The septuagenarian author of Every Child Every Day, The Power of Positive Self-Talk, presenter of You Can Do It and Poverty Matters, said teachers should specifically teach students that they are responsible for their thoughts or emotions. Blaming someone won’t help.
We easily made the oldest pair at the Positive Schools Conference 2016 in WA with a combined age of 145 not out - that sounds like an excellent batting innings partnership score. Roach spoke with humour and authority, her voice brisk with conviction and eyes that lit up frequently.
At 73, she is the key trainer for the program You Can Do It, developed by Melbourne University Professor Michael Bernard, used by over 6000 schools in Australia and New Zealand. She has scored major awards like Western Australia’s Secondary Teacher of the Year and National Teacher of Excellence.
Roach introduced schools to YCDI’s core purpose of developing young people’s social, emotional capabilities using a scaffold of 5 Foundations, 12 Habits of the Mind and eliminating Blockers that pose barriers to children’s wellbeing and learning.
“I’ve gained great satisfaction working with children that are behaviourally challenging by changing the way they thought,” Roach said.
Both septuagenarians recall our youth with nostalgia when grandmothers shared gems of wisdom to form values and opinions.
“Now things are changing fast and it is these very things to good emotional wellbeing that are being left out. Schools must take up the slack and teach the thinking that is needed for positive attitudes, emotional wellbeing and academic success,” Roach said with conviction.
“I believe it is necessary to specifically teach students that they are responsible for their thoughts, feelings or emotions. A positive approach to their learning depends on self-talk,” her tone suggests I am about to learn how it is done.
“A simple strategy to introduce the concept of changing thinking is to change behaviour towards work or other issues. Teachers should model positive self-talk and discuss how feelings or emotions are changed with new information giving rise to new thinking that is sustained.
Roach, who worked with Aboriginal communities in the Aboriginal Education Unit of WA’s Department of Education and wrote curriculum for them, said that her process works with Indigenous students.
“I show each Aboriginal community I visit, from the stories that are part of their region, how their elders encouraged the same self-talk I was sharing,” Roach said.
She presents a program called Poverty Matters, with an Australian context, to reduce the high drop-out rate of children from low socio-economic backgrounds that find it difficult to achieve Australian middle-class norms.
“I found children coming to school experiencing generational poverty without the ability to adapt to the norms of schools, who live by another set of behaviour norms and language at home, living in a culture of poverty,” she said.
Her concerns were echoed by research from Melbourne’s Mitchell Institute in 2015 that found 25 per cent of Australian students did not finish Year 12. It is a statistic that was worse than Canada or the UK.
Researchers found that 60 per cent of students from low socio-economic backgrounds finish school compared to 90 per cent from those that are wealthy.
Dr Sara Glover, of the Mitchell Institute, said that better curriculum in low socio-economic schools and more resources would help.
Roach said that teachers who used explicit strategies from Poverty Matters to teach rules on which education are based changed the culture of their classes.
“How can we expect students who live with one set of behaviour norms and language at home change to another set to be successful in school without specific help?” she asks with compelling logic.
Roach recounts in her book, Every Child Every Day, how exercises like A New Leaf, Balloons or even the word ‘But’ can be used as cues to change a child’s thinking.
“I hate this BUT I’ll listen to music while I work and it will be quicker!” is one such exercise.
Roach is active from her retirement villa as a team player with St. Vincent de Paul, aged care, schools, grandparents and a new generation.
She has exchanged her classroom for the school of “everywhere".