Ita Buttrose AO, OBE former Australian of the Year, former editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly with an honorary doctorate from Sydney’s Macquarie University, described herself as “a graduate of the university of life” when hosting the 2016 Positive Schools Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference in Perth Western Australia. 

She told teachers that there should be a change in teaching and used her address to pose a series of challenging questions to several hundred teachers and academics. 

“Is the school keeping up with where technology is driving us? What skills do children need for the future? How do schools equip children for a (society) of the future?” she asked. 

“I believe that in the 21st century education has to be innovative and make citizens of the future more adaptive.” 

Buttrose grew up at a time when girls' education was not valued. Her love of English led her to become a journalist. 

She said schools of the future had to be flexible with committed leaders, teachers and parents.  

“In some schools it will be necessary to educate parents,” she said. 

“We need more parent group meetings and not just P and Cs. 

“We need to give parents more support with discipline, work with them and not against them,” she said.  

Buttrose asked teachers to question whether the education provided by schools in Australia was sufficiently imaginative and if teachers were having the right conversations. 

Andrew Harding, Rio Tinto’s CEO in WA, said schools needed to build the emotional wellbeing of people and reduce the stigma of mental health. 

He said that meditation had developed his resilience when he lost his father and son within a short space of time.  

Harding said that schools needed to become “Mindful Organisations” to help people cope with stress and build the wellbeing of teams. 

“At Rio Tinto we help people to be the best that they can be,” Harding said. 

“We need to build emotional well-being, reduce the stigma of mental health and respond quickly (to needs),” he said.  

A survey carried out last year at Rio Tinto showed that employees valued their relationship very highly with leaders and teams. 

Leaders played a vital role in frontline management and needed to build a healthy relationship between leader and team.  

“They need to be positive, show values and set clear performance goals,” he said. 

Rio Tinto’s program for its staff had 450 volunteers providing peer support and the company had improved its induction process to incorporate mental health. 

Rachel Robertson of North Woodvale Primary School in WA was awarded the 2016 Positive Teacher of the Year by Buttrose at the Conference. 

North Woodvale Primary School principal, Greg Brice, said that the school appreciated her initiative in Positive Education. 

“Mrs Robertson and our KidsMatter committee have worked very hard to ensure that a positive education approach and awareness of student mental health and wellbeing is at the forefront of all our programs,” Brice said.