A Positive Mindset for a Brave New Term

I am a photography lecturer at Dudley College of Technology.

A number of my students really struggled with their mental health during the recent lockdowns. When possible, I organise college trips to the wilds of Derbyshire, Scotland and even Iceland. The results can be eye-opening. Students tend to break from their comfy cliques to become a supportive whole, helping each other, hand in hand across mountains, with a sense of cheerfulness, patience and acceptance.

Recently, I’ve been limited to urging my students to switch off their phones and spend some time outdoors, even if it’s just in their garden. Time spent outside stimulates the senses and can reset our thinking. Any green space, even just looking at a green wall lowers our heart-rate, blood pressure and anxiety. I always urge anyone who struggles with metal health, to find a mindful, creative distraction within nature. Conversely, the online space can be a really big source of anxiety and unhappiness for a lot of young people. Social media is not going away and is not helping.

Advice I tell my students on their first day:

  1. Look after yourself. If you are anxious or depressed, talk to someone. Ask for help! Now take a deep breath. Take a moment to feel grateful for everything around you. Do eat breakfast, avoid sugary drinks – drink water, even when you are not thirsty. Try and do something to keep fit. Walk to college. Keeping fit and healthy can also help reduce stress and anxiety. Try to spend some time outdoors in a green space. This is a big ask, but to truly switch off, designate a time in the evening when your smart phone goes off and stays off. Proper renewal comes from rest and quiet.
  2. Give yourself a purpose – Set goals – Think Big – Plan ahead. I tell my students to think about what they want out of the course, out of life and how they are going to get there. Make a daily checklist. Make a weekly checklist. Make a yearly checklist! Print the assessment criteria out with the pass criteria blocked out in red – ‘it’s taken as red.’ Instead, I say, ‘let’s go ‘MAD’ (Merits and Distinctions).
  3. Take responsibility for your learning. Manage your time. Make notes, reflect, question, refine, resubmit. To help you reflect on your work, put your phones to good use – take photographs of your work, especially if it’s a practical subject you are studying.
  4. Ask questions! I tell my students that the best students are those who ask the best questions, not those who think they know all the answers! Anxiety and lack of confidence often prevents people asking questions. Lots of perfectly intelligent, reasonable people get caught up in wanting to appear to present a certain image and fear looking foolish. I tell them – We love questions! Don’t hold back! Take advantage of advice and feedback  – use it!
  5. Take a risk – Be prepared to make mistakes! Winston Churchill once said  that if you haven’t failed, then you haven’t tried hard enough. Just like risk though, it is easy to mitigate against failure by taking the easy option. Churchill also said that success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm. I help my students enter international competitions, encouraging them to submit work for potential exhibition in prestigious galleries, even though it’s a long shot. They’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
  6. Work together! The pandemic has shown us more than ever that we are all in it together. Though we may, still be, reduced to working separately at present, teamwork is still where the real magic can happen, and it is where I believe, the essence of growth is. We learn what we do, not what we are told. Learning to love learning is the key.


All I want them to do is, in the next 24 hours – to start a conversation with 5 people they don’t know. 5 people they’ve never met before. Ask them to pay someone a compliment, start the ripple of kindness, it’ll make someone’s day! This could include someone in their new class who they haven’t yet spoken to or on the bus travelling home. But it needs to be 5 people and it needs to be in person. They get bonus points if they make someone smile!


Tell your students, remember, the difference between doing something and not doing something, is doing something! If they want to do something and we all believe they can, they will.  Experiences are at the heart of change and when bold experiences are combined with high expectations, students generally rise to the challenge and achieve things none of us could anticipate.

So to recap – students need to know – We’re all in this together! Think big! Think bold! Believe in yourself. Be kind. Make the most of your precious time! Tell them –  your life chances are not pre-set! Have purpose. Have a growth mind set!

Phil Brooks

(Gold Winner of The Award for FE Lecturer of the Year, 2020)