Clive Leach, Positive Psychology Coach, Lecturer and Author is joining us on 12th October for an exclusive workshop to discuss how school mental health leads can create a culture for positive mental health and wellbeing. Worth-it had the pleasure of interviewing Clive to find out more about his background and why he believes positive psychology and coaching are such important tools in creating a culture of wellbeing and positive mental health within schools.

How did you get into positive psychology?

My background is in youth work and community education, and for many years I led youth and community education services in local government.

I went to Australia to study a Master of Organisational Coaching where I discovered coaching psychology and positive psychology – it was a revelation as it was so affirming of the way I’d always worked! I felt that as a youth worker, a teacher, a manager and as a leader I’d always really been a coach and applied many ‘positive psychology interventions’ such as strengths-based approaches, best future self, etc, but didn’t recognise them as such – like the way lots of schools now are doing amazing work on wellbeing,but perhaps don’t recognise many things that they’re doing as proven,evidence-based interventions

Having completed my master’s degree, I started working in the corporate sector as a leadership and career coach, along with work in the federal and state government sector working with the prime minister and cabinet office,Australian Defence Force, Dept of Veteran Affairs and agencies such as the Australian Human Rights Commission and Federal Police. I loved working with corporate and government clients, but really wanted to take my learning back into schools to give support to young people and educators.

In 2014 I heard Liz Robson-Kelly, founder, and CEO of Worth-it, speak at a Coaching Psychology conference in London. Liz was doing some brilliant stuff coming from the perspective of young people who are at risk:our shared interest in support for young people brought us together and we have collaborated on and off ever since.

When I came back to the UK in 2016, I worked with Worth-it on a fantastic program for NHS community school nurses – they were such amazing people working with schools, children, and families in their community. We shared the Wellbeing Toolkit to help them look at how they could support themselves while giving so much supporting others.

You set up successfully as a corporate coach, why go back into education?

It’s not so much about going back, it’s about doing both. Because I work in corporate and government, I can afford to make choices as to where I put my energy and my time – I believe it’s vital: students/young people need the information and teachers, youth workers, nurses, social workers need it too.

Coaching psychology is great for leaders and organisations but it’s important for everyone; schools are organisations too.

When I was able to go into schools (pre-Covid)  I would work with school leadership and the whole school community – teachers, students (from year 7 up), parents, admin staff, governing bodies, everyone. Increasingly, schools today have a recognised school wellbeing lead, which is wonderful as it’s being given the importance it deserves.

A lot of what you do is supporting wellbeing and awareness of wellbeing and the evidence-base. How do you see this as promoting a safe environment within a school?

One way is understanding a focus on strengths and how we assess them with validated tools and then how we support people to use them in good ways. Young people (and adults) can struggle to recognise and understand their strengths. Take bullying as an example: if a young person has high humour but doesn’t know how to use it wisely, they may be accused of being a bully because others don’t understand their humour. So, what that young person thinks is funny another young person might find intimidating – you have one person who is a victim feeling unsafe in the environment and the other is labelled as a bully. This isn’t good for either of them. Helping students and teachers to better understand their strengths helps them to use them well. Recognising that others may have different strengths to our own gives greater understanding between people.

How does coaching offer that safe space?

From a coaching perspective it’s about providing a space where the person being coached feels safe and comfortable and feels that they’re not being judged. It is where the coach is prepared to be present with the coachee and help them reflect and talk about what is working, not just focus on what’s going wrong.

Coaching conversations, from a relationships perspective, create a psychologically safe environment, where the coach is prepared to switch off their own agenda, (which is very unusual in normal conversations), where the coach will focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses, be supportive and to be there with you and ask questions rather than tell you what to do: this is why we argue that coaching conversations themselves create a shift in relationships and help build positive relationships between people.

I recently co-authored chapter two of The Palgrave Handbook of Positive Education with Dr Suzy Green & Daniela Falecki. Our argument is that positive education/wellbeing programmes in schools need to be integrated with coaching and coaching conversations.

This is because you can help people to understand what wellbeing is and give them all sorts of tools and tips, but the chances are they don’t practise them. Coaching helps people to think, ‘what does this mean for me?’ and ‘how do I apply it myself and try things out and see if they work?’. It provides some support and accountability and helps build self-regulation to sustain positive changes.

Why do you see wellbeing as important?

Fundamentally because it is foundational to the concept of' flourishing' or optimal functioning. In our society today there is such a focus on 'performance', school grades, workplace KPIs, etc, but people often mistake achievement for success and don't give enough weight to the need to also focus on wellbeing. This can lead to greater anxiety,stress and depression in adults and young people. When we get the balance right, we can both feel good and do well and navigate better through challenging and difficult times.

How can a culture of wellbeing support positive behaviours for learning?

A culture of well-being isn’t just about ‘me’ it’s about ‘us’. Positive relationships between staff and students strongly factor in promoting wellbeing and a sense of belonging in the school or college. This is because other people matter. It hard to flourish without the support of people around you. Investing in positive relationships is key to being able to learn, grow, navigate through any hard times, and embrace opportunity.

A culture of wellbeing is based on virtuosity, kindness, and a focus on strengths, all of which can help generate more positive emotions. These in turn have been proven to broaden our capacity to think better and learn and build our intellectual, psychological, and physical resources, which increases resilience and mental toughness. All of this is associated with better academic outcomes and well-being throughout life.

What’s next on your well-being agenda?

I’m in a position where I want to find different ways to bring wellbeing into people’s lives. My latest exciting venture is to do this with my two-year-old goofy goldendoodle Miss May! There is a lot of research out there about the wellbeing benefits of human-animal interactions.

I am very proud that Miss May has recently passed her ‘Pets As Therapy’(PAT) assessment to be a visiting PAT Dog. We are now visiting young people in two local children’s homes and it is fantastic to see May’s strengths of curiosity, kindness, social intelligence and zest come to play when she interacts with the young residents. We are also signing up to visit our local hospital so watch this space. Miss May even has her own Instagram page! @may_redgoldengirl

Clive and Miss May

Join our Discovery Workshop as Clive shares even more insights as to how you can overcome challenges to succeed in creating a culture for mental health and wellbeing in your school.

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