Read on for a really interesting Q & A with Sonia Grant, Lead Facilitator in Scotland.
Who is team iheart Scotland?
When we first started about a year ago, it was just myself and Marie, shortly followed by Babs and Karen. There are now 12 of us and we make an awesome team who are committed to taking iheart into as many schools as possible…and we are having an absolute blast doing it!
We support each other in delivering the curriculum and share our experiences. We have also set up a monthly zoom call so that we can connect and share learnings and best practise.
Click this link to watch Team Scotland in action!
Can you tell us a little about your background in education?
I was a teacher for nearly 30 years, working in primary, secondary and special education. I started as a PE teacher then quickly became interested in the area of pastoral care/pupil support and became Principal Teacher in this area. Latterly, I was PT of Additional Support Needs and was heading for Deputy Head Teacher posts. However, I recognised that resilience and wellbeing were ‘big’ issues within schools but required a different approach. So, I left education in 2012 with the intention of finding a way to ‘make a real difference’ to young people by looking in a new direction for the answers. I tried counselling, EFT, CBT, EFT & NLP. but only when I found iheart, did I feel like I was ‘home’.
In how many schools is the team currently delivering the programme?
We are delivering in 6 schools, which amount to 11 sessions per week, with another 6 schools on the books in the new year. Currently, we are reaching almost 300 pupils per week through the programme.
The vlog you are doing is great. There seems to be a real buzz within your team. Tell us a bit more about the momentum that has built-up so quickly?
We are having the most brilliant time and such fun with the delivery and are so excited about the impact occurring with pupils and teachers. Spookily, even though the size of Scotland is quite large, me, Karen and Babs live in the same village, while Marie is only 16 miles away. As well as delivering the programme together, we connect with each other at least once a week for planning, reflecting, preparing and chatting. We love the comradery, shared learning and mutual support. Don’t get me wrong, things don’t always go smoothly – we have our challenges, but it’s so refreshing to be able to resolve things collectively through our understanding of the principles behind the iheart approach. Those are the best days as there’s a sense of holding the group in the energy that we are emanating.
How is the HEART approach different from any other programme or intervention you have come across previously in your work?
That’s an easy one to answer. Most of the other programmes that I’ve come across are based on a model of ‘we are broken and damaged’ and then end up focusing on how to fix this. The interventions offered are usually based around ‘go speak to an adult\teacher\mentor’ to ‘fix’ your problem or ‘here’s a strategy you can use’. In other words, most programmes I know of – and have used in the past – tend to create a passive mentality and don’t empower a sense of responsibility to deal with the challenges young people and children are facing. Now, I have seen some impact with these types of programmes, but mostly, I have seen how disempowering they can be for young people – and how much of the responsibility ends up lying with the adults to ‘fix’ the problems.
Then there is the fact that no other programme I am aware of looks at how the mind logically works or approaches things from the perspective of our innate resilience and wellbeing. In fact, when I ask the question to fellow educators ‘what is mental health?’, the answer is usually something like: ‘stress, depression, worry, anxiety etc.’ This just shows us how much of a broken model of mental health we have – a model of mental ill health! To me, mental health is all the things that we talk about in the programme: love, compassion, wisdom, peace of mind, gratitude, wellbeing and resilience – this is what is unique about it. It’s very empowering.
The other magical thing about the iheart curriculum is that it’s a very interactive, engaging and fun filled programme which taps into young people’s curiosity and interest. There is such a wide variety of activities and experiences which captures their attention.
Why do you feel like the iheart programme is so vital for the future of mental health?
As you guys keep saying and the statistics keep showing, there is a mental health crisis going on and it’s getting worse. Schools and society are doing the best they can to tackle the issue but are fighting an uphill battle and know they don’t have the answers. The model of tackling mental ill health is the norm and it’s an invisible mistake for those who mean well. There is a huge focus on awareness, diagnosis and treatment but very little emphasis put on preventative education.
To me, tackling mental health starts at a much deeper level. A soul level. Looking within – a knowing, an understanding and a recognition that we are so much more than we think we are. That’s what we need to teach – that’s iheart!
Looking to that which resides within us is something we have forgotten about. Our job is to simply point people in the direction of their innate resilience and wellbeing so that we can bring about the change that is so needed in our world.
Can you share some stories from your work with children?
There are many I could share, but for now I’ll give you just a couple.
An 11-year-old girl who recently completed the programme shared that she had some kind of digestion problem; she’s had it for most of her life. It means that she can’t eat the same food as her friends and often feels left out and sometimes bullied. She shared how angry she was that she had this illness. She kept saying ‘why me, why do I have to have this problem?’ She shared how she felt about those who made mean comments to her and how broken she felt. We actually have a video clip where this remarkable young girl explains how the inside out understanding had changed so much for her. She doesn’t feel as angry any longer. She is better able to deal with the bullies and she feels much better about herself. Wow!
In another example, one of the pupils in a class of 11-year olds was really struggling at school and the school were really struggling with him. His behaviour was very difficult to manage, and he caused a lot of disruption. He had a lot of external support. A couple of times he refused to come into the class while we were teaching but the Headteacher managed to get him to sit on a soft cushion at the back of the class. He made it look like he wasn’t listening, however, somehow, he was. And then, to our great surprise, at the end of the programme, he was one of the volunteers who chose to do a short testimonial for us. We were shocked! He articulated so clearly what the programme was all about and even said he would recommend it for anyone who was having difficulties. Also, the class teacher reported back to us a few weeks later that she noticed a major difference in the way he handled relationships. Another wow!
What are the next steps for Team Scotland?
There are so many different directions we can go from here. One of the most important steps is continuing to build capacity to be able to deliver the curriculum in as many schools as possible. It’s about creating a team of passionate, committed and knowledgeable iheart facilitators who have the will to deliver this gold standard programme with an authentic heart. Our wee What’s app group is a great start. We support each other, help each other to reflect on the bits we deliver well and the bits we can get better at. Working closely with the ‘head office team’ in London is central to this as the standard they have set is something that is so important for us all to try and build on. The programme that Terry and Dana and others have created is something very special and I know we are ready and willing to continue the growth and impact of this impressive programme. Bring it on!