more. So when, look, we don't know why data says what it says we only we can we begin to unpack and we start to look at all of the variables. But you know, in the words of the famous Phil Riley, Professor, Phil Riley, who is one of my, you know, one of my greats that I've been following for a long time. And when I heard that you were interviewing him, you know, I poured myself a very big glass of wine, and I put on my fluffy slippers and closed my eyes and listen to him, because he's, he's incredible. His research is incredible. Phil Riley talks about that the industry in itself invites humanity, it actually invites personality dynamics in people who are, who lean into caring, who lean into empathy and compassion, and who have a sense of, you know, have a sense of transformation, where they really believe that they can make a difference to the lives of young people and be pivotal in that learning and have that gift. So I agree, I think that that's, you know, absolutely part of it. The other part is that, as we see in the report, that teaching is an optimistic enterprise. And when you consider teaching as a vocation, that, with that comes this higher order, meaning and purpose around an altruistic approach that we give wholeheartedly, and that we are part of a larger, I guess, Circle of Life, circle of community, and it is circle of life, because you're holding children in your hands and their well being in your hands, that you are part of that. And that's, that's high, and that's higher order purpose. And so you invite that that mindset. So I think that that all forms part of it. But the other part is really interesting. And this is the other part that people don't talk about, is that there is a difference between saying this is too hard, but doing it anyway. There is a difference between saying, Oh, God, this is so awful, how are we meant to go online and teach over a period of 48 hours? How are we meant to I can't do a curriculum, I can't plan the curriculum online. How can they be asked to do this? And do we have the technology? What are we doing? We don't even know we're doing with our PD, to even get iPad into schools. You know, if I was a teacher, I needed 12 months of PD before I even knew what I was doing. There's a difference between saying that and appearing like I'm complaining about it, but then behaving in a proactive and in an industrious way. So teachers have a way of going, Oh, that's really bad. But then being able to be resourceful and use their resources to do it anyway. So it's almost like there is a part of the teaching that the teachers in the teaching profession that just go that's so hard, that's awful, that's crap. And then the other part of them going well, I'm actually so committed to this highroad. And I'm committed to these kids, I can't just abandon these kids, these kids need to be taught. So I've got to do it. And what they do is that they bring the values that they live by, and then access their resources. And even though they, they don't like it, and they're complaining that they feel that they're not that they're not that they're being done hard by which they have been, because who does this, and yet produce this incredible curriculum, be available to students? And I'm not saying that the curriculums and the learning plans were perfect. That was actually beside the point. The point was, they stay online,

Loretta  15:43

we were flying by the seat of our pants,

Maria  15:45

you were. And you did that with fervour, you did that with belief. But you did that, because you knew that these kids relied on you. You knew that it actually, it wasn't almost about what was being taught. It was about not abandoning them.

Loretta  16:04

But I'll tell you, even more so Maria, I think as principals and and I can speak for principals because we discussed this over and over. We had no choice. Any fear or any negative thoughts that we had, and believe me, we had lots, yes, we have to put all those aside and think now how are we going to make this happen? What's the first thing I have to do in order to get the staff on board? What do I have to do for them, and then to make them feel optimistic and, and hopeful, and you know, positive about what that next stage was going to be for them, and to manage their fears, and their insecurities so that they could then do it, what they need to do for the kids. So it all started at the top.

Maria  17:01

And all of that Loretta, everything that you have just said, forms the basis of active resilience. That's what resilience looks like. That when it's hard, we don't focus on what we can't do, we focus on what we can do. When the challenge when the adversity is in front of us. At that time we go, we need to roll up our sleeves. And we need to think about this clearly. And we also need to appraise the situation in a way that involves hope, but also involves forward movement, not going backwards. And so everything that you've spoken about is active resilience. That's what resilience looks like. However, however Loretta, stopping replenishing, and self care has to be part of that. And so, resilience is very much now a part of focusing on our own health. And this is the part that resilience First Aid also brings in, because resilience for a long time has been just thought about perseverance and tenacity and optimism and hope and, you know, rugged reasoning, clarity of thought and, and we thought that that was just what resilience is. But the the model of, of resilience, it's been created here by Driven in Australia. It is the first model of resilience that incorporates taking care of ourselves. And it incorporates a really big focus on our own health. Because if we don't focus on our own health and take care of ourselves, we're actually not able to continue to be active in our resilience.

Loretta  18:36

You know, Maria, there's been a very large number of principals who are either on leave, or who have retired as a result of two years of COVID. And now a third year of COVID. And the uncertainty around it, who puts so much effort, so much emotion, drive, who puts so much into getting their schools functioning and getting everybody through these uncertain times. And now they say, I can't do it anymore. Is that because they didn't replenish? They gave so much. We're resilient, but failed in that very important part about looking after themselves. Is that what's happened?

Maria  19:37

I think that that's a part of it, Loretta, I think that when the job is so big, and when you have been asked to lead this transition from face to face to online, and all of the challenges that have come with that, the challenges of not just managing the technology, as you would know, has been a huge challenge for schools, managing who has laptops, who doesn't have laptops, who's got access to in the internet, who has, you know, all of that, not only managing that, but also managing that, also also managing the staff, that that are moving through the change, that feel so unprepared, that takes an enormous amount of resource. And then on top of that, managing the systems change, how suddenly new protocols need to come in, and then having to transfer that to staff. And then on top of that, parents coming in and going, how am I going to do this? Don't you know, I've got three kids that in the in the home, I've got one in secondary school, I've got two in primary, I've got one who's who needs to be playing the drums, someone who needs to be in another room, I've got a girl in one of my daughters is in the toilet that's doing the, you know, an online classroom. Do you know how stressful this is? So principals were managing entire communities. And then on top of that, and I think this needs to be spoken about, is the system. And as a principal, you belong to the Department of Education system. And if the system is not well established to support you in a way that you need support, then you're going to feel like you're doing it on your own. So it becomes a cultural issue, and a systemic one, rather than just personal resources. You know, you can be the most resilient person. But if you have a system that you don't feel is holding you in care, then it begins to wear. And, you know, you, you begin to question your capacity, your intentions, your motivation. So I think there are many factors at play.

Loretta  22:10

So how do principals look after themselves? And how do they replenish?

Maria  22:18

I think the first thing Loretta is that we learn, we need to really learn about what resilience is. The old... you know, Andrew Fuller, who is a, you know, fellow psychologist, and who has done some magnificent work in schools. For a long time, he talks about the the concept of bouncing back that resilience is about about bouncing back. And and I think we need to continue understanding that. However, neuroscience says that resilience is now so much more, it's not just about bouncing back. But when you are resilient, you're able to bounce forward. And bouncing forward does not mean that resilience is about going back to where you were because any challenge in any adversity actually teaches you new ways, new skills, it teaches you new methods in order to manage something so you can never go back. But with resilience, you can actually bounce forward. And that's the concept that we look and teach in resilience first aid, where we look at what are the neuroscience components of a healthy brain, know what they are, know what functions they play. And now let's have a look at the behaviors that are required and the techniques that are required. And they are broken up into six domains. And they are explicitly taught. And they are taught in a way where we not only learn to be resilient ourselves, but in resilience first aid, we're actually taught how to support other people's resilience. And I think this type of community collaborative approach is where we have an opportunity to do that. So doing it explicitly. You have a certification, you then have a tool box that you walk away with. And what it does is that it even informs the language and the way with which we constantly think about what we're doing, this idea that there is this negativity mindset is probably one of the biggest risk factors. However, it's erroneous to humans have capacity to have the most optimistic, the most forward thinking mindsets, and we need to encourage people to tap into that.

Loretta  24:50

That's fabulous advice. If anyone would like to know more about the resilience work that you do, will they be able to find that on your website,

Maria  25:01

please do please go on to our website and have a look at all of the information. But Loretta, we have a mind fit retreat that we're running in May this year. And I'd like to extend an invitation out to all of our listeners to come and join us. It's two days at Hillsville at the Ric V club. And I just want to remind people that the Ric V club in Hillsville, is close to the Four Pillars Gin factory. So Loretta, if you're not going to come to be resilient, you can come to at least taste the gin or, or you can actually do both be resilient, taste the gene and be resilient gene tasters. So look in the flies up on our website, it will be two days of the latest research, it will be an entry into the first resilience first aid program, everyone will receive will receive a resilience first aid kit, which is really exciting they are it is a beautiful kit, if you go online, you can have a look at the resources. And we hope that we get to lots of interest so that we can begin, I think opening up the door to what resilience. In modern day society looks like.

Loretta  26:18

Wonderful. I think of all the great things that I learned from you listening to you talk about neuroscience, and all the cutting edge research that was coming out and you know, your passion and your excitement, it just, it just shows on your face. You know, you're that sort of a person, and you're a great advocate for this, because you're always so positive, you've always got a great smile on your face. And I think maybe a lot of that's got to do with the fact that you're Italian. And Italians are known to, to get excited and throw their hands around and maybe get a bit carried away at times. But deep down, you've given so much to to education. I mean, not only in your early work as a psychologist, but the work that you do now with principals, with schools with with different groups of staff. So on behalf of the people in education, thank you, I applaud this great work and keep doing it. Because this is exactly what we need. But you're one of the people who who is that constant, and will provide us with what we need to move forward and to stay resilient. So thank you, Maria, I wish you all the best.

Maria  27:47

My pleasure. And thank you so much Loretta for having me on and giving me some time to talk about this and, and also congratulations on just an exceptional string of podcasts that you are putting together. And I think you are doing the work that needs to be done so that we have principals coming on board and being validated for the work that they do. So thank you very much for your time. It's been an absolute privilege. Thank you.

Loretta  28:15

Thanks for listening to this latest episode of talking out of school, where we cover topics and dilemmas associated with the ups and downs and even the downright curious of the school leaders job. Want to know more? Then visit me at shaping leaders.com.au But for now, he is staying at edit again.

Additional Resources

Resilience First Aid Certification