Aug. 20, 2021

isPodcast - Episode Four

isPodcast - Episode Four

Mike Broadstock speaks with Lucy Thomas about Project Rockit, the youth-driven movement against cyber bullying she created with her sister. Natalie Moutafis speaks with ISV's Will Hanley about a program that helps secondary students find meaning, purpose, and belonging. We hear a lovely tune from a Mount Scopus Memorial College singer-songwriter, and the team looks at the latest in education.


Mentioned in this episode: 

Project Rockit

Project Wayfinder 

UNICEF Australia parent survey

Youth environment education report

Youth Congress applications

School Leavers Information Service

Helen Green’s Open Days article on The Parents Website

Jared Cooney Horvath seminar on The Parents Website 

isArtworks

Mount Scopus Memorial College

You can find isPodcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

 

Transcript

Note: isPodcast is produced for listening and is designed to be heard. We encourage you to listen to the audio, as it includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page. While every care is taken, our transcripts may contain errors.

Hi everyone. And welcome back to isPodcast. ISV’s show for schools and the wider community. I'm Shane Green. Today, Mike Broadstock speaks with Lucy Thomas about Project Rockit, the youth-driven movement against cyber bullying she created with her sister. Natalie Moutafis speaks with ISV's Will Hanley about a program that helps secondary students find meaning, purpose, and belonging. And the three of us will look at the latest in education. 

Michael Broadstock: 
When I was at school, I dealt with my fair – or unfair – share of bullying. And to be honest, it still affects me today. So, I've always kept an interest in anti-bullying programs, especially now that I have kids of my own. Project Rockit – that's Rockit, not rocket – is a youth-driven movement that empowers school students to stand up to bullying, hate and prejudice instead of standing by and watching. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Project Rockit CEO and co-founder Lucy Thomas, about their approach: Kindness.  

Welcome to the show, Lucy.  

Lucy Thomas: 
Hi, Mike. Thanks for having me. 

Michael Broadstock: 
So how did Project Rockit come about and what drove you to act? 

Lucy Thomas: 
Yeah, a great question. So, Project Rockit came about in 2006. Basically, my little sister and I finished school and we'd seen the way throughout high school, this issue of bullying, and all those behaviours that fall under the umbrella of bullying, had just significantly damaged the lives and prospects of so many of our peers. That some people, most of us start high school as eager and willing and open kids who are ready to make friends and take on new opportunities and learn. And I just noticed the way that over the course of high school for so many people, they became shells of themselves. And those awesome kids, by the time they finished high school, weren't prepared to step out into the world and weren't ready and weren't motivated and empowered. 

So, my sister and I had observed that and also, we'd felt really patronised in high school when it came to the issue of bullying. At the time, and I think things – we've really pushed the needle a lot in how we engage with young people on matters that affect them most – but at the time we'd had people come and talk to us, just tell us not to bully, or when it came to technology, they'd just attempted to terrify us all. And we found that the education we received didn't actually give us the skills or build the empathy to stand up to bullying.  

And that's why we decided to do something about it. We figured, ‘You know what? We’re young people ourselves, this issue needs to be put back in the hands of young people, so let's just get out there and start having conversations with school students’. 

So, what started as a very small project driven by myself and my little sister has since grown into Australia's youth driven movement against bullying, hate and prejudice. And much to our surprise has reached over 500,000 young Aussies in the past 15, just over 15 years. 

Michael Broadstock:
Wow. What's the journey been like for you, seeing that growth? 

Lucy Thomas: 
Yeah, one of immense surprise and great gratitude and learning, it felt to begin with, like it was something that we had to heave into motion, off the back of just sheer grit and belief. And now it's something that for the past eight years or so has just been really carrying all of us forward and something that we felt we've had to keep up with as the issues of bullying spill further and further online.  

Community awareness has just grown so much about diversity and inclusion and what it means to get along collectively, not only within school, but online and societally, more widely as well. So, yeah, it's been one of an experience of growing momentum. Surprise, great curiosity, and yeah, it's just been absolutely amazing. 

Michael Broadstock: 
So, you go out to schools, and you get up in front of students in a school hall. What's your message for them? And how do you tell it? 

Lucy Thomas: 
Project Rockit is for starters built on a vision of a world where kindness and respect thrive over bullying, hate and prejudice. And every young person is free to realise their potential. So, although we're typically booked to go into schools to run workshops that tackle bullying, our message is much more strengths-based and much more about kindness and respect, and what it means to stand up for the issues and values that we embody in this world.  

So, it's much more about uniting the peer group rather than drawing out labels of bullies and victims and that kind of thing. When we decided to start heading out into schools, we decided that we weren't going to opt for a fear-based approach, we weren't going to lecture young people or perpetuate messages that technology is a weapon. 

Instead, we were going to make sure that people had the opportunity to exercise their voice, to be seen in front of their peers, as leaders. To share a laugh, and ultimately to build a connection with people in their year level that they might otherwise have never seen before that moment. So, that next time, someone in your year level is struggling being bullied or just needing support, you're actually motivated and equipped with the strategies to do something about it. 

Michael Broadstock:
So, how do students react to these messages? 

Lucy Thomas: 
With great surprise, actually, I think when you're told you're about to do a workshop, tackling cyber bullying, you expect the worst. We tend to get some death stares and eye rolls and side clicks when they realise that that's what we're here to talk about. But we love to trick students into having a really positive experience when it comes to these issues. The workshops themselves are extremely interactive, they really hand the conversation back to the student audience. And because we're not trying to come up with all of the answers ourselves as presenters, I think that creates a real, a great level of ownership among students. 

And so often the most common piece of feedback we get is: ‘I was dreading this session. I thought it was going to be the worst, and actually it turned out to be the most memorable moment I've had so far in school because I actually got to step out from the group and be myself’. Which is absolutely awe inspiring to me, because I think it takes such courage for students to do that. 

Michael Broadstock: 
So, in my day, the bullying ended at the school gate, I could recharge at home. But today, kids have mobile phones and social media, so there might not be a safe place for them at home to retreat to, that's probably even changed since Project Rockit started in the first place. How does Project Rockit respond to cyber bullying? 

Lucy Thomas: 
Well back in 2006 when we launched Project Rockit, Facebook had been founded only two years earlier. So, the biggest and really the original social media platform was still in diapers.  

And it's quite incredible having watched the explosion of digital technology, social media, and just the way that we're communicating with each other and connecting more broadly. Technology is an incredible tool for young people to exercise their civic participation and build global worldviews and find their community, find belonging and acceptance.  

But as we know, it can also be an alienating experience being online because of cyber bullying as well as because we set up unhealthy comparisons for ourselves, we might spend so much time online that we don't actually have a broader perspective on the world. 

And so, for us, I think you're absolutely right, that this issue has really changed. I think it's an incredible challenge for educators to address this issue because it spills outside of the school. And it's not super clear who governs the issue of cyber bullying.  

We have people pointing to social media platforms and schools and policy to do more, but ultimately our take is that that's why it's even more important that we empower young people to take ownership and to take responsibility, to be the custodians of the communities that they're creating.  

So, my take is that now more than ever, yes, it's important that educators are doing their bit, social media platforms need to do a lot better. We can be providing greater policies to guide our experiences online but at the end of the day, we need to equip young people with digital literacy and with the kind of vision of what the digital world can be, so much more than just gaming and entertainment and fun and hanging out and posting Instagram videos, or TikTok's, or whatever. It's about extending who we want to be and the world that we want to see and starting that with every click, comment, post, share and so on. 

Michael Broadstock: 
When I tell people I was bullied at school, it feels like a confession, even though I did nothing wrong. But at the time I didn't tell my parents probably for the same reason – I felt embarrassed or even ashamed. I worry that my kids might do the same thing if the same would have happened to them, so what can parents do to pick up on the signals and help keep the channels open with their kids? 

Lucy Thomas: 
Well firstly, I think it's an incredible display of role modelling that you share without shame, your experience of being bullied. It's like people who are bullied routinely get the message that it's because there's something wrong with them. Whereas actually, I think it takes great strength and resilience to survive and to have yourself intact on the other side to grow up and be the kind of adult that is still able to be kind, and have positive relationships, despite knowing how cruel people can be.  

And I think we need to start wearing those experiences, not as a badge of honour, but as experiences that qualify us to be great supporters for others who are going through difficult situations. So, the first suggestion is that I think most people understand what it's like to encounter bullying. I think we need to open up, I think we need to share those experiences. 

The second thought that comes to mind for me is I think typically these days, as you acknowledged bullying, doesn't just exist in offline spaces. It doesn't just happen in the playground. And I think for parents, it can be incredibly daunting knowing that you might not be a tech wizard, but your kids' experiences are all playing out online.  

So, the second recommendation that I'd give is just to remember that your kids might be the tech experts, but the issues they're experiencing are age old, throughout adolescence. Across generations, we've experienced what it's like to be alienated or pushed out or shoved down because of who you are, how difficult it is to stand apart from the group or find your feet, work out relationships and sexuality. And these are the issues that we're seeing playing out today, they're just playing out in digital spaces.  

So, yeah, it would be just to remember that you actually have what you need to support your child and they can teach you about the tech part; that's the new part and we'll never be able to keep up. Those are my thoughts. 

Michael Broadstock: 
Yeah. So, right now we’re in lockdown six, I think. Are you still able to deliver your programs in schools, you're doing it virtually or …? 

Lucy Thomas: 
Yeah, we are. Not without challenges, I'm going to be really honest that our model is that we train young people to go into schools and deliver peer-based workshops. And starting out it was really difficult, because we were, what qualified us was being young people. And we lacked the kind of history organizationally and the experience for people to perceive us as experts.  

But as time has gone on, Ro and I have been further and further distanced from school and it's kind of flipped. So, we made a really important decision that we'd bring that youth expertise by making sure that our programs are entirely youth driven. So, the biggest challenge at the moment is that we've got this passionate, engaged, incredible team of young presenters who are unable to go out into schools. 

And yeah, we've converted all of our offerings into a digital workshop series, which has been, oh my gosh, full of so much creativity and also been really challenging. When it comes to teens, you can't just give them a wobbly webinar experience because they're used to having high production value in everything they experience.  

And so, it's been really mobilising that team of young presenters to create digital content that's going to reach young people and meet them where they're at, so that it can still be curriculum aligned. But it also has to be jam packed with interactivity, interactive polls and Q and As and ways for young people to get involved in the experience, rather than just passively watching a webinar unfold in front of them. That's what we've been working on. 

Michael Broadstock: 
Anything else on the horizon? 

Lucy Thomas:
Oh, one exciting thing that we have happening at the moment. I'm naming it because it's a free opportunity, so you don't need any resources whatsoever to participate.  

We've teamed up with Facebook and Instagram to deliver our Project Rockit Digital Ambassadors program, which is uniting thousands of Year 7 students all over the country through a series of online events that empower every student with the skills, not only to challenge cyber bullying, but to create an online world that we're proud of.  

So, yeah, the events are dropping each week throughout the rest of term three and perhaps into term four, we'll see how we go. And details are on the Project Rockit website, you can bring along your whole year seven class there, heaps of fun. 

Michael Broadstock: 
And that website? 

Lucy Thomas: 
www.projectrockit.com.au 

Michael Broadstock:
Fantastic. We'll put a link to that under the description of the show as well. Thanks very much for joining us, Lucy. 

Lucy Thomas:
Thanks so much, Mike. And take care. 

Michael Broadstock:
Thank you. You too. 

Natalie Moutafis:
I'm bored, stressed and tired. Sound familiar? You might've heard this complaint from young people today, so how can our schools help? With Project Wayfinder.  

Project Wayfinder was developed at the Stanford University's Institute of Design, based on the research of Dr. Bill Damon, director of the Stanford Adolescence Centre. They want to know how we can re-imagine high school to develop a student's sense of meaning, purpose and belonging?  

The research from Wayfinder is showing that our young people are stressed, not just because they have too much to do, but because they don't know why they're doing it. Project Wayfinder is setting out to help students find meaning, an antidote to the mental health crisis plaguing our students. 

Will Hanley works in our innovation team at Independent Schools Victoria. He's an accomplished educator, previously holding leadership positions, including Head of Department and Head of House. He's passionate about helping young people to strive and thrive in their lives, challenging them to work towards contributing to society. Will is the lead on Project Wayfinder for ISV and joins me today to explain a little more about Wayfinder.  

Hi, Will. Thanks for joining us today.

Will Hanley: 
No worries, Nat. Thanks for having me. 

Natalie Moutafis:
So, you lead one of the relatively new projects at ISV, Project Wayfinder. That's a program out of Stanford university, isn't it? 

Will Hanley:
That's right. It comes from Stanford University's D school, which is the design school at Stanford University. They work on multiple projects in education, and Project Wayfinder was one of them. 

So, Project Wayfinder has two different programs, belonging and purpose. Belonging is all about looking inwards to the self and then Purpose is all about going outwards. So, Purpose is a stable and generalised intention to accomplish something that is both meaningful to the self and consequential to the wider world, and this is what these two programs work on. 

Natalie Moutafis:
So, is this for students, or is it for teachers or anyone or what's the deal? 

Will Hanley:
So, we provide Project Wayfinder for students in Years 7 to 12. So, the Belonging program is for students in year seven to nine, and the Purpose program is for students in Years 10 to 12. We're also introducing making Meaning for Educator Wellbeing, which is a course designed for educators or adults to help them rediscover a sense of purpose and belonging in their lives. 

Natalie Moutafis: 
So, do the students have to have done the belonging part before they can move on to the purpose, or is it kind of interchangeable? 

Will Hanley:
Yeah, it's interchangeable. So, there are six years of curriculum that can stand alone, or they can work in conjunction with each other. So, schools can choose to implement one of the three years of Belonging, or two of the three years of Belonging, or all of the three years of Belonging. And the same with purpose, it's really up to the school.  

We make it really achievable for them to implement the programs, we're making it easy for students to understand what they're doing. We work with school’s timetables to assist them. And so, whether it be as part of a pastoral care program or a part of their curriculum, part of an extra-curricular activity.  

And we also have schools implementing it as part of seminars outside of school. So, we have lots of schools who go on camps or retreats, and they've been implementing these programs as part of those camps or retreats. 

Natalie Moutafis: 
Oh, awesome. So, it sounds really versatile in the way it can be delivered? 

Will Hanley:
Absolutely. And as I said, we work with the schools to implement it in whichever way works for them as well. 

Natalie Moutafis: 
Okay. And are there any real-life examples you can give us of how the students would implement this in their life once they've done the course? 

Will Hanley:
Sure. So, Belonging is all about the self and understanding the students’ sense of belonging within themselves, within their community and within the wider world. And it's the same with Purpose as well. They look at purpose within themselves. They look at purpose in the community and then they work on purpose or passion projects that assist them in contributing to something greater than themselves.  

We've had students who have done a wide array of things. We've had people connect with their roots, with their family, with their genealogy and provide seminars, lunches for the wider community. We've had students who have started to understand their role in society and how they can contribute in a greater way. We've had students who have decided to continue on their purpose journey after school as well in lots of different ways.

So, it's really heartening to see how these amazing young people are able to get something out of this program and really make a change in their lives, and a change in the wider world as well. 

Natalie Moutafis: 
And I imagine it would be really useful to do this as you're going down that path of trying to pick the career that you might want in the future or the university course that you might want to take just to help come up with that purpose and to drive that decision. Is that useful in some way? 

Will Hanley: 
Yeah, absolutely. So, Purpose is all about facilitating identity formation and increasing positive attitudes towards diversity. If you have purpose, it's been shown to increase academic engagement, enhance students' ability to connect to classroom learning and real-world experiences decreases antisocial behaviour and bullying, it decreases engagement in risky behaviours. And in lots of instances, it produces a significant increase in grade point averages. So, students are improving themselves in lots of ways.  

They're improving themselves. They're more happy in themselves. And it's not just for young people, adults who experience purpose report high levels of psychological wellbeing, flourishing, hope and resilience, and work and life satisfaction. It's also been shown that purposeful people have been found to live longer and have significantly lower incidences of heart attack, Alzheimer's disease, and stroke. 

Natalie Moutafis:
So, where can I sign up? Is it something that educators in the schools need to progress or is it something parents can get on board with as well? Or what's the best way forward for this? 

Will Hanley:
We can do it in any way. We can have parents sign up to do the Making Meaning Program. It would be great, if parents were able to speak to the teachers in their schools or the leaders in their schools to spread the word of Project Wayfinder as well.  

We find the teachers who undertake the Project Wayfinder training have significant changes in their attitudes, towards their careers and their connection with students as well. So, it's been really interesting to see that journey of educators who undertake the Project Wayfinder training, and then they go and spread the word with their students as well and give them these fantastic programs to help improve their lives and create this sense of belonging and purpose in young people's lives, which is what I think we all want as educators. We want to make a difference and we want to see kids thrive and really live a life full of meaning and purpose. 

Natalie Moutafis: 
So, what's next for Project Wayfinder? Is it something that is continually developing or is it we're going to look at younger age groups? 

Will Hanley: 
Yeah. So, over the past five or six years, Project Wayfinder has grown to be implemented in over 30 countries, with over 200,000 students. The growth of the program is quite exponential and it's exciting to speak to other educators around the world about how they're implementing and the change that they're seeing in their students.  

We are hoping to work with Project Wayfinder, to create a program for students in primary schools and work on meaning and those kinds of basic understandings of purpose and belonging in those junior year levels as well. Just because there is not a specific curriculum for those primary age students doesn't mean they can't be involved in Project Wayfinder.

One of the great innovations in the past year with Project Wayfinder is the Waypoints program and the Wayfinder Activity Library. So, the Waypoints program is built into the online app where students take a survey each week, and these questions in the survey are aligned with CASEL pillars of mental health and wellbeing. CASEL is the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. 

And with Waypoints, it collects students’ responses and charts and graphs to make it simple, to check on how students are feeling and to check in and stay on top of their mental health and wellbeing.  

Educators are able to view issues or patterns in students that they may not see otherwise. And we're able to break down data for individual students, classrooms, schools, or in your wider district. 

Natalie Moutafis:
So, that must give them a really good insight into what the students are feeling and thinking. 

Will Hanley: 
Yeah, absolutely. It gives a great insight into student needs and it works in tandem with the Wayfinder Activity Library to provide the right experiences for students in schools.  

So, the Wayfinder Activity Library is a library of 500 different activities for educators to deliver to their students. And each of these activities align with CASEL standards as well. So, you can be rest assured that everything that is delivered in Project Wayfinder is research backed. And it has strong support from educators all around the world as well. 

Natalie Moutafis: 
So, you have done the course yourself and you are a facilitator, is there any insights that you can give anyone that might be listening now on how we can all lead a life with meaning and purpose? 

Will Hanley:
So, Bill Damon, who is a professor at Stanford University, his understanding of purpose is that purpose is a stable and generalised intention that is both meaningful to the self and consequential to the world greater than the self.  

I think purpose and belonging is all about looking inwards to ourselves to go outwards. I think it's all about asking questions about what makes you happy? What brings you joy? How can we illuminate our character strengths? How can we use what we love, what we're good at, and a need we see in the world, how can we use those three to help move society forward? 

Natalie Moutafis: 
That's great. It's something that I think as a parent and as someone looking at the future with schooling and then careers, everybody can benefit from something or take something away from doing this course it sounds like. So, yeah, it sounds really interesting. 

Will Hanley: 
Yeah. Yeah. It not only supports our students, but it supports our educators as well to be change agents in their communities and equips them with the skills to navigate their lives with purpose and to have that real sense of belonging. 

Natalie Moutafis:
That's wonderful. Thanks, Will. Thanks for your time. 

Will Hanley:
No worries. Thank you for having me, Nat. 

Shane Green:
So, we send out an update to schools each week with education related news, what's come across your desks? 

Natalie Moutafis:
Well, there's a really interesting report from UNICEF Australia, they've just surveyed a thousand parents across the country. Two thirds have said they would vaccinate their children tomorrow, if they could. 

Michael Broadstock:
Really? 

Natalie Moutafis:
Yeah. They also want their kids back at school. Just over half said they would like them back learning face-to-face even during lockdowns. 

Michael Broadstock:
I know how tough it can be having kids at home. 

Natalie Moutafis: 
Yeah. I also came across this report from academics Monash, Stanford, Exeter and the University of Queensland. They say we need to ‘reimagine, recreate and restore’ how we teach children about environmental issues. 

Shane Green: 
Which is timely given the release of the IPCC report. 

Natalie Moutafis: 
That's right. They're calling on global leaders to help make sure the next generation is ready to respond to the climate emergency. So, not just educating them about the science, but helping them see through fake information so that they can understand and respond appropriately to warnings about the climate emergency. 

Shane Green:
Victorian Minister for Youth, Ros Spence, is asking young people to help the government implement Victoria's new youth strategy. They're looking for people aged 12 to 22 who are passionate and vocal about local issues. So, if you know someone like that or that's you, let them know. They can apply to represent their communities as part of the 2022 Victorian Youth Congress.  

Applications are open from the 9th of August to the 13th of September. We'll put a link in the show description. 

Michael Broadstock: 
The Australian Government wants school leavers to take advantage of a free service that helps them understand their career options. The School Leavers Information Service has information about further study, upskilling or going straight into the workforce. I'll link to that in the description too. No doubt there'll be articles about careers coming up on The Parents Website too, Shane. 

Shane Green:
That's right. Our careers expert, Helen Green, has great advice for school leavers. Her recent guide to navigating university open days has been very popular.  

With lock downs and a return to remote learning back on the scene, we've seen many families turning to The Parents’ Website for support and advice. Now these are tough times for families, and we have a tremendous range of resources to support them.    

We also have a free webinar coming up with Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath, who isPodcast listeners will remember from our interview last episode about Cognizance. 

Natalie Moutafis:
That's right. And Jared will go through some fun interactive activities for both parents and their teens that explore how the brain develops and changes during early adolescence and early adulthood. 

Michael Broadstock:
And there's some new student art in display as well, Nat. 

Natalie Moutafis:
Yes. ISV has launched the Student Art Exhibition for 2021. There are 60 artworks from six Victorian Independent Schools on display, celebrating creativity amid COVID. You can look at the works online, at isArtworks, and we'll put a link to that in the description. And you'll be able to see them in person at ISV’s gallery in Docklands, as soon as COVID restrictions allow. 

Shane Green: 
And that's it for episode four of isPodcast. We're going to leave you with Forget-me-not. An original work by a year 11 student at Mount Scopus Memorial College. Recorded by him and mixed by his teacher. 

Song: Forget-me-not.

Natalie Moutafis: 
isPodcast is brought to you by Independent Schools Victoria. It's produced and recorded by Greg Lawrence, and Duncan MacLean, and presented by Michael Broadstock, Shane Green, and me, Natalie Moutafis. Our podcast theme was composed and performed by Duncan MacLean. You can find transcripts of our shows with links to what we've discussed, at podcast.iseducation.com.au

You can find isPodcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.