Mana model underpins mental health education approach

Issue: Volume 102, Number 12

Posted: 13 September 2023
Reference #: 1HAc6n

Mental health education guidelines and resources in Aotearoa have attracted international interest, with two University of Auckland academics presenting their work in Scotland and Spain in August.
Education Gazette spoke to Dr Melinda Webber (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu) just as she and Dr Katie Fitzpatrick travelled to present their mahi on mental health education.

1. Mana model 01

Dr Katie Fitzpatrick is a professor of health and physical education and head of school at Te Kura o te Marautanga me te Ako, the School of Curriculum and Pedagogy. At the European Educational Research Conference in Glasgow, she gave a presentation about Mental health education: A guide for teachers, leaders and school boards. Dr Melinda Webber, ahorangi/professor at Te Puna Wānanga School of Māori and Indigenous Education, gave a presentation about the importance of strong positive cultural identities for all learners.

They then also presented their work at a critical health symposium at the University of Valencia in Spain.

Diverse approaches

The first resource developed by Katie, Melinda and their team at the University of Auckland in 2019 was the Mental Health and Hauora Education resource, developed for secondary schools and now freely available and widely used in kura and schools.

While Sir Mason Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Wha model of a holistic approach to hauora and health is still an important part of the mental health policy and resources, Melinda says other theories of mental health have also been included to ensure the material reflects diverse perspectives of mental health education and worldviews.

“There are cultural differences in the ways different groups think about mental health. Many indigenous worldviews are holistic, so when we’re talking about health, we might use the word hauora in te reo Māori which includes spiritual, mental, physical, social health and assumes that all those components are included in any conception of health. Pacific models of health are very grounded in the wellbeing of the community.

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Dr Melinda Webber (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu).

Whole-school approach

Mental health education: A guide for teachers, leaders and school boards took the University of Auckland team around two years to research and write. The policy and guidelines were published in 2022 with a rationale emphasising the worsening mental health statistics and what’s happening right now with young people’s mental health.

“We talked to people from the Mental Health Foundation, school counsellors, a whole range of people and some already delivering PLD in mental health to get to the heart of ‘what can’t be left to chance?’

“There’s been a tendency to focus on young people as all having the same needs and thinking about the world the same, but there are different identities and mental health needs within each group.

“We are saying: ‘Know your students, know how they identify themselves and be respectful of their choices.’ Young people know who they are and who they want to be. If they want a different pronoun or name, how does it hurt us to honour that? A mana-full response is to say,

‘I respect your choices as a young person’,” says Melinda.

Teachers are not forgotten, and the guidelines and resources take a whole school approach where schools and communities are encouraged to pay attention to the wellbeing of everyone in their community.

“In the guidelines, we’re saying it’s difficult to teach mental health education consistently in the classroom if you don’t have robust mental education policies and practices in the school. School leaders and boards must also pay attention to whether their staff are feeling respected and well,” says Melinda.

The guidelines and resources speak to the concept of mana, which is an important social psychological concept that emphasises the importance of a positive sense of self-concept, pride and connectedness to others. The mana model, originally developed by Melinda alongside Te Arawa researchers, is integral to the new guidelines.

“In the development of the original mana model I surveyed more than 18,000 students, over 7,500 parents and nearly 1,800 teachers. The mana model has consequently been further refined to better reflect diverse notions of mana, wellbeing, achievement and success.

“Families valued their children feeling good about themselves, about having a pathway that took them towards a space that would afford them a sense of satisfaction in the future,” she says.

Melinda argues that, while the term mana is generally well understood in Aotearoa, there is some misinterpretation, with people thinking that somebody who has mana is famous, rich or powerful. The mana model looks to clarify thinking around this.

“A person with mana is somebody who upholds the mana of others in their interactions with them. The mana model encourages teachers to think about their classroom conditions and the school’s context. What is happening in all those spaces that honours young people’s authority to make decisions about their own lives and about the way they think?

“The idea is that this young person will eventually positively transform the world around them in some way. That should be the aim of education, to help children understand what they might contribute to the world in the future. Mana is about the maintenance of your mana through the ways that you impact others.”

The mana model is getting great pickup in schools because teachers are grateful to be able to think about young people in ways that aren’t just about their academic progress, but how they are becoming their authentic selves at school, says Melinda.

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Dr Katie Fitzpatrick.

Grounded in the curriculum

Mental Health education and hauora for primary has just been published and can be purchased online. Both the primary and secondary resources, published by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), are grounded in mental health education lessons that provide kaiako and teachers with resources, inspiration, and ideas.

Activities for primary students include music, drama (role playing) and letter writing to families. The secondary school resource suggests learners have opportunities to be mental health agents for change.

“We’ve paid real attention to the kinds of activities and pedagogies that might engage young people.”

Both Melinda and Katie suggest how mental health education can be timetabled.

“Otherwise, it may not be afforded the mana and time it deserves. In secondary, unless a student is taking health and physical education, where else will they get mental health education unless they’ve chosen it as an option?

“In primary schools they can certainly timetable it into a weekly or fortnightly session where they explicitly talk about mental health strategies and approaches.”

With more than 300 pages in each of the school resources, Melinda suggests they will save teachers time and energy.

“We’re not telling teachers to go out and remedy the mental health problems of young people, because we can’t. But we can suggest ways to talk about mental health with young people, ways to teach them how to access the right kinds of help, that they can choose; and here are some resources that you can use to talk to them with,” concludes Melinda.

Mental health education resources

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:40 pm, 13 September 2023

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