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InnovateELT meets Mental Health Friendly

It will be an enormous pleasure to return to Innovate ELT this year with Mental Health Friendly; an initiative designed to improve access to quality English Language Training for people suffering/recovering from serious mental health problems.

What is Mental Health Friendly?

For those who attended the conference last year, you might remember we presented the project together with Fiona Oates in this talk here. This year will be launching a new tool for teachers to help them raise the issue of mental health in a positive manner. Attendees will be there at “The world premiere” of Elen Evans’ winning entry to the Catalonia-wide Mental Health Friendly lesson plan competition.  After this premiere, and with the generous and continuing support of Macmillan Education, the lesson will be made available to all teachers around the globe. However, I also wanted to take this opportunity here to dwell a little on the theme of this year’s conference, “Power to the Teacher”, and the learnings from Mental Health Friendly with respect to this bold and exciting topic.

Manifesto: Power to the Health Care Professionals

If I could begin, though, with my “day job” (meaning that work not related to MHF) and a recent translation I made from Spanish to English of a “manifesto” developed by patients’ groups and healthcare professionals in relation to a campaign to improve the care of a particular chronic illness.  What struck me about the manifesto is particularly its call for equality in access to care, improved knowledge in the general population and better tools for healthcare professionals, “Power to the Health Workers”, was how that “power” was constrained by calls to make that knowledge and those tools relevant to the sufferers themselves. Not only that care can be patient-centered but that the care be focused on the lived experience of the persons (not patients) as they try to negotiate the challenges they face with the illness, with regard to employment and other social, cultural and personal relationships. In short, power is being demanded for professionals so that they may give patients reliable and useful information, that they may improve service delivery and develop, and use, better treatments. But such power was contingent on addressing the diverse needs of sufferers and not an exercise of power for power’s sake (new tools because we like new tools).

And that in a nutshell is very much the process, the transformation, the learnings on a personal level, which I have so far taken from my involvement in MHF. As we approach Innovate ELT I can see how different the “project” (as it has matured I have almost ceased to use this word) has become. This is largely due to working so closely with La Federació de Salut Mental de Catalunya and their help in making wider sense of the particular experience of working with service users at a mental health day centre in Barcelona.  I have come to better recognize what we refer to as the “service user’s pathway” and how the initiative must be more closely tailored to the service users rather than any ideal of the product itself if we are to maximize its impact.

What happened at MHF during this year?

This year we had our first MHF scholarship where a student from the day centre workshops I teach at was able  to “graduate” to a regular course at Oxford House. It is through this course, and the amazing support and commitment from the teacher and team there, that we are developing protocols to help improve incorporation of students recovering from mental health problems in regular classrooms. Indeed, I think we may have developed the first informed consent form between an adult educational institute and health services here in Spain. Moreover, the impact on the student and the positive impact on the person’s family is a truly remarkable phenomenon. However, three other students graduated to regular English courses in Adult Education where we do not, as of yet, enjoy such a collaborative working relationship. It is hoped, however, that the experiences of working with Oxford House and the creation of a teacher’s guide to help incorporation will give us something concrete to offer teachers in Adult Education, the most likely destination for those wishing to study English outside the mental health setting.

Moreover, I have been charged with the responsibility of designing a “Maletí Pedagògic”, 15 attractive lessons (activities) to be used primarily in mental health social clubs in Catalonia. The idea of the “Maletín” is to promote and evaluate interest in learning English in the clubs before endeavouring to find teachers to provide specialized classes there. An interesting exercise in “Power to the Teacher” as it is designed to exclude the need for a qualified teacher (but not that of a monitor). The exercise has brought home not only the possibilities of learning English without the direct aid of a trained teacher, but more importantly, the incredible added value that the trained teacher brings to the classroom.

Finally, I cannot stress enough the incredible efforts made by La Federació and Macmillan Education in helping to maximize the impact of the lesson plan. It was not our original intention to make use of the lesson plans in this manner but such was the quality of some of the entries, it was too good an opportunity to miss. However, despite this quality, getting everything absolutely right in terms of ELT and Mental Health is a complex business and for this reason I was struck by the manifesto I mentioned earlier and the complex processes that underpin the drafting and execution of such a plan. For my part, translating the needs of ELT and Mental Health into one document, and seeing the winner with her endless patience, her flexibility, her resourcefulness, means that I truly believe in unleashing the power of the Teacher. All Power to the Teacher!

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