The Amazing A-Z of Resilience, released on July 21, helps parents and kids learn about building skills for emotional well being.
Can you briefly outline your background?
I have been a teacher for 25+ years, working in 5 different schools in the UK. I taught 7-12 year old pupils; it was always the pastoral element that was the best part of the job. Then, for 7 years I was the Headteacher of a school in the suburbs of London and enjoyed the challenge. However, I left that school 3 years ago to begin a new journey – to write and present materials that would support teachers starting out in the profession. I worked with the local University to write the original materials and soon The Resilience Project was born. Coaching and presenting on the theme of Resilience became my day-to-day job in schools, Universities, and other Teacher Training Institutions. I have written 2 books for trainee teachers, with a third due out next year.
Last year, JKP approached me to write, The Amazing A-Z of Resilience, my first book for students. It drew on all my experience in the classroom, and I wanted it to be full of ideas that support fellow professionals to get a conversation about mental health going in their classroom. I wanted to write that book, the one I would have wanted if I was still in the classroom. That remained the benchmark of my success: would I have used The Amazing A-Z of Resilience in my classroom all those years ago? I think the answer is yes.
What was the inspiration behind The Amazing A-Z of Resilience?
My passion has always been the pastoral element of my role. So, the chance to write something to support young people’s wellbeing was an exciting project for me. It was going to be a challenge to use less words to explain difficult concepts, yet I thrived within it, working hard to make the materials as accessible as possible. I therefore wanted the book to feel safe, to be friendly, to be reassuring. In picking up the book, I further wanted it to feel a source of comfort, compassion and kindness.
The A-Z element of the idea came from a book I read to both my daughters when they were young. They loved Mick Inkpen’s character, Kipper the Dog, and I must have read each of the books 100 times over the years. Obviously, mine aims at an older audience and the theme is more in depth, but that is the link to A-Z.
The illustrations, created by Vanand Andreasian, are great. We used Pop Art style to engage the targeted age range, make the pictures accessible, and draw in the reader. This made it easier for the topic of resilience to be broached – something that it vital in these challenging times.
How could teachers and other educators, especially parents currently tackling home schooling, use The Amazing A-Z of Resilience in an educational setting?
Home schooling is tricky. Children are not in their learning context and most parents are not teachers, and even if they are, it’s still hard. There is a clash between the home environment and the school environment and yet learning still needs to be completed. However, The Amazing A-Z of Resilience, I believe blurs the gap. Reading with your child is one of the greatest pleasures, and the book moves you from the known to the unknown in a gentle and reassuring way. For instance: Paddington Bear’s wellies become connected to standing up on your own two feet, the dinosaur, Xenoceratops, becomes linked to feeling spiky or getting spiked, the game Jenga connects you to the importance of Grandparents. Regardless of specifics, within 500 words, you are gradually nudged to a place where a discussion about resilience can take place and self-reflection can lead to solutions.
Each chapter is also connected to a fun, low-key art activity that again can bond parent to child and create the space and the time to talk things through. Use the activity as the platform to talk to your child about resilience, wellbeing, and mental health issues. In speaking up and out about it, feelings are no longer ignored, moods are tackled and emotions are managed. This can be cathartic and strengthen both the parental bond, but also boost the child’s self-esteem in the process.
During present times, many people are more focused than ever on emotional regulation and mental health, but these discussions can be hard to have. How does The Amazing A-Z of Resilience help parents and educators begin these conversations?
Emotional regulation is an under-valued skill. It takes time to understand and practice to get it right, but when you do, it can help in so many ways. I believe, though, that we can be more proactive in managing our mental health. Sometimes, we think that it is other people’s problem, not ours. However, wellbeing is every body, every day. What my books seeks to achieve is to have these conversations, not in the heat of the moment, but in the moments of calm. That way, the messages are more likely to be internalised, taken on board, and used when needed.
All too often, we tackle emotional regulation during or straight after an event. But in that moment the messages will not be heard and may lead to further frustration and upset. In not being able to broach the subject, we compound the issue by tackling it when everything has gone ‘BANG.’ We therefore need to train ourselves in the art of emotional regulation. This means looking after ourselves more than we do, to protect our basic needs of sleep, food and drink. We furthermore need to offer and receive love and compassion from those around us, and we need to be connected to the wonders of the world and to be curious and interested about them.
The Amazing A-Z of Resilience provokes that interest by, for example, telling the story of the prize-winning kite flyer who helped to build a bridge across the Niagara Falls at the age of 16; it looks at the story that jellies used to be savoury, not sweet and that jelly was for dinner rather than pudding. It provokes us to to ask the question “why” more often.
What are some important lessons young people can take away from your book?
In the Chapter ‘Q is for Questions,’ Vanand has drawn some wonderful dice with question starters of Who? What? Why? Where? When? on them. Certainly, I want The Amazing A-Z of Resilience to provoke children to keep asking these important questions, to understand their world and comprehend how they react to that world. Resilience is about a person in a place. We need to question both. My books aim to provoke this curiosity and motivate students to find their own solutions. It further empowers them to take more control of how they react to situations that they find themselves in. The conversations that it provokes can help to create the vocabulary and the dialogue to give the students the confidence, in a safe environment, to try them out in the bigger world.
I also want students to take reassurance from the book. Reassurance that they are not the only ones. Reassurance that they can do it. Reassurance that they will be more content if they master the skills that the book is promoting. Hopefully the fun illustrations and the metaphor-driven text will offer the young people this support. It was that voice that I was trying to find as I wrote the book. The young, early career teacher was within me, yet tempered with my experiences throughout my career to date.
Are there any additional resources you would recommend for parents and teachers looking for further resources or advice?
I am a big fan of Matthew Syed and in particular his book Bounce. However, he has also written a book for children called You Are Awesome. It’s an empowering tome that, similarly to The Amazing A-Z of Resilience, guides the young reader in self-reflection. It is gentle, encouraging, and puts the young person at the centre – I admire that.
I also feel that Emily Coxhead has done wonders with her ‘Happy News’ newspaper. It presents a more optimistic view of the world, a place of good, a safer world that is more reassuring – particularly in these testing times. Our resilience needs a lift from time to time and so to balance off the positives against the negatives can only be a good thing.
For teachers, I like the book by Adrian Bethune – Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom. Adrian offers frank, honest advice for practioners who want to create a more condusive environment to well-being conversations within that trusting place of psychological safety. As a current practitioner, his advice is even more resonant.
Finally, although I know that it is aimed at younger children, I love the concept of Lucy Cree and Sarah Brogden’s ‘Be the Jellyfish Training Manual: Supporting Children’s Social and Emotional Wellbeing.’ It’s a clever concept that mixes practicality, honesty, and humour in an enticing mix – exactly what I aimed for Amazing A-Z of Resilience to be.