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Resilience and Wellbeing a Focus for Hunter Teachers

By Master Instructor Brian Hayes

Teachers and health workers have seen a sudden and concerning rise in anxiety and a decline in social/emotional skills in the post covid environment. The Rock and Water program addresses these very themes and has seen a strong resurgence of interest in the Hunter over the last two years.

The Rock and Water Program had its beginnings in Newcastle in 1999 when Dutch educator, Freerk Ykema, was invited to present at a National Conference for Boys hosted by the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle. The program has since grown world wide, with over 70,000 teachers trained in the program in 40 countries. 

The program is still based in Newcastle after the Family Action Centre passed the responsibility for workshop organisation to Mel Hayes and Rock and Water Master Instructor Brian Hayes, principal of Rock and Water Australia. Over 50 teachers were recently booked into the Newcastle Workshop this March at Brians full time Martial Arts facility in Warners Bay.

This is remarkable, and says something about the awareness in the Hunter of this amazing and proven program. We taught a workshop in Hobart to seven teachers, and recently we taught 11 in Albany, so it is amazing to come home to such a strong support base. Teachers and support staff are looking for strong evidence based programs that develop social skills. So many of our children struggle with diagnosed and undiagnosed difficulties in coping with anxiety and trauma. Whether they have professional support or not, children need to learn to self-regulate so that they can cope with stress. They also need to learn to interact together positively in order to learn to co-regulate and develop calm and happy classrooms.

Participants in the Rock and Water program learn over 100 games using a psychophysical method where students are encouraged to connect with their bodies, monitor what is happening as they play and interact and learn strategies to manage their own emotions.

If you are interested in learning more about the Trauma Workshop we are running one this year! You can register here

Freerk Ykema Interview 1024 683 Rock and Water Program

Freerk Ykema Interview

“They’ll learn about themselves, social skills, social insights, it will develop self regulation, self confidence. It’s not very helpful to talk with young people about how they feel, we have to do something”
Freerk Ykema, founder of Rock and Water.

Earlier this year, we had the pleasure of hosting a visit from Freerk Ykema, the director of the Gadaku Institute and the creator of the Rock and Water program. Hailing from the Netherlands, Freerk took the time to engage with our students and educators, working collaboratively to elevate their proficiency in the program.

Since Rock and Water was first introduced to Australia in 1998, it has impacted the lives of over 15,000 educators, youth workers, chaplains, and counsellors. Freerk’s belief in the program’s effectiveness lies in its departure from traditional teaching methods such as sitting in a classroom. Instead, Rock and Water incorporates a dynamic physical element, creating a more engaging and impactful learning experience.

Take a look at this video that interview Freerk as he explains why he developed Rock and Water, and how it came to life in Australia back in 1998. 

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Video Series

We’ve had some fun videoing our Rock and Water journey this year. Brian and his daughter Anna, who just finished a Bachelor of Communications, have travelled to interesting and diverse locations in NSW, ACT and Tasmania. We’d like to share that journey with you, and some of the beautiful testimonials we’ve been able to collect along the way. Brian also has some highly qualified staff delivering Rock and Water in the Newcastle to Central Coast area and we’d like to share some of the expertise with you. If you are a Rock and Water facilitator it is nice to know that you are not alone in your efforts to share this wonderful and powerful program that has gone from strength to strength as teachers, educators, counsellors and parents look for powerful programs like this to challenge the increasing feelings of uncertainty and anxiety that afflict young people in this world. We hope you enjoy our journey. 

– Brian and Anna Hayes 

Testimonial Series:

Waratah NSW

On The Road:

Duri Public School,

Tamworth NSW

In Schools:

Focus on Girls at MacKillop College Warnervale with Kelie Fisher

2021 Compilation with Brian Hayes

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Rock and Water in Taiwan

I had the most amazing and enlightening experience recently, when I was asked by our Rock and Water coordinator in Taiwan, Shiow-Chyn Chung, to conduct the three day training at St. Johns University in Taipei. Apart from the obvious problem that I could not speak Chinese, there was also the sense that I was “taking coals to Newcastle”, in that so many of the wonderful games in Rock and Water are drawn from the Chinese arts of Tai Chi, Chigong and also other “harder” forms of martial arts. I assumed that all participants would have a sound understanding of the principles of centring through breathing, a good feeling of the course of vital energy through the body, and a propensity for introspection to seek ones way forward in difficult or perplexing times.

The first problem, of language, was actually easy to overcome, through the splendid ability of Shiow to translate simultaneously. I only needed to slow my speech a little, and to take slightly longer sentence breaks, and the wonderful Shiow was right there with her translations to Chinese. She even moved with me, and when I found myself on one knee making a hilarious lampoon of a histrionic child ( abandonment of one’s centre), I glanced around to see Shiow mimicking the very same gestures and facial expressions. She was superb and I am grateful to her. What I really learned though, is that language is a very small part of our communication, and we could all connect, relate, laugh and learn together though our primary modality of physical movement. Rock and Water teachers all know this, but for me it was a wonderful endorsement of the efficacy of the psycho-physical didactic.

The second assumption needs explanation. The participants were teachers, some from Beijing, and although many were very well grounded, and some even had extraordinary knowledge of Tai Chi and energy control, all expressed the same frustrations we feel in Australian schools. Bullying is becoming an increasing problem, children are disconnecting from their culture, young people don’t know what they want or where they are going, families are changing and culture is shifting. The education system has been “Westernized” and there is less time to explore the really important things that all educators know intuitively that children need; self reflection, self esteem, self control and internal and external communication to allow one to navigate a way forward. Social and emotional development are the foundations of resilience, and all educators know this. The frustrations of the Chinese participants were the same as those teachers express in Australia, and their epiphanies were the same. So many of the participants were delighted to find a program that offered permission to teach the very things they intuitively knew about the importance of developing physical, mental and emotional skills in order to develop the resilient child.

This journey in Rock and Water is a wonderful experience, and I am ever grateful that Freerk Ykema was coaxed to Australia nearly twenty years ago to share his program, that is now taught all over the world. And a big thankyou to Shiow for her amazing hospitality.IMG_0831

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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.