The Ultimate Anti-depressants [BLOG]

I was listening to a Big Think clip on teaching adults the skills that conquer social anxiety and I came across this.

Can you remember when you said something nasty to your sister or brother and your mother told you “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all!”

Andrew Horn the presenter then did this to that old piece of advice….

Which leaves you with “If you have anything thing nice to say, say it all.”

This “something” I call an anti-depressant.

No it’s not a drug, it’s a piece of information that makes you SMILE and gives you a reason and a method to make the world better.

I am for ever striving to be a joy germ in the world by making good manners and basic goodwill the manner in which I live every day. I greet people, smile, say “I am awesome” when other people ask me how I am and regularly thank a bunch of people for giving me the opportunity to share the planet with them.

This costs me nothing but I firmly believe it makes a difference.

Apparently back in 1981, Joan White of Syracuse, New York thought of the idea of holding Joy Germ Day on January 8th and too this day she signs off with, “infectiously yours Joan.”

This concept that joy could be infectious has a huge importance when it comes to mental illness issues.

The trouble is that joy is the most vulnerable emotion you can have (See Brene Brown’s Clip at the end).

Here’s Andrew Horn showing how just listening well can be a gift.

This simple behaviour is super important for teaching well and for supporting us, so pay attention management. How well do you listen?

Johann Hari explained it this way when he was speaking about his battle with depression.

I think it really emotionally fell into place when I went and met an incredible South African psychiatrist called Derek Summerfield. So Derek was in Cambodia when chemical antidepressants were first introduced there. And the Cambodian doctors didn’t know what they were, right? They’d never heard of them.

So he explained it to them and they said, “Oh, we don’t need them. We’ve already got antidepressants.”

And Derek said “What do you mean?”

He thought they were going to talk about some kind of herbal remedy or something.

Instead they told him a story.

There was a rice farmer in their community who one day had stood on a landmine and had his leg blown off. And so they gave him an artificial limb and he went back to work in the fields. But it’s apparently very painful to work in water when you’ve got an artificial limb. And I imagine it was quite traumatic—his going back to the fields where he was blown up.

He started crying all day. He didn’t want to get out of bed. Classic depression, right?

So they said to Derek, “Well we gave him an antidepressant.”

Derek said “What did you do?”

They explained that they sat with him, they listened to his problems, and they realized that his pain made sense. He was depressed for perfectly good reasons. They figured if they bought him a cow he could become a dairy farmer then he wouldn’t be so depressed.

They bought him a cow. Within a few weeks his crying stopped, he felt fine.

They said to Derek, “You see, Doctor, that cow was an antidepressant.”

Now if you’ve been raised to think about depression the way that we’ve been indoctrinated to, that there are real biological factors so it’s just the result of a chemical imbalance in your brain—then the cow sounds like a joke, a bad joke.

However, they gave the guy a cow as an antidepressant and then he stopped being depressed?

What those Cambodian doctors knew intuitively is what the World Health Organization has been trying to tell us for years. Depression is a response to things going wrong deep in our lives and our environments. Our pain makes sense.

As the World Health Organization put it, mental health is produced socially. It’s a social indicator. It requires social as well as individual solutions. It requires social change, right?

Now that is a very different way of thinking about depression and anxiety but it happens to fit with the best scientific evidence.

Here’s the whole picture...

What is your understanding of depression and anxiety?

Can you think of other ways to manage it, rather than medication?

In my classroom I have set of rules which I believe are taught well and are used contagiously that they have the potential to change the social interactions that take place in the world.

They are five simple mindset management tools that can truly change your life, improve your school culture out of sight and can make you SMILE. I live by these in my class and cannot live without them.

Whenever I work with a classroom for any length of time, I start with these five rules because they are integral to everything I teach. The biggest mistake in behaviour management is focusing on behaviour management and not focusing on learning.

These five rules set up all the learning. They are originally borrowed from Jeanne Gibbs book “Tribes: A New Way of Learning and Being Together” which was a very new way of being and learning in 1994 when it first came out. It is a mighty good way of sorting kid’s problems out even today and they still seem brand new every time I explain them.

These are all 100%, 24/7, seven days a week rules because if you live by them you will have a happy and fulfilled life! They are not just for “period three on a Friday when I have the “Ghetto Class” of students who nobody wants to teach and they have given them to me just to keep them quiet for two hours; but let’s call it Practical Science!”

These rules work for all levels of students from tough outer suburban kids to high fee paying schools, to isolated indigenous outback schools. Unfortunately, the less respectful the community the school is in, the harder they are to teach and the more they are needed.

They are…

Mutual Respect

No Put Downs

Be Your Best Self

Active Listening

Getting Help

It is a really interesting exercise asking your students what they think each rule means.

Mutual Respect

To teach respect means that you have to become counter cultural!

School is a place where you learn the things that you can’t learn at home, from social media, from sporting clubs or even the courts.

There are four operational aspects that I zero in on here:

  • You don’t have friends at school… you are friendly to everyone!

  • Peer groups kill students.

  • Kids are often shocked when I mention this rule because having friends is a sign of social success at school but as I point out to them, friends constantly get them into trouble and their parents are often telling them, “Don’t play with him, he’ll only get you into trouble!”

  • Every time a child gets into serious trouble at school it will be with a friend. I once asked a group of nearly four hundred Year 12 students to stand up if they had a friend but didn’t know why they were friends with that person. THE TOTAL AUDIENCE STOOD UP!

  • This is because “Fear of Loneliness” is one of the major driving forces in adolescence.

  • Everyone works together.

  • I want to have a collaborative classroom where everyone works together, no exceptions. At any time, I want all students to know that I can move them to work with some-one else and if two students learn how to work with someone they don’t like, I consider this as my contribution to world peace!

  • No one is labelled.

  • I have no labels in my classroom. No black/white/yellow/purple.

  • No smart/dumb/fast/slow/rich/poor. No male/female/gay/bent/straight. Every time someone is called by a label someone will say “That’s not fair!” and they would be right. Everyone in my classroom, including me, is given one label only, a “learner.”

  • Everyone is a teacher.

  • Everyone in the class is both a learner and a teacher…because you learn differently to me, you have things to share. Students teach more than teachers. They determine whether learning takes place or not. Use your power well!

No Put Downs

  • This is a negatively stated rule but it is incredibly important.

  • Put downs abound in our society and while I’d like to think that we could teach kids to let the harsh words and the death stare looks and the killer sighs just roll past, the truth is that they hurt you to your core.

  • While I agree that “Forget, forgive and move on!” is a brilliant Resilience attribute, I would really love it if we just didn’t make those evil statements in the beginning.

  • This rule focuses on three different aspects of the same pain.

  • Killer Put Downs. These are the words that hurt. The nasty statements often dressed up as humour that cuts to the bone. “You’ve got a smelly big butt!” is always going to get a laugh but even though a kid might laugh along at school, it still goes home in their heart.

  • Most students have got better at not saying these at school but now they will text them to others at the most vulnerable times of the day or night.

  • I believe schools should treat these as a crime and report them constantly to authorities.

  • Non-verbal Put downs. These are the looks, the sighs, the eye rolls and the shoulder slumps. Schools that let this stuff slip are in serious trouble.

  • I believe over 50% of bullying is done without a word being said!

  • Self-Suicide or Self Put Downs. These are when students put themselves down… “I’m no good at this… I’m pathetic … can you do it for me?” is common in many different ways.

  • Girls try the eyelash fluttering, “I’m cute!” as a way to escape work, whereas boys will say “I’m dumb…” Do not accept any of these. They totally demolish students’ ability to strive and we need to stop them.

Be Your Best Self

The slide I show to students to demonstrate this has the photo on it of a young four year old boy smiling enthusiastically at the camera; the epitome of being 100% in the moment.

I use this because it reminds me of one of my grandson’s first days at school. This young man still suffers from enthusiasm. When he was four he got to go to kindergarten-ten.

He couldn’t wait to go, so I was really surprised when he came home bawling his eyes out.

“What’s the problem mate?” he was asked.


They had a policy in that Kindergarten of giving children a couple of days off after their first day so they were not too tired. He wanted to go EVERY day.

Children need to be taught resilience and the need for 100% effort in all things.

Thanks to too many sit coms, many parents expect their children to hate school.

We need to change this. As stated earlier Ron Clark said: “We think one of these students will one day become president of the United States… We don’t know which one it is going to be so we prepare all of them….”

This is a great place to start but I think we should aim much higher than president of the United States!

How about we focus on helping students to be become 100% them self…and be pleased with that.

I believe that the ongoing increase in mental illness is caused by the gaping gap be-tween who we really are and who we are expected to be and the only way to close that gap is for students to learn that they are enough!

Active Listening

Complaints about students’ lack of listening skills abound. Even Aristotle complained! However, it is a rare thing to find a class, let alone a school that actively teaches and evaluates the listening skills of their students.

Even worse is that nearly every school staff meeting I have ever been in has a huge amount of teachers demonstrating the behaviours that they complain about their students doing! Weirdly, they get extremely irritated when their failings are pointed out and demand that they be treated as professionals and adults, even though they would slam a child for doing the same thing without blinking an eye!

Listening is a reflective skill. It works best when you show the person talking that you are really paying attention and interested in what they are saying. Google calls it “ostentatious listening."

As Doug Lemov in his book Teach like a Champion puts it:

No matter how great the lesson, if students aren’t alert, sitting up, and actively listening, teaching them is like pouring water into a leaky bucket.

The rules of teaching listening are simple…

Look at people.

How you look at people is how they treat you so when you look at a person you are listening to look at them exactly how you expect to be treated.

One of the best behaviour management tips I ever heard came from an experienced deputy principal in a high fee paying boy’s primary school.

She said: “Every time I get a boy who is acting up a little, I can usually pick that he needs some attention. So I ask the parents to take their son out on a date. And then I ask them to buy him what he likes to eat and to look at him the whole time as if you were out on a first date and that you were totally interested in everything he had to say.

It works every time and we usually never have a problem again!”

The way someone looks at you determines how they are going to respond to you!

I regularly point out to students that how you look at me is how I will treat you. “Look at me like you are happy and I’ll be happy with you. Look at me like you are bored and I’ll give you a job. Look at me like you are cheeky and I’ll tell you off. If you want someone to believe you are intelligent you look at them like they are beautiful.”

It is this transactional analysis of which students often miss the subtext, as do some teachers.

How many times have you seen a “mirror” behaviour come straight back at a teacher?

“How dare you look at me in that aggressive way!”

“I’m not aggressive!”

“Don’t yell at me like that.”



Don’t speak when someone else is speaking even when you have something brilliant to say!

This is almost impossible for teachers to do but the great ones master it. The problem is that when you are thinking about your reply you are not listening.

Teaching students to listen means timing the conversation so that they have a limited time to hold their peace and then get a chance to talk.

The secret to great listening is to let the silence do the heavy listening. Ban the hands up and use a hefty wait time before you ask for an answer. This stops the interjections and trains the think time.

As mentioned at the beginning of the book, Google uses the term psychological safe-ty to describe a team which uses:

  • Equality of conversational turn taking.

  • Ostentatious listening where people show they are listening without dominating the conversation.

The results of stopping the dominators look like this…

  • Keep your hands and body still. This means folding up your laptop and orienting your body to the speaker so you track them and not distract them. Allowing a screen to come between you and your students is close to a capital crime!

  • In junior classrooms minimise the fiddle material on desks even if Grandma bought it from Jacaranda in Alaska when she was on a world tour. You should not let young Miss Mimosafolia play with the polar bear pencil decoration until you scream!

  • I favour desks facing the walls so I can get a theatre style arrangement for lectures, small groups on chairs for group work, silent looking at the walls for reading , writing and calculating and even get kids sitting at my feet for a story! Such room arrangements al-low for teaching listening in a range of contexts.

Remember what was said.

Be honest, how many times have you walked out of meeting and have no idea what was said?

Make sure you have reviewed the exit strategies in place at the end of lessons to embed the learning.

This is why teachers and students both go home and report that they did “nothing” at school.

Getting Help

If you don’t know find out!

It’s called Google.

Basically CHEAT and TEACH are the same word.

This is a very 21st century rule.

Thanks to the incredible advances in information technology, students now have little interest in remembering facts of any type. Why would you when you have the world in your pocket?

We need to teach them the skills of curiosity and resilience and that resilient people do not fear failure. They embrace it as an opportunity to grow. So if you don’t know an answer just:

  • Think.

  • Use Metacognition. (Show that you are thinking about your thinking by pulling an appropriate face!) AND…

  • Say “I don’t know!”

If a student says “I don’t know!” then CELEBRATE!

They have just gone from being unconsciously incompetent to being consciously incompetent and this is a huge step! NOW you can teach them.

Train students to ask the student next to them and persist until you find an answer. (Every student who does not know this must repeat the answer until everyone knows it!)


As over 25% of misbehaviours come from a lack of self-confidence and a fear of failure, it is essential that anxious young learners discover the joy of searching AND finding.

I hope you learn to love these.

Infectiously yours, Greg Mitchell

Spread this with your school. Brene’ Brown on teaching courage

Have the courage and get out of your comfort zone by joining us at our Bali Teacher's Retreat in January! Prices are currently very affordable and places are filling up fast.

Our Mindset Manoeuvre Workshop on October 5th is bound to make you SMILE, join us for a fun filled day of PD that will change the way you think and teach.

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