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Hammond Academy's Jo Phillips co-authors 'Mental Health and Wellbeing in Primary Education' book

As we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel and pandemic restrictions begin to lift, the health and wellbeing of our children is at the forefront of everyone's minds.

We caught up with Jo Phillips, part of the pastoral team at Hammond Academy, to congratulate her on the launch of her book and understand how researching and writing the book has helped her personally and in her role at Hammond Academy.

What is your role at Hammond Academy?

I am one of two Thrive Practitioners and a member of the Pastoral Team. We support the children with their emotional and social developmental needs, in order to help them engage with their learning and peers more successfully and feel safe and happy in school. We work 1:1 and in the classroom, through play, sensory and the creative arts to repair interruptions in development. We also support teachers and TAs with implementing the Thrive Approach across the school.

Congratulations on your wonderful achievement, what encouraged you to write the book and see it through?

Thank you. I was offered the opportunity of writing the book by one of the co-authors, who I studied with at university. She is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and wanted to use her work to support schools. At the time, I was taking a break from teaching as my children were young. I thought that the opportunity to write a book for schools would be a good way to begin my journey back into education and also learn more about the process of writing and the world of publishing. I have always been passionate about mental health. Every school visit and interview inspired me and spurred me on to learn more.

What challenges did you have to overcome to achieve this success?

There were practical challenges: finding the time and balancing home life and writing; living in different parts of the country to my co-authors; and editing the book during the pandemic. But my biggest challenge was moving forward on my own journey with anxiety and panic and stepping back out into the world again after several years at home. The prospect of returning to work in education was daunting, however I felt that the opportunity was too good to miss and I decided to seize it. I’m so glad I did! The process of writing the book has been very healing and I now feel very well and able to use my professional and personal understanding of mental health to support the children I work with.

What impact has it had on your role?

The experience of researching and writing the book has brought so much to my new role. I feel I have taken my interest in mental health and wellbeing and turned it into something tangible, something that has impact on my everyday interactions with children. Along with my Thrive training, it has expanded my existing knowledge and enabled me to better support the children at Hammond Academy. All the schools in our Trust were already on this journey. It’s been brilliant to join with my colleagues and put our learning into practice, attuning to where the children are each day and working to meet their emotional, social and learning needs.

What would you say to encourage others in the Trust who want to follow their dreams and progress in their careers?

Trust your instincts – I really believe that when we tune into who we truly are, we will discover our purpose and see how much potential we have to make a difference in the world. But it may not be in the way that you expect and plan for.

I started my working life as a doctor, but then took the difficult decision to leave the profession because I knew it wasn’t right for me. Thankfully, I found the right path and retrained as teacher. My new Thrive Practitioner role allows me to integrate my clinical knowledge, with my teaching experience and my enthusiasm for play and creativity. I am now very happy in my work, but I had to trust in my slightly unusual journey to get here.

Our energy for our careers and our drive to pursue our dreams can ebb and flow with life events and stages. This is completely normal and we should not be hard on ourselves if things do not progress in a conventional way. The time will come when our passion peaks again and opportunities will arise. I love the saying ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear’. When I was ready, the idea for this book appeared and I was able to say yes. We can’t force ourselves to engage or progress until we are emotionally ready.

This is so true for the children we work with too. We put a huge emphasis in the book on helping children to be ‘ready to learn’ and this sums up the Thrive approach too. We are supporting all children to be emotionally ready for everything the world has to offer them. This process teaches us huge amounts about ourselves too.

What support did you receive to help you to achieve this wonderful goal? 

Laura, Sarah and I supported each other, cheered each other on and learnt how to work as an effective author team. It was a brilliant experience. The schools who welcomed us during our research phase were absolutely fantastic. We couldn’t have wished for more. They gave so freely of their time and energy because they believed in the purpose of the book. We are so grateful to them. All of our Aspire schools and Principals were wonderfully supportive too. Our conversations encouraged, inspired and challenged us. My husband and children were amazing. They showed such patience with my endless hours of reading and typing. I couldn’t have done it without them. My lovely friends kept me going too. I was very grateful for their enthusiasm for the project.

What are your next goals?

I am looking forward to working with my colleagues at Hammond Academy and across the Trust as we implement the Thrive Approach more fully. I’ve always wanted to write children’s books - that dream is still there, but the time is not right just yet. I want to focus fully on my role as a Thrive Practitioner and see where it leads me. It feels like I am where I’m meant to be and it’s a really exciting time.