Dr Paula Robinson

At Scots All Saints College, Dr Paula Robinson is the “wellbeing psychologist in residence”, on staff as part of the College team to deliver an authentic, sustainable wellbeing program spanning several years. The advantage of having Dr Robinson at the school for the longer term ensures our approach is not just about ‘ticking the wellbeing box’ with a one-off speaker or a workshop. Scots All Saints College is ensuring an ongoing focus will build a positive wellbeing culture that is evidence-based, best practice for students, staff and parents from early childhood through to Year 12.   Dr Robinson has been doing some “deep training” with staff, parents and students with specialist courses starting with K-2 parents last August and a Practising Certificate in Positive Education for academic staff and school leaders.

The message is that building your wellbeing and mental fitness doesn’t happen overnight, it takes continuous practice and effort.  The development of positive habits of mind takes time just like developing physical fitness.  Unfortunately, this can’t be achieved with free snacks or the occasional guest speaker delivering piece meal messages.  It’s what you do 365 days a year that makes the difference.

In the 21st Century, learning the skills of wellbeing and mental fitness are just as important as learning the skills of academic achievement.  Both go hand in hand in developing the whole child, living a meaningful and productive life.  This Scots All Saints College objective for the whole school community is reflected in the World Health Organisation’s (2014) definition of wellbeing:

“A state in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.”

Some thoughts for tips for our students:

At Scots All Saints College, as one part of the integrated wellbeing and resilience program, the Bounce Back framework has been introduced to help the students build habits of mental fitness.  Adapted from the work of Noble and McGrath, the below 5 statements in the ‘Bounce’ Back acronym can be particularly helpful for day and boarding students and especially now considering these times of COVID-19:

B – Bad times don’t last.  Things always get better.  Stay optimistic. Scots All Saints College teaches the skills of hope and realistic optimism as part of building the students mental fitness.

O – Other people can help you if you talk to them.  The science shows that relationships are the number one predictor of wellbeing.   It is really important for students to have key strategies and well-trained staff to ensure a sense of belonging and social support. The staff teach the students how to create a Positive Relationship plan, identifying people that they can count on when they need support.

U – Unhelpful thinking makes you feel more upset. Think again.  It is critical for students to understand how the way they think can influence how they are feeling.  Often, students can develop negative thought patterns called cognitive distortions.  We call these ‘automatic negative thoughts’, or ANTs.  We teach students how to identify their ANTs and challenge them to develop more helpful and realistic thinking.  With practice, these ANTs become PETs, or ‘performance enhancing thoughts’.

N – Nobody is perfect – not you and not others. From Dr Robinson’s experience of working with hundreds of schools, perfectionism is a growing concern for students’ mental health and wellbeing.  If we expect things to be perfect we will always be disappointed.  At Scots All Saints College teaching evidence-based activities to help students to develop acceptance and self-compassion are key to achieving mental fitness.

C – Try not to Catastrophise!  Young people often think things are worse than they really are. Usually things aren’t as bad as they think.  This is what we call a ‘thinking trap’ and at Scots All Saints College, teaching the students how to manage a whole range of thinking traps will help them build their resilience during the tough times.

E – Everybody experiences sadness, hurt, failure, rejection and setbacks sometimes.  They are a normal part of life.  Try not to personalise them. This can often be an ANT for young people.  Teaching students that experiencing negative emotions are a healthy part of life is crucial.  The last thing we want students to think is that they have to be positive all of the time.  This is unhelpful and dangerous thinking.  Instead, we help them understand that it’s ok and necessary to feel bad sometimes, but not often, and not for too long.  It’s about having a healthy emotional ratio and having the learned skills to know what to do to make yourself feel better during these times.

“Student wellbeing is a priority for all students at Scots All Saints College.”