What’s a Dog Got To Do with Education? Presented by Bern Nicholls, PhD.

Dr Bern NichollsIn meditation you focus on your breathing to anchor yourself, [the students] focussed on Gus [the dog] to anchor themselves, to be calm in the classroom.

Many of the keynote speakers spoke about the benefits of forging strong relationships for children but there are other relationships that can enrich a child’s environment and childhood – like the one you have with your pets!

Bern Nicholls, PhD, presented her Masters research findings on the effect of Gus the dog’s presence in the secondary school classroom environment. As a high school teacher for many years, Bern took her Masters research as an opportunity to introduce Gus to her class and to study how Gus affected the classroom environment.

In the classroom, Gus would sit under tables, put his head on students’ shoes, sit next to particular students and, for the most part of the day, sleep. His presence was definitely felt, with students reporting that they felt:

  • More relaxed,
  • More trusting of the classroom environment,
  • A stronger connection to the class and other students,
  • More understanding and empathetic of other students,
  • It was easier to concentrate in class, and
  • Safer in the classroom.

Most noticeably, Gus gave students more confidence to speak up in class. Many students who were often shy or afraid would speak more freely if Gus was sitting at their feet.

So, what’s the explanation?

Koda Kayaking
One of the instructors in our Gippsland Wilderness Program is studying Animal Assisted Therapy, you can see his dog Koda loves the kayaking!

There’s a connection to the evolutionary history of people and dogs: they evolved with us, became our protectors and then a part of our families. Gus became this sort of canary in the classroom, wherein he had a calming effect on all the kids, and with a calmer mind, there’s more room for learning.

Bern’s research can be used to think about how teachers work with and form relationships with their students.

Bern highlighted three areas in her research where teachers could change their practice to form stronger relationships and improve their students’ learning environment:

Trust and care: acknowledging the courage it takes to teach and then acknowledging that students want teachers to care about them to build relationships with them, just as Gus did,

Relationships: understanding that children want meaningful and respectful teaching and, in turn, working to build this relationship, and

Educating with the brain in mind: remembering that stressed brains don’t learn and trying to create a relaxed environment in the classroom.

Whats a dog got to do with education

For more information on Bern’s work, see her company Learning Labyrinth.

Post by bloggers from SYN Media.

The time has arrived – let the Conference begin!

Follow the Good Childhood Conference live on Twitter!
Follow the Good Childhood Conference live on Twitter!

Those of us who are organising The Good Childhood Conference are feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety (to be honest, terror) as our conference becomes a reality with pre-workshops on today and the conference starting tomorrow, Thursday 11 October.

Now if only we had listened to one of our keynote speakers, Robert Hart from the Resilience Institute, and “ejected stress” and “sustained our energy”!

The pre-conference workshops are seeing three of our conference speakers engaging participants in sessions about drumming, resilience and client case studies respectively.

This breadth of topics reflects the diversity of sessions we’ll be offering at the conference itself over the next two days.

So if you are attending the conference, we are really looking forward to your participation and hope you will join us in the conversation about a good childhood.

We encourage you to follow the seminars and discussions on social media, whether you are able to attend the conference or not.

Young people from SYN Media will be reporting on what they are hearing from our presenters on Twitter so you will be able to keep up with the content and respond to the key themes. The conference hash tag and key accounts are:

  1. #GCConf, follow this hash tag to see all Tweets relevant to the conference and each seminar,
  2. @ChildhoodInst, Tweeting highlights from the SYN Media Tweeters attending each seminar,
  3. @LiveSYN, covering the conference keynotes and seminars live.

After the conference we will be constantly updating this blog with posts written on most of the keynotes, seminars and worshops.

This way, we can let you know in more detail about what our presenters had to say about a good childhood – how it can be sustained and what we need to do for those who have not had a good childhood.

Again, we would be really pleased if you could comment on the blog so we know what you are thinking.

Here’s to a successful and dynamic conference!

Pictures of You

Brian Nankervis
Brian Nankervis (centre) on ‘Pictures of You’ with two of his special guests, comedians/ actors Anh Do and Shane Jacobson.

Without seeking to trivialise our conference aims, we don’t believe conversations about a Good Childhood should be restricted to earnest or academic exchanges.

After all, we all hope that childhood involves a good measure of fun and creativity.

We plan to end The Good Childhood Conference on a positive and entertaining note with a perspective on the good childhood theme from Brain Nankervis.

Brian is a Melbourne based performer, writer and producer who is probably best known as co-host of the popular SBS music trivia series ‘RocKwiz’.

In 2012 Brian hosted the talk show ‘Pictures of You’ on Channel 7. Guests were invited into the studio armed with their family photo collections and encouraged to reminisce about their early life.

At our conference, Brain will recreate this format with two of our presenters who will share some childhood photos and in the process, tell us something about who they are today.

If you go further back into Brian’s history as a performer, you might recall his regular appearances on Hey Hey It’s Saturday as the tortured street poet Raymond J Bartholomeuz.

We can’t promise you any poems but Brian is a consummate storyteller and he’s bound to whimsically and poignantly share something of his own childhood.

We hope to see you on Friday afternoon for a delightful end to a stimulating, possibly challenging conference program!

See Brian’s touching interview with “The Happiest Refugee” Anh Do below,

What makes people happy? What can you do to increase your own wellbeing?

Lea Waters
Associate Professor Lea Waters will be speaking about the promotion of positive psychology.

The answers to these age-old questions can surface from our favourite books, popular culture, talk-show personalities—and perhaps even your own mother!

For some, happiness is an integration of concepts from eastern and western religion or philosophy.

For others, wellbeing is the hard-earned benefit of lived-experience. 

The promotion of wellbeing is the driving force of positive psychology. Abraham Maslow was the first to coin the term “positive psychology” in 1954, noting “the science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than the positive side.

It has revealed to us much about man’s shortcomings, his illness, his sins, but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations, or his full psychological height.”

Over a decade ago, a call was put forth by Drs Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a rallying cry at the American Psychological Association to renew science’s spotlight on the positive.

Could we in fact answer the question, “What makes life worth living?” using evidence-based practice backed by rigorous research to bring this learning to families, schools, public health, and organisations?

And if we want to best meet the needs of vulnerable young people, isn’t it important to best understand the complete picture of the human being and gain insight into building, nurturing and sustaining positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment?

The Berry Street Childhood Institute is excited to feature a leading champion of the field, Associate Professor Lea Waters of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne.

Read more about her recent work at MGSE and the promotion of positive psychology.

We are pleased that Lea will be one of our featured key note speakers on Friday, 11 October. Come join us at the Berry Street Good Childhood Conference at Mooney Valley Racecourse.

A good childhood for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

Julian Pocock, Director Public Policy & Practice Development
Julian Pocock, Director Public Policy & Practice Development

In 2007, Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle – or the Little Children Are Sacred Report – exposed the complexity and shame of sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.

Constant media focus on child abuse in the NT followed. Daily reports in The Australian newspaper and nightly stories on ABC’s Lateline.

They covered, paedophile rings, chronic neglect, kids sniffing petrol, kids roaming the streets day and night and the sexual abuse of kids, including kids abusing other kids. All fueled by a daily diet of pornography and alcohol.

Shocking, awful stuff. Hard to digest, hard to think about and harder to know where to start. But, in time, easy to ignore.

With the 2007 Federal Election looming, the NT intervention was announced in response to this ‘national emergency’.

Just after another election, it’s a good time to ask – has childhood improved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children?

I’m not sure.

Media stories of neglect and abuse continue. Negative images of Aboriginal kids and families dominate.

Take a look at this photo of a two year old Aboriginal girl from NT in a News.com.au article.

What’s your first thought when you look at it?

At first glance it’s hard not to think she’s been punched.

I had to ask myself, why was that my first thought?

Are we getting any better at providing kids like this with a good childhood?

Welcome to The Good Childhood Conference blog!

CEO, Berry Street
Sandie de Wolf AM – CEO, Berry Street

This is a first for me as I join the blogging community!

At Berry Street, we believe that all children should have a good childhood, growing up feeling safe, nurtured and with hope for the future.  Sadly, evidence and our experience over 136 years tells us that this is not a reality for far too many children.

I think there is a lot for us to learn and share about what sustains a good childhood and how we best support those who have not had this experience. One of the key ways forward is bringing together parents’ experience, the knowledge of practitioners and different disciplines.

There are a wide range of terrific speakers lined up for our inaugural The Good Childhood Conference, designed to appeal to different audiences.  Some will be controversial. That’s part of the intention, because we really want to start a broad conversation about childhood.

We hope to have a large contingent of young people at the Conference – as both presenters and participants.

Like the work of Berry Street, our Conference will appeal to people from many different disciplines.  50 workshops will cover areas such as child protection, education, early years, wellbeing, place-based initiatives, family violence, the impact of technology and Out of Home Care.

We couldn’t be doing this without our Sponsors and Supporting Partners. We are especially grateful to the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, who describe their role as helping to build a strong and fair society for all Australians and developing social policies to:

  • Increase opportunities for all Australians to participate in our society and work
  • Promote cohesive and connected society
  • Support basic living standards
  • Support individuals, families and communities to build their capacity

So, please spread the word and I look forward to meeting you at the conference.

Sandie de Wolf, CEO, Berry Street