We all want the best for the children we nurture and teach. We want our children to know that they matter. However, we are regularly bombarded by a sea of disparate and often conflicting information about emotional well-being. 7 Dimensions: Children's Emotional Well-being introduces a framework designed to help adults make simple sense of the plethora of information available about young people's feelings, thoughts, and ways of responding.
Based on up-to-date neuroscience and the positive, interactive approaches that are supported by brain research, the 7 Dimensions framework offers a way to support the emotional well-being of children in their everyday environments, including those who experience significant challenges. Concepts and practices are presented through the book in ways that demonstrate the framework's relevance to a wide range of education practitioners' work, including that of teachers, counsellors, and psychologists.
Although examples in the book are from the school environment, the 7 Dimensions' principles are equally relevant for parenting.
I have spent most of my adult life in the teaching profession, ranging from intermediate through secondary to tertiary levels. I worked at various times in Aotearoa New Zealand, England, and the Republic of Ireland, so in my time I have encountered a large number of young people from diverse backgrounds. Having three children and six grandchildren, I also count myself as a parent - and, of course, the role of parent does overlap with that of the teacher. It was exciting therefore to explore Jean Annan's new publication on emotional well-being as this was always a key area in classes I had the privilege to teach. I was keen to find out whether processes and methodologies had changed since I was last in the classroom.
My initial reaction was one of relief. Much of the material was not new to me, but I appreciated the full explanations and the accompanying case histories. The latter make the content much more accessible to the layman, especially when some of the technical vocabulary may be beyond the scope of some readers. It is easy to understand these unfamiliar words when they appear in the context of an argument, however. I even discovered a word that was new to me, "autotelic", whose meaning I correctly guessed (although I did double check in a dictionary). Annan's written style flows readily, offering natural breaks when the subject matter changes focus. Sub-headings help to maintain interest as the reader can take a break without losing the thread of the chapter.
The book is clearly broken up into logical segments, each devoted to one of Annan's seven dimensions. Introductory and closing comments clarify the objectives of the book, giving the reader an overview of what to expect. This is important in a publication aimed at those other than educators (parents, social workers, psychologists, etc) because it is not a subject that they may have considered important in their dealings with young people's education. I also liked the way the chapter for each dimension started with a short summary of what was to ensue. The diagrams (by Annan's daughter Rebecca) add considerably to the effect of the book, illustrating the main points of each chapter with exceptional clarity.
I think what really made this book stand out for me was the synthesis of so many theorists' ideas and experimentation. When I started teaching, the idea of emotional well-being having any relevance was barely considered. I was lucky to start my own career in a rural area (Te Awamutu) where families knew one other and there was a sense of whanaungatanga in the school. This in turn meant that the young people were perceived as part of a community which included parents, teachers, and wider whanau. Many of the ideas that Annan presents were endemic to my own teaching - in other words, I absorbed them via osmosis! The majority of teachers are not so lucky, however. They teach in urban environments where challenges occur daily, COVID-19 being the latest in a line of issues youngsters have to deal with. Annan gives some sage advice on classroom management, advice which will become more and more pertinent as times change.
Some of the situations and solutions presented by Annan are applicable to teachers as well as to their students. Schools are a top-down bottom-up concept no matter how much "equality" there appears to be in the system. A hierarchy of power sees the Principal and the Senior Management Team at one end while the students are at the others. Teachers are somewhere in the middle; this requires them to find their own place of safety, just as the students must. A well-organised school will recognise this in the planning and implementation of its PLD (Professional Learning and Development) programmes, giving teachers a voice in the organisation and the opportunity to share classroom experiences with their colleagues. Annan touches on this several times, highlighting the importance of ensuring that a safe teacher means a safe child.
I wish I had had access to this book at the start of my teaching career. I am familiar with many of the theorists cited in the comprehensive reference list at the end of the book, but much of my own research has involved plucking ideas from various sources and trying to make sense of them while simultaneously working fulltime as a classroom teacher. Annan has presented the material in a fresh way so that the teacher (or parent!) can gain an overview of the subject matter and can then choose to read further on a particular aspect when time permits. For some this book will be a learning experience, albeit a steep one. For others, like myself, it will serve to consolidate and reaffirm concepts that I am already familiar with. It is a book that I will continue to refer to in the future; having read it from start to finish, I am now empowered to reread some of the sections with an awareness of how they fit into the whole.
Random listing from 'Books'...
Clumsy Duck keeps falling over her big webbed feet! She feels that she is too clumsy to do anything well.
"Not so." says her friend, Little Chick. "Those big feet must be good for something." The two friends set off to find out just what those big webbed feet are good for and discover Clumsy Duck is an amazing swimmer!
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