Tuesday, 29 December 2015

What Does Pixar's 'Inside Out' Teach Us About Teacher Wellbeing? Part 2

Riley: I... I know you don't want me to, but... I miss home. I miss Minnesota. You need me to be happy, but I want my old friends, and my hockey team. I wanna go home. Please don't be mad.
Mom: Oh, sweetie...
Dad: We're not mad. You know what? I miss Minnesota too. I miss the woods where we took hikes.
Mom: And the backyard where we used to play.
Dad: Spring Lake, where you used to skate.

This is the finale of 'Inside Out'; the dialogue is accompanied by many an animated sad expression, a healthy number of tears and it culminates in a big family hug. Apparently Dacher Keltner from the University of California, Berkeley, 'helped revise the story by emphasising the neuropsychological findings that human emotions are mirrored in interpersonal relationships and can be significantly moderated by them.'  However, the film heavily emphasises how we self-regulate our emotions and focuses less on the part that human interaction plays in influencing how we feel. For the purposes of the movie's concept this is forgivable but in real life if we shunned social interaction and relied on self to keep sane, I dare say we would find ourselves in a mess.

There are enough moments in the film where Riley and her parents help each other to overcome difficulties: sometimes by being 'goofballs' and acting like monkeys, and other times by playing hockey with a screwed up ball of paper or suggesting shared experiences to cheer each other up. And these are the moments I'd like to reflect on with regard to our own wellbeing.

I'd like to direct your attentions toward Benjamin Zephaniah's poem 'People Need People'. There are three verses, but here is the first:

People need people,
To walk to
To talk to
To cry and rely on,
People will always need people.
To love and to miss
To hug and to kiss,
It’s useful to have other people.
To whom to moan
If you’re all alone,
It’s so hard to share
When no one is there.
There’s not much to do
When there’s no one but you.
People will always need people.

In my previous post about 'Inside Out' I discussed how the exercise of a full range of emotions is good for our wellbeing. If this is happening then it is inevitable that there will be visible manifestations alerting others to our feelings. And when we spend time with friends, colleagues or family most of us hope that they will respond to the visual clues and ask us how we are feeling. And if you don't display your emotions, and the people around you don't notice when you do, then your wellbeing is in peril.

Benjamin Zephaniah suggests we need people 'to cry and rely on' and to moan to! 'Inside Out' shows us that once you have allowed emotions like sadness to manifest that healing actually begins when other people respond to it. Don't be afraid to let others see you in what you perceive to be weakness. There is actually great strength in admitting to others that you feel weak. Only when you admit it can you begin to become stronger, and so often that happens with the help of a best friend, spouse, partner, sibling, mentor or work mate. In those around us there can be found a wealth of experience, knowledge, and most importantly kindness, care and love. And we all need a bit of that, don't we?

For teachers it is important to identify those people in all areas of your life. Who knows you well? Who knows how much energy your pour into your job? Who has perhaps experienced the strains of the changing face of education and made it through the other side? Who do you know who appears to have a good work/life balance despite having a busy job? Who do you know who will just give you a cuppa and then sit and listen to your woes, without belittling them or waving them aside? Find that person. Actually, find a few; one in each setting you find yourself in. Find someone at work, find someone at home, find someone at the end of the phone line, and on Twitter. Wherever you are, know the people who can help you. And then talk. Make them aware of your emotions as part of day-to-day life. Not just when all comes crashing down. It's probably worth reminding yourself when you find those people that your range of emotions should come into play: if you feel happy, talk about happy things. If you feel scared, talk about what's scaring you. If you feel calm, tell them. Don't just moan. Or cry. Or rely.

And then there is your part of the deal. A relationship is two-ways. When the family's removal truck doesn't arrive, Riley cheers her parents up. When Riley sets out for her first day at school, her parents cheer her up. No matter how broken you are, you can still be a support to others. At times you might take more than you give, and vice versa. Who are the people in your life who need you? As teachers we are expected to care for the wellbeing of the children we teach and we can't escape from that - they need us. We all have colleagues; for those who are leaders it is part of your role to see to their wellbeing. We are duty-bound to moderate the emotions of those around us at school and if our own wellbeing isn't in check, we risk being ineffective in this area.

Benjamin Zephaniah reminds us in his poem that we need to live our lives with other people, sharing food, relaxing in company, learning from and playing with them. He says that other people can put us at ease and make life more appealing. 'Inside Out' reminds us that family and friends help us to deal with difficulties better than we can on our own.

For a case study in how talking about feelings helps, please read Numpty Teacher's blog post How I Stopped Drowning

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