Mental health reflection

Disclaimer: I’m a little nervous about publishing this, but I’m going to because it’s something I’m extremely passionate about.

I have been living as a hypocrite for the last 2 and a bit years, maybe even longer. Since working at Mt A, I can’t even remember the number of students I have told to reach out and seek help for their mental health, from their parents or our school counsellors. It’s taken me that long to take my own advice.

I finally got up the courage to tell my GP about my anxiety. I’d had a whole lot of tests done to try and figure out why I’m always so tired and everything came back perfect. Not a single thing showed any sign of something being wrong. Instantly, I felt relieved and disappointed at the same time. I was relieved that nothing was wrong, but also disappointed that there wasn’t something to blame. It was then that I fessed up. I said: “I had really hoped that there was going to be something that would explain why I’m tired all the time.” My doctors response was something along the lines of: “Yeah, I know. So, how are your stress levels? High stress levels can be quite tiring.” My response was: “Yeah, there’s a fair amount of stress in my life…” She gave me a questionnaire to fill out, which I did, and the results shocked me. Because of that test, my doctor suggested that I have high levels of anxiety and stress, this did not shock me. What did though was that she diagnosed me as moderately depressed (definitely not the technical term, but it’s what I remember). The first question out of her mouth was: “Have you ever had thoughts of self-harm?” My response was along the lines of: “No, that’s not me…”

I hadn’t ever entertained the idea that I was depressed. Fast forward through telling my parents – it took me going to my Gran first before I had the courage to face them… another way I had failed my students – and I’m glad I spoke up. After dealing with the shock, guilt, grief, anger, shame, (you name it, I felt it), I finally realised that this was a good thing. Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I can work towards better mental health.

Why am I sharing this with the world? Well, because I was a hypocrite for telling my students that they needed to get help, when I so clearly needed help myself. I advocate for mental health daily, but I have ignored mine for so long. I’m tired, and grumpy, and stressed out, and not achieving my full potential because I was stubborn and scared. I’m sharing my story so that others might be willing to share theirs, or at least recognise something of themselves in my story and have the courage to seek help too. I am far from being healthy, but I know that I am on the right track. I am ready to seek and accept help. I am ready to commit to the hard days ahead because I am ready to be healthy. From now on, I will do what I can to live my best life, advocate for mental health with all my heart and soul, and continue to support my students but now, I will be doing it without being a hypocrite.

On the plus side, I’ve decided to share any and all things that work for me when it comes to improving my mental health. Stay tuned for information on why singing is great for your mood!


Self-reflection is a powerful tool

All throughout university I found myself having to do reflective writing as part of my assessment. When doing my Bachelor of Music Studies at the Queensland Conservatorium I was expected to reflect on my voice lessons and progress. When doing my Post Graduate Diploma in Education at Griffith University, I had to reflect on group work. It was during my Master of Education at Queensland University of Technology though, that I finally understand the true power of reflection, and how much it can help us grow. I’m not saying that my previous two degrees did something wrong when it came to teaching reflective writing – I’m suggesting that I was incapable of fully understanding its power at that time of my life and that’s what stopped me from doing it properly. Since finishing my Masters in 2015 I have found myself turning to self-reflection almost daily. I don’t always record my thoughts, but even the act of looking back and asking myself “how can I do better next time” has become something of a habit at the end of every day.

In education:

One of the best examples I can think of at the moment is my experience as a year 9 geography teacher. I have now taught the year 9 geography units for four semesters in a row. It’s the first time that I have consistently taught a subject in my career. Some might see having to teach the same thing each year as boring, but for me, I see it as a challenge – I want, no, I NEED to get better at it each time. I have changed one of the two assessment items each time I’ve taught a new group of year 9s. I use the feedback from the previous class to make the delivery and the assessment more authentic, provide extension opportunities, and incorporate technology to teach students skills in GIS and special purpose mapping. I’ve even tweaked the way in which I deliver the content, such as creating a Google Site that has:

  • Information from ACARA and QCAA (no sense in not using some of the terminology now)
  • The resources we’ll be using in class
  • Tips and tricks for some of the technology we’ll be using, as well as some information on effective researching
  • A section devoted to “Lesson Plans” that has my planning for each class – this allows them to see what we’re covering which is particularly useful if they are away
  • And so much more!

I have, so far, found that this Site I created has been a useful tool in providing the students with the above, as well as keeping track of where each class is up to, after all, I’m currently teaching 3 year 9 geography classes!

Anyway, the way I currently approach year 9 geography has evolved from reflecting on my previous experiences, finding what’s worked, and ditching what hasn’t. It means that every time I teach it it’s new and exciting. I’m getting better and better at it and, because of my reflective nature, I don’t think I’ll ever be fully satisfied and will always want to change something.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 10.24.42 am
A screenshot of the Home page for the Google Site I created for Year 9 Geography at Mt Alvernia

So, if I claim to use self-reflection as a tool to improve my teaching, when I get to the end of a term or semester, what do I do?

  1. I collect feedback from my students via:
    • Emails
    • Google Forms
    • Discussions
  2. I look back at what worked and what didn’t
  3. I compare the skills my students learned to previous groups of year 9 students and see whether there is improvement or an increase in competency
  4. I work out if the assessment truly fit what is required of ACARA (thankfully, it has so far!)
  5. I then reflect on the sequencing of learning activities and reflect on whether it worked or not
  6. I make adjustments for the next time!

It seems simple, but it works. It helps that at the end of lessons I’ll make a quick note somewhere as to whether I felt the lesson was successful or not. That way, when I look back I can remember more easily!

General thoughts:

I use self-reflection in a lot of different things in my life. I use it when making big decisions, improving the way I interact with people at the gym, improving my relationship with my family and friends, and of course, in my teaching life. It can be scary at first; no one likes looking at themselves honestly. When reflecting on your actions, there’s one piece of advice that I can offer: be kind to yourself! No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, but if we can look back at those mistakes with kind eyes then we can learn and move forward. I hope that the way I self-reflect is something that I model for my students. I hope that they can figure it out much earlier than I did, as I really believe that the ability to self-reflect, share our findings, and move forward is a powerful tool.

Ps. I chose the image of the beach as the feature image because when I was getting into the habit of self-reflection and things got a little confronting, I actually found walking on the beach to be quite calming.