Tag Archives: well-being

CHAPEL TALK: THANKS-GIVING

Written by Head of Upper School, Michele Bett

With our Thanksgiving break rapidly approaching, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect upon why we should give thanks. In this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” in the words of English poet John Keats, ripened fruits and swollen gourds signal that the wondrous bounty of mother nature’s harvest has arrived. And yes, we have much for which to give thanks.

We give thanks that at Ridley:

our teachers have high expectations of their students;

our students come to school ready to be stretched and challenged;

our teachers support and scaffold curiosity in their classrooms daily;

our students are inherently curious and motivated learners;

our teachers arrange their learning opportunities, carving out space for imagination, wonder and reflection; and

our students flourish when they find passion and relevance in their studies.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk writes on the power of gratefulness. He encourages us to see each new day as a gift where the only appropriate response is gratitude. He urges us to open our hearts to all our blessings.

It is quite radical to see each new day as a gift. If you were caught thanking the sun for rising each morning, people might wonder about your sanity. Normal people don’t go around being grateful all the time. But why not?

I believe that it behooves us to show respect for – and be grateful to – nature, other people, and the past.

We have all stood transfixed and filled with awe in the presence of nature’s marvels – Niagara Falls is an obvious and near-by example. At moments like that, it is not hard to feel a sense of gratitude and to think to ourselves, “what a wonderful world!” The feeling is probably like that of a child playing in the garden. The difference is that, unlike us, the child does not need a raging cascade to get her attention. Here is how John Keats’ older contemporary William Wordsworth put it:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

The poet goes on to say that this time is gone: “The things which I have seen I now can see no more.” And yet, despite our obliviousness and routine and normalcy, nature does not stop being the miracle that it is. As a later 19th century English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins put it: “And for all this, nature is never spent; / There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Even in this time of climate change and global warming, an appreciation for the blessings of life on this earth is still the right way to respond. In fact, I wonder if things might be different on our planet if more people felt more grateful to nature.

At Ridley, we frequently emphasize the importance of thanking each other as often as we can. By doing so, we are recognizing the worth and significance of other people. It turns out that admitting the reality of what is outside ourselves is a necessary step toward well-being. Furthermore, by thanking others, we are acknowledging the other’s presence as a gift. We are saying to the other: “You have given me something that I did not deserve; you have been to me more than a friend.” What almost inevitably comes next is: “I will do the same for you when I can. I will try to be a gift to you.” It is a virtuous circle that fosters and celebrates loving relationships.

Being thankful for the past might seem somewhat strange, even suspicious; some of us might feel much more inclined to reject the past in our struggle for a better world. But human civilizations and cultures throughout all time have universally honoured those who have lived and died in earlier times. Similarly, our society commemorates heroes and martyrs and wise people who have done or said things that remain meaningful to us today. One of those we remember is Martin Frobisher, who in 1578 arrived in Canada and held a formal ceremony in which he gave thanks for surviving the long voyage from England. (Some 43 years later, the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts and did something similar.) This nation began by opening its heart in gratitude to the blessings of life.

And that’s why I am so grateful to be part of a community that has opened its heart to all its blessings. Every student in our community is a blessing, and regardless of their academic trajectory, they are cared for and valued. They are loved.

As in so many of my chapel talks and conversations with parents and students it is the character strength of love that I find myself returning to so often. Love, it seems, underpins nearly everything we do at Ridley.

In the gospels, God tells who we are, and we know that it can be the hardest thing in the world for us to receive love, especially the love of God. Whether you are a Christian, Moslem, Jew, Buddhist, non-believer, let’s be united in the idea that love is the strongest thing in the world, and to receive it demands that we begin by loving ourselves.

Unlike the bees in Keats’ ode to “Autumn,” we know that these warm October days will cease, but giving thanks at Ridley is not limited to the season of thanksgiving. At Ridley, we practice gratitude daily, all year round. May I wish all our families at Ridley a Thanksgiving break filled with joy, appreciation and, of course, much love.

Ridley Becomes the First Visible Wellbeing™ School in North America

Three years following the launch of our Strategic Plan, Ridley is confidently enacting our mission to inspire flourishing lives in a novel and intentional way. Recently, our school launched an exciting two-year partnership with Professor Lea Waters (PhD), a leading researcher and global expert in the field of positive psychology – making Ridley the first Visible Wellbeing TM Foundational School in North America.

Developing well-rounded individuals has been a focus at Ridley for over a century, however, over the past five years we have deliberately and consciously applied the science behind positive education – the notion of improving students’ emotional, psychological and physical well-being in order to help them flourish in the classroom and in their lives.

In 2012 Ridley began to effect applied positive psychology methodologies, such as Martin Seligman’s PERMA-V model, which breaks down the core elements of psychological well-being and happiness. Since then, our faculty has been participating in professional development, becoming deeply familiar with key frameworks and integrating them into their classrooms, on the sports field, within the boarding houses and even in their own lives. Today, it would not be out of the ordinary for one to walk into the Grade 3 class to witness mindfulness breathing exercises taking place, or to hear students at the lunch table talking about their top character strengths.

With this school-wide exposure to positive psychology, the introduction of a dedicated Upper School Counselor and the PERMA-V model being adopted by faculty and Ridleians alike, it became clear that Ridley was quickly becoming a leader in positive education within North American schools. It was with this realization that we decided to embark upon a fundraising effort to bring a world-class expert in this field to Ridley. With the support of our generous community, Ridley successfully raised more than $100,000 towards a ‘Positive Education Fellowship’ during the 2016-17 Annual Fund campaign.

The search for the most suitable positive psychology expert, who would advance our school’s mission, led Ridley straight to Professor Lea Waters.

    

Although she playfully refers to herself as a “pracademic,” Professor Lea Waters is more formally a psychologist, researcher, author and facilitator who specializes in positive education, positive parenting, and positive organizations.  She is the Founding Director of Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Melbourne – where she has also published over 90 scientific articles and book chapters in 21 years. Professor Waters is the President of the International Positive Psychology Association, has affiliate positions with Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and is the Ambassador for the Positive Education Schools Association.

Among her many contributions to the field, the multi-award winning research professor has designed and developed a framework known as Visible WellbeingTM (VWB), which is an approach that combines the science of well-being with the science of learning and teaching to make well-being visible in all classes and across co-curricula. Over the next two years, Professor Waters will bring her scientifically-grounded techniques in VWB to Ridley, which will enable teachers to use the learning process itself as a delivery mechanism to build student well-being. Unlike some rigid curriculum, VWB is a flexible approach which can be applied in a trans-disciplinary manner across all grades and amongst faculty and staff. With the VWB approach, academic learning and well-being are truly integrated and produce a positive feedback cycle.

Professor Waters’ drive to develop the VWB approach was in reaction to staggering global rates of teen depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide. According to the World Health Organization, 10 to 20 percent of children and adolescents experience mental disorders worldwide. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death amongst 15 to 19-year-olds. Ridley responds to this teenage need for support, explains Head of Upper School, Michele Bett, “At Ridley, we believe a child’s physical and emotional, psychological well-being will underpin everything they do – not just in school, but beyond school.”

To launch VWB at Ridley, Professor Waters recently spent two days facilitating faculty and staff workshops. During these dynamic sessions, she introduced concepts such as the SEARCH Framework, which helps identify character strengths, as well as delivery methods and measurement techniques for VWB. Professor Waters also shared why she was keen to partner with Ridley. “What made me feel that [Ridley] would do well by Visible Wellbeing is that I know that the intention of Ridley is truly and genuinely to make flourishing lives. It’s not just a statement on a document…The school has the right structure, it has the right people, it has the right ethos…From an organizational psychology perspective it ticks all the checklist of organizational readiness for change,” says Waters.

Professor Lea Waters facilitating Visible WellbeingTM workshops with faculty and staff.

“I truly feel that the adoption of Professor Waters’ Visible Wellbeing approach and positive education expertise will provide the exact direction, resources and consistent language that our community requires to forge ahead as the trailblazer for positive education in Canada…and North America for that matter,” remarked Headmaster, Ed Kidd. Ridley looks forwards to enhancing the student experience through this ongoing VWB initiative and to sharing our outcomes with other schools around the world.

Ridley faculty show off their copies of The Strength Switch by Professor Lea Waters (PhD), the selection for this past summer’s professional development reading.

“This is a world-class school to take on this new innovation and to marry together the science of learning with the science of well-being to help everyone thrive at the school.” – Professor Lea Waters (PhD)