Understanding the Golden Triangle 548 411 Rock and Water Program

Understanding the Golden Triangle

When I teach the Rock and Water program I am ever mindful that no matter what exercise I am doing with students, I must make an effort to connect the physical to the mental and emotional self. I have in my mind at all times the golden triangle, of body awareness, mental or self -awareness and emotional awareness.


A good example of this process is found in the wrestling games. Students grapple with each other in a very physical game, striving to push each other off a mat. They learn that rock, or hard strategies, are not enough. The student must have a feeling for the other’s strength and centre, and use this understanding to re-direct the opponent. This re-direction would be a water strategy. Easy enough on a physical level, but we are mindful that the aim of rock and water is to promote reflection and dialogue about the ways in which we handle our personal and social struggles.

The Rock and Water teacher then introduces a new game, where the students must handle a conflict, but in a verbal manner only. Just like in the physical game, students must feel out the strengths in the opponent’s argument, communicate their own values (rock), empathise with their opponent’s position (water) and try to arrive at a win-win result.

During these conversations, a lot of children will completely lose their sense of centre and ground. They will fail to notice their physical signals, such as increasing heartbeat, tense muscles, raised shoulders and clenched hands. When this happens they run the risk of losing their self- control, and also damaging the relationship with the other by showing a lack of respect.


The golden triangle of body awareness, mental awareness and emotional awareness is therefore at the centre of the Rock and Water method. The good teacher constantly makes these important connections to encourage the student to reflect and make a transfer from the game to their developing social and emotional selves.


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Implementation Models for Rock and Water

One of the first questions people ask me in workshops is how to effectively implement Rock and Water in a school. Many schools send one or two teachers to training who are then asked to run Rock and Water in their school. This, of course, is the obvious start and I find most schools will run a group for a period of about 10 weeks in lessons of around 50 minutes, then move to another target group in the next term.

I visited Campania District School in Tasmania recently and found there a strong model for implementing Rock and water effectively in the school. Several teachers had already done the two or three day training and had run programs of varying lengths in the school. They wanted to do more to imbed the philosophy of Rock and Water throughout the school, consistent with their core values of promoting respect, resilience and a positive learning environment. Welfare Coordinator David Morris invited me to visit the school and to do some extra training with targeted staff, as well as do a workshop with the whole staff, so that the language and principles of Rock and Water were clear to everyone in the school community. In this way, the teachers who ran the programs could expect that the key words and principles of Rock and Water could be reinforced in every classroom, in the playground, and in the language students used with each other.

I spent a day teaching demonstration lessons with groups ranging from 14 to 40 students, with classroom teachers taking the role of co-facilitators. I found that many students already had a good grasp of the principles of Rock and water, knew how to centre, breathe, ground and focus, and were open to the games and discussions that I offered. The Rock and Water posters were on display in the school. I had lots of discussion with enthusiastic staff about the various ways they could implement the program in the school.

At Waratah High and later at Lambton High, where I had been a Deputy Principal several years ago, we used a model where I combined what I call an inoculation strategy and an intervention strategy. All students in Year 7 completed 10 week courses in Rock and Water, with the idea that in four years all students from Years 7 to 10 would have a sound understanding of Rock and Water principles, expect respectful behaviour from each other, understand boundaries and have the skill to negotiate through conflict rather than default to aggressive responses. In Year 8 and again in Year 10 we ran intervention programs with students recommended by the welfare team. These were smaller groups, taught by myself and a co-facilitator, and we targeted children who had demonstrated problems with self- control, aggression or bullying behaviours. We also formed other groups with children who had been victims of bullying and at Lambton we ran a girls group after a staff member had attended the Rock and water Focus on Girls workshop.

In order to implement Rock and Water effectively in the school, all staff need to have some understanding of the program. An excellent approach is to invite one or more staff to complete the three day training (or 2 Day specialized course) and then to ask a Master Instructor in your state to conduct a One Day Workshop in your school. For more information visit www.rockandwater.com.au, or the international Gadaku website at www.rockandwaterprogram.com .

Evans River High Hosts Rock and Water 1024 634 Rock and Water Program

Evans River High Hosts Rock and Water

Workshops this year have been quite successful, with some notable new venues and some emerging champions of the Rock and water program.

Craig Gillespie at Evans River High has been teaching Rock and water for a long time. When I was a Deputy Principal at Waratah Technology Campus in Newcastle, back in 2000 and 2001, I shared a challenging group of Year 10 boys with Craig. Friday afternoons was a critical time for these restless boys, and since I was the person these boys invariably ended up with as they wore out their welcome in the classroom, we decided to hold Rock and Water sessions on a Friday afternoon. It sounds like a good way to guarantee failure for the program, but we recognised the challenge and set our lessons accordingly. They were very physical, and sometimes the boys would stop for a break, exhausted after rounds of high intensity exercise, and gasp, “Sir, can we take a break and talk for a while. We’re stuffed!” Of course, we were looking for just that, and Craig and I would then do some mindfulness exercises, or talk about their trials at school or in their family lives. This may not be the best formula for a Rock and Water program (I always advise to do the lessons in the mornings), but at our school, with these boys, I daresay it saved a few suspensions on Friday afternoons. Of course, we also held a morning class for this group that ran on a more conventional RW lesson plan.

I must say I was delighted when Craig called two years ago and offered to host a three day workshop at his new school at Evans Head where he had accepted the role of Head Teacher. We agreed that if the school hosted a workshop every two years, Craig would be able to put enough teachers through the training to ensure the program could be sustained at the school. I love to do workshops at Evans River High school. The catering is first class and provided by the school canteen. The venue is clean and roomy, and the staff know why we are there and are supportive. To ensure that the program becomes part of the school culture, Craig has booked me to conduct a One Day Workshop with the whole staff, so that he can promote a common language in the school around RW principles.

This is a great example of how to take a powerful program like Rock and Water and ensure that it is enshrined in school culture. Craig knows he will have enough trained staff to do what I call an inoculation program. This is where all of, say, Year 7 do at least a ten lesson program, ensuring all students 7-10, after 4 years, will understand thoroughly how to stand strong, speak up, respect boundaries, walk away from conflict, and support each other in these things. They will have the skills to make a choice about how they respond in times of difficulty. For students who need more support, he will have staff trained who conduct intervention programs for particular withdrawal groups, such as underachievers, or students who default to aggressive responses under pressure, or victims of bullying.

There are many schools in NSW, the ACT and in Tasmania that adopt a similar vision to the one exemplified at Evans River High School, and I look forward to describing their approaches in future blogs.

Why do we Break the Wood? 1024 683 Rock and Water Program

Why do we Break the Wood?

An important part of the Rock and Water 3 Day training is the very last exercise, where participants break a piece of wood with their fist. Why do this?

The wood break must be seen in the context of the training. For three days, participants have challenged themselves. They have re-assessed what it means to stand strong, have a voice, challenge limitations and set goals as they gain new understandings about the power of breath and the amazing physical, mental and emotional possibilities that go with really knowing your centre.


The culmination for the newly accredited Rock and Water teacher is the board break. It is a rite of passage, a challenge to do something that seems to be quite difficult at first thought. Freerk Ykema wrote, “This board means that you can follow your path, supported by a positive conviction and self- image. A path that is sometimes difficult, because it will involve many difficult decisions that you will have to take yourself, on your own.”

The participants write a personal goal on the board. Breaking the board symbolises the strength and perseverance needed to reach that goal. In this way, it forms a powerful mental anchor. Participants then work in pairs, with a partner to encourage, count together, shout together and also celebrate the achievement. To have a witness to one’s effort can be a powerful affirmation and help promote a deep memory of this achievement, which anchors one in future moments of personal doubt.

Many teachers, inspired by the experience, include the board break in student programs. Although a powerful conclusion to a Rock and Water program, teachers must be mindful that younger hands are soft and it would be wise to use thinner boards that are more appropriate to the age of the student. Many teachers prefer not to do the board break and encourage students to complete some other assignment that demonstrates their authentic understandings of the Rock and Water journey. For the Rock and Water teacher, however, the board break can be a powerful affirmation. As one participant wrote, “ I can’t believe I broke the wood! At first, I thought that I would refuse to try it, it looked so crazy. It is one of the best things I have ever done. I feel now that I could do anything I set my mind to.”