28 October 2016
Have we helped our students realize that life is more than materialism and that we can serve a cause bigger than ourselves? Photo: HKEJ
Have we helped our students realize that life is more than materialism and that we can serve a cause bigger than ourselves? Photo: HKEJ

My role as an educator in response to student suicides

It is commonly accepted that Hong Kong is falling ill.

While professionals are looking into the causes and cures for the ailment, no one knows for sure whether change will ever come.

The city is often described as a tiny place with limited natural resources, and it has no choice but to rely on financial growth and property development.

The public has endured a widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Under the influence of the market, students are molded into products.

Few thrive, but a large proportion are discarded as losers.

Living in a society of growing political, social and economic uncertainty, Hong Kong’s young people have been subjected to too much anxiety way too early.

In the face of the alarming increase in the number of student suicides, while lawmakers and concern groups have urged the Education Bureau to come up with remedial measures and allocate resources to the problem, I, as an educator, reflect upon what I can do.

“It takes a village to raise a child”, the old saying goes.

As a village head (acting principal), though I can’t change the landscape, I can do my best to build a village (school) where the young people in my care can acquire the strength to face adversity.

I constantly ask myself three questions.

The first is whether the adults (teaching and support staff) are doing well in the village.

Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers believed that each individual has an innate tendency toward growth and the fulfillment of his or her potential.

There are three necessary environmental conditions — namely genuineness (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard), and empathy (being listened to and understood).

I, as the chief, have to respect, accept and empathize with my colleagues, so that they will influence the children in the same ways.

I believe that no matter how bad the society and home environment is, the school campus should serve as a nurturing shelter for youngsters’ growth.

My second question is what kind of experiences young people can enjoy in the village.

According to the PERMA Model developed by positive psychologist Martin Seligman, there are five essential elements — positive emotions (P), engagement (E), positive relationships (R), meaning (M) and accomplishment (A) — that should be in place for a person to experience lasting well-being.

We often review if our students’ needs are fulfilled in these aspects.

1. Have we helped instill positive emotions such as gratitude, satisfaction or hope in our students through a systematic curriculum as well as our own actions in daily life?

2. Have we provided a platform of activities in which students can lose their sense of self and concentrate intensely on the present?

3. Have we achieved positive relationships between teachers and students, and among students?

4. Have we helped our students realize that life is more than materialism and that we can serve a cause bigger than ourselves?

5. Are we creating sufficient opportunities for students to achieve higher goals, or accomplish more?

My last question is for myself: what should I learn?

Over the years, I have attended numerous professional development courses for teachers and principals, which I found mostly centered on the curriculum, teaching methodologies, leadership and management.

There is just too little emphasis on equipping educators with knowledge of psychology and counseling skills.

Having realized these shortcomings, I keep working hard on this area, as I believe it is crucial for the well-being of myself, my colleagues and, most importantly, my students.

Keep learning and reflecting on what we shall do.

We can influence the surroundings and thus a school, then a city and even a country.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 12.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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acting principal of China Holiness College

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