81. Darren Murray

7 Aug


As a profession, teaching is about a lot more than helping students to learn the assigned curriculum. Teachers often hold a support role, ensuring the health and well-being of their students and Darren Murray understands this more than anyone else. A teacher at Viewbank College since 2007, Murray, who teaches PE and Health (and Japanese occasionally), is more recognisable in the school as the Health and Well-being Leader. In charge of implementing programs to ensure that students are supported and experiencing strong mental health at the school, Murray’s work in the Health and Wellbeing domain over the last nine years has left a positive impact on Viewbank College and everyone within it.

Murray believes the formation of Viewbank College’s Friends of Health and Well-being committee has led to the changes in the schools Health and Well-being programs. This was also “the beginning of [his] involvement” with health and well-being at the school. However, this wasn’t his first entry into the world of health and well-being. The culmination of his own experiences and experiences of those around him has been the catalyst for his journey. These experiences have translated into skills in areas such as mental health which he admits “has become a bit of a specialty area, even if [he’s] not very well-trained” in it. He’d witnessed similar drug and alcohol education programs in Western Australia where he lived and taught before his move to Viewbank. He has “been able to apply a similar model”  by including the whole school community – teachers, parents and students – in the discussions around health and well-being.

Through his work in Health and Well-being at Viewbank College, Murray has established programs such as “Heads Up Week” for Year 8 students. Inspired by the Resilience Project, the cohort spends their week learning about mental health and developing skills, resilience and positive strategies to combat poor mental health. The program is delivered by all of the teachers the students will have across a week. Often, the content will be delivered in a way that is relevant to the domain of the teacher with the art based projects delivered by Art teachers and outdoor activities or activities pertaining to physical health delivered by Sport and PE teachers. While in the College this may be the best known of the Health and Well-being programs presented, Murray explains that there are “overlay programs” in each year level.

“In Year 7, we have a focus on nutrition and physical activity,” he says. “We have a fun run and we have a sugar workshop where we watched ‘That Sugar Film’ and analysed how much sugar there is in foods.”

He also explains that there has been a push to drink tap water for the benefits to our health and that of the environment and this campaign has culminated in chilled water taps now at the school.

In Year 9, students participate in a mindfulness program and the Year 10’s have guest speakers present content related to careers as they undertake subject selection for VCE and drug and alcohol awareness too.

“In Year 11 and 12 it’s harder to access students and I feel like we still have a long way to go with health and well-being,” Murray admits. “We have done programs over the years with the leaders about drugs and alcohol but I think it would be good to do some more work about mental health in particular because the stress and anxiety levels are high.”

Murray also talks about the changes made by the school in terms of diversity and inclusivity especially for LGBTQ students, referring to the work of students such as Skye Lacy (known for their LGBTQ activism in the Viewbank College community) to create change in the school community, calling these changes a “highlight”.

“We’ve come a long way in my time here in relation to gender and sexual diversity,” he says. “I know that we’ve got gay students and transgender students in the college and they feel well supported, they feel comfortable in their own skin and they’re included in Viewbank College.”

As well as being passionate about health and well-being, Murray is also passionate about properly engaging students in the classroom, encouraging students to fully engage with the content rather than sit passively and experience what he calls “death by PowerPoint.” As a visual learner, he is a fan of using the whiteboard in class and creating mindmaps to deliver the content in a clear way that demonstrates the interrelationships of the content.

Murray’s latest project at the school is the implementation of the State Government’s “Respectful Relationships” program at Viewbank College, focusing on creating a positive and safe environment for all at school regardless of gender or sexuality. Citing the progress made in the campaign for gender equality by individuals such as Rosie Batty, he acknowledges that “we could still improve a lot” to achieve an environment safe for everyone. This program is still in the developing stages but will hopefully have a positive impact on Viewbank College.

The work of Murray to improve health and well-being has not gone unnoticed at the school and is contributing to changes in school culture and improving the health and well-being of students by making these conversations about mental illness and other struggles more common to break the stigma. “When I was your age I wouldn’t have known what depression was,” he says to me. Thanks to his work, mental health is no longer taboo at Viewbank College.

Words: Eloise Derrett

Picture: Sean Porter



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