06 May Jeannette Jones: “We cannot control everything and spending energy worrying about that which we cannot control is pointless and frustrating”

Jeannette Jones is the Head of Wellbeing and Leadership at Transylvania College (Cluj-Napoca, Romania). In an interview during the pandemic, Jeannette talked about her advice for students, parents and teachers and detailed the importance of wellbeing.

You are Head of Wellbeing in Transylvania College. Why was such a department necessary?

I have been Head of Pastoral (Wellbeing and Leadership) at Transylvania College since September 2017. The concept of Wellbeing has always been something that the school values, however, creating the four strand model: Academics-Wellbeing-Leadership-Global Awareness, allowed us to really define why we do what we do at Transylvania College; why what we do is special to us. Understanding the why allows us to be clearer about what we do and how we do it. Because Wellbeing is an essential strand of the educational model at Transylvania College, our policies and procedures are adapted to protect the Wellbeing of all members of the community. For example, the homework policy that was rewritten with time limits for the amount of work we expect students to complete outside of school, allowing them to engage in sports activities and family time, without extra, unnecessary for education, homework being a source of stress, while also allowing the students to develop time and project management skills.

As for the Wellbeing department, we have a team of psychologists who work as members of school staff. Ms. Cristina Ungvari, who balances her role as Head of Kindergarten with a role as a Wellbeing Advisor, Ms. Patricia Sandor-Martin in the Primary School and Ms. Elena Pegoraro in the Secondary School. We are also lucky to have Ms. Daciana Banabic as a Learning Support Advisor. The role of each member of the Wellbeing Department is to support the adults who support the students. These adults are teachers, school staff and parents. We also benefit greatly, as a team and as a school, from partnership with Mind Education Health, a team of consultant psychologists. I would argue now though, that all school staff are “members of the Wellbeing department”. The training we have had has shown each adult attending to their own state of wellbeing, seeking advice and accepting help is crucial for their roles, both the role they play at Transylvania College and roles they have outside of school: partner/husband/wife, brother/sister, mother/father, son/daughter. If we are well, the children in our care will be well.

How do you explain this “wellbeing” concept to the parents & students that are new in the school?

Put simply, we see Wellbeing is having the tools needed to thrive in your life. It is not about never being stressed, or always being happy, but rather about having an understanding of our emotions and practicing the skills to choose our reactions. Wellbeing at Transylvania College is about knowing that there is always someone to talk to; it’s about supporting each other and it’s about being human (making mistakes, making amends, practicing forgiveness, gratitude and humility). There is not one single thing we do that is Wellbeing, rather that this concept has an impact on everything we do.

How did the school change since the beginning of the wellbeing process?

I think the biggest change, brought about by embedding wellbeing in everything that we do as a school, is in the quality of relationships that we have built, between teachers, between staff members and between teachers and students. Building trusting relationships, in which it is ok to not be ok, gives us a strong foundation to learn and grow. The adapted behaviour policy, using restoration, has meant that students who engage in this process learn to understand the impact of their actions. I see people (both adults and young people) who are pleased to be together.

What is the wellbeing department doing since the beginning of the pandemic?

The Wellbeing Department has produced information and guidance about looking after ourselves throughout the years, but during this period of school closure, we have developed other channels to share the information. All school staff are kept informed through a weekly email, in which we signal the support available, staff, parents and High School students benefit from the offer of Ms. Elena (the Secondary Wellbeing Advisor) to online yoga classes. Online check-ins are available also for staff to find a supportive listening ear. For Secondary students, we have a Google Classroom, titled: Wellbeing, which contains activities, ideas, articles to read and short videos explaining things like: how the news impacts our mental health. For Primary students, their class website has a link to Wellbeing, Leadership and Global Awareness activities. For parents, we have used the existing channels of communication: Secondary Updates, Primary Class Dojo and the Parents Facebook Group to share strategies to manage the challenges we are facing at the moment.

Do you think it was a plus for the people from Transylvania College to have such a department during the pandemic?

I don’t know that the Wellbeing Department is the plus, but I do have friends who work in other schools around the world and I know that I feel grateful to work at Transylvania College. I feel surrounded by support from my colleagues. I feel that whatever challenges we face, we know that we can find ways to keep moving forward and that facing difficulties makes us stronger.

Do you have any piece of advice for the students outside Transylvania College, that don’t have a Wellbeing department, but maybe need help during the Covid-19 pandemic?

My advice is for all the time, not just during the period of the pandemic, but it is even more important these days, I think.

Advice for students:

– Acknowledge whatever it is that you are feeling. When we try to ignore our feelings, or we try to fight them, it’s not healthy. Say “I am feeling…. right now”. Know that the average length of an emotion is 90 seconds and that they pass. Know that there is no right or wrong way to feel.

– Know that we cannot control everything and spending energy worrying about that which we cannot control is pointless and frustrating.

– Find a good source of information. Maybe this is a teacher, or a parent. Maybe your information source is the internet, but check the sources and reliability of the information

Advice for parents:

– Make sure you spend time for yourself. It is not selfish. It is selfless, as it means you have the energy and resources to help your children. Even if, right now, it seems like you have no time, just stop. Stop for one minute and breathe. We spend our lives rushing around and we don’t check in with ourselves enough.

– If you are watching news/talking about news/thinking about news all the time, then take a break from the news. Mute Whats App Groups in which people are sharing statistics and stories. Watching once a day is enough to get the information, without activating the anxiety response throughout the day.

– Find a supportive friend who listens well. Not necessarily to offer advice to you, but simply someone who listens and then talk to them. If you aren’t ready for that, then writing your worries is a good first step. 

Advice for teachers is much the same as it is for parents. Even if you do not have children of your own at home, you are a model for the children in your classrooms. If the adults are ok, the children will be ok.

Jeannette Jones, in Transylvania College, before the Covid-19 pandemic

Tell me about yourself. How was your life before Romania and what’s next?

I was born in South Africa, but grew up in England. I graduated from Brighton University and taught at a school in Hampshire, in England, for 2 years before moving to Egypt, where I worked in two international schools in Alexandria over the next 4 years. After Egypt, I moved to Romania. I have been in Cluj since September 2014 and I have worked at Transylvania College since then. This is the first school that I have stayed at for more than 2 years and I feel settled and happy. I do not have any plans to move any time soon, because I feel that every day at work, I live my purpose and I am surrounded by supportive, like-minded colleagues. As for Cluj, I think that it is a great city. It reminds me a lot of Brighton, with the large university presence and that there is always something going on.

While the school building being closed and having restrictions on going out has certainly not been easy, and I miss being in school and seeing people properly, I am very grateful that I have managed to keep connections with colleagues, students, parents and staff through video conferencing. I am looking forward to seeing what is next for Transylvania College and for the city of Cluj when this pandemic passes.

Read the interview in Romanian HERE. 

Lavinia Bălulescu

Journalist, Content Creator

Lavinia Bălulescu

Journalist, Content Creator

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