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How students education is like riding an elephant

By Life Skills Group

Published 17 March 2017 16.17 PM

As teachers and facilitators of learning, we have an embedded curriculum. We are trained to teach and enhance the wellbeing of each student within our care, regardless of age, ability, background or individual needs. We lead by example and model wellbeing, and strategies for coping and achieving.

But, is wellbeing a trainable skill?

In Jonathan Haidt’s 2006 book, The Happiness Hypothesis, he uses the metaphor of riding an elephant. Paraphrasing for this purpose, Haidt describes the idea of riding an African elephant for the first time, feeling excited and eager to be doing something new. The riders around you are feeling a mix of emotions; some enthusiastic like you, some nervous, some steady and some decidedly unsteady. It is then you realise you are not sure where you are going. The rest of the elephant riders are around you and you’re not sure whether the guide is there up front, as you expected him to be. The other riders don’t appear to share your fears and you can’t speak Swahili, so the elephant won’t understand your commands. Eventually, you realise you need to relax and trust that the elephant take you to your destination.

The elephant metaphor describes the relationship between children and education. We can teach happiness and wellbeing in classrooms, so the rider can be equipped for whatever destination they are going, while being able to trust that they don’t always have to have full control of the elephant. In Teaching Happiness and Wellbeing in Schools, Ian Morris says, “the sole purpose of education is wellbeing: that everything we do in schools should be geared towards this aim and that all other aims (exam results, citizenship, economic prosperity etc) are subordinate to it (Morris, 2015).

Teaching mindfulness in action will allow students to become healthy and successful elephant riders by improving their impulse control, self-awareness, empathy and focus. Finding a program to improve those skills in a classroom can be beneficial to teachers and classrooms. Life Skills Group’s Mindfulness in Action program utilises scientifically proven mindfulness techniques, effective pedagogical practices, and cross-sectional research in cognitive affective neuroscience to teach students to focus on their experiences in a non-reactive way.

Healthy Skills for Life aims to strengthen secondary students' physical, social and emotional health and wellbeing skills, to support them through life’s challenges as they mature into adulthood, thus learning to ride the elephant and find effective strategies for handling stress or decisions along the journey.

Mindfulness, wellbeing, coping mechanisms and social and emotional balance will create excellent elephant navigators and is an imperative cog in the teaching and learning machine. Understanding that our learners may be worried that they have lost sight of their guide, that they can’t speak to their elephant or that they don’t know their destination, will help us to understand that their journey can be exciting, thrilling, anxiety-inducing, challenging or stressful at any given time and including skills to cope with that in our embedded curriculum, or developing professional skills to deal with that can make for successful classrooms and students.



Needing some extra help with teaching your student or child Life Skills? Request a quote today and one of our relationship managers will be in touch shortly to help find the best solution for you. Also, don’t forget to connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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Life Skills Group

Life Skills Group is Australia’s market leader in curriculum-based social emotional and physical learning programs for students and educators.

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