Student Insights: Five minutes with Deb Vanderwerp

By Sophie Archibald | 20 April 2018

Blog Banner - Deb Vanderwerp

 

In our 10653NAT Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing we always talk about starting with self and creating a ripple effect out there in the world - whatever that may mean for you. 

In this interview, one of our Diploma graduates explains how the course supported her through tragedy, and has helped her make a positive impact on those around her.

 

Deborah Vanderwerp 

Teacher at Holmesglen

Melbourne - April 2014 - Alumni

 

What drew you to complete the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing?

In 2008 my youngest son was experiencing anxiety and we were advised to go and see a psychologist who worked with positive psychology. My husband and I were both educators, heavily involved in the arts and arts education, and found his perspective combined with our personal meditation practises very useful.

I was a teacher and a course coordinator at TAFE and began doing further research into the use of Positive Psychology in the classroom.

In 2013 TAFE funded me to do a Executive Certificate in Positive Psychology Coaching. At this stage both my sons were teens, both finding their secondary education dissatisfying, and I was teaching many students who had disliked school. After learning about strengths, mindfulness and resilience for example, and applying them in different teaching situations, I was able to see how these techniques and theories could benefit all students and educators.  

At the end of that year I gave a presentation on the potential benefits of using Positive Psychology techniques in the classroom and I was inspired to continue to research options to learn more. It was through this research that I discovered the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.

 

My intention and desire was to find ways to apply what I learned in the classroom and find ways to share my experiences and knowledge with my colleagues and others involved in education. And so in 2014, in the midst of the chaos that was the Victorian TAFE sector at the time, I commenced the Diploma.

 

How was your experience of the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing? 

When I started the course in April of 2014 my oldest was in year 12 and was finding it challenging, and my youngest was in year 9 and not enjoying any aspect of school. I could see the writing on the wall for myself, my staff and my students at TAFE. I was battling to take care of myself well and was tired, drained and needed a shot of something that would help me through.  I naively thought doing the Diploma was going to be about becoming a better teacher and parent, yet it showed me techniques to be a more flourishing person and to understand the ways in which I could apply practical techniques in areas such as emotion management, gratitude, flow creation and savouring to myself, my relationships, my marriage, my classroom and within my broader community.

Deb with a turtle in Sri LankaI loved the many 'ah-ha' moments of realisation and understanding during the Diploma course. The course was the beginning of a significant reboot for me. As I did the course work, mostly with a study buddy I’d met during the course, I found a life path forward. In September it was confirmed my faculty would close at the end of the year and we would all be made redundant.

The tools I had been given in the Diploma didn’t fix the pain of losing a job I was good at, and had done very successfully for 15 years, yet they helped me deal with it better.

I decided to look for work that would give me a chance to rethink my future and I wrote the phrases ‘I am open’ and ‘find the joy’ on post-it notes on my home computer screen.

On Jan 8 I was offered a job at Victorian Opera as their Education Officer; this felt like a great opportunity to bring arts and education together. When my husband returned from a camping trip with our youngest son and one of his mates, I accepted the position.

On Jan 14 my husband, Lance headed out for his annual summer motorbike trip with mates yet he died in a head on collision that afternoon outside Jindabyne.

The days, weeks and years that followed were the most challenging I’ve ever had to negotiate, for myself and for my sons. The grief and the pain were immeasurable, yet I had two sons who had lost their father and somewhere on that first night I had this huge moment of clarity - I had to lead my sons through this tragedy by being the best I could be in memory of Lance and for my sons. This choice and these young men were his legacy.

 

How did the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing help you through this? 

The tools I learnt during the Diploma and meditation were key sources of the ‘strength’ I found to move through each day. 

The Diploma had given me the language and the science to understand what the boys and I were experiencing and a way to manage the stress. 

I believe that preparing for death is a part of living and so I tried to focus on being in gratitude, on trying to effectively manage my many conflicting emotions, on being mindful of my reactions and responses and I tried to share these tools with my sons. I didn't always succeed in doing this well yet I had so much to be grateful for, my friends and family, and the support of the TAC which meant I got to keep our house, and a job.

I decided to start the new job on the day my youngest was to start year 10.  I eventually continued my Diploma studies and completed the course in May of 2015. I was able to share some of my learning with colleagues at Victorian Opera, yet mostly I have shared the knowledge these last three years with family and friends as we negotiated the pain of Lance’s death. 

The boys and I at Are's graduation

For the next three years I listened to sensational musicians making beautiful music and worked with some extraordinary people. Lance and I had both trained as violinists and I am sure savouring the music I heard at Victorian Opera helped me immensely.  Yet I was missing teaching and at the end of 2017 I was unexpectedly offered the opportunity to return to the TAFE sector, teaching young adults with intellectual disability and learning difficulties personal development, life skills and drama. I feel I have returned to my true vocation with a far greater life wisdom to draw on.

For the past eight weeks I have reconnected to many of the education tools I learnt in the Diploma and have managed to apply these with the students and share them with the staff on the courses in which I am now teaching.

 Helping students become more resilient, learn how to manage their adolescent emotions, and learn to be less fearful and even more awesome each day, is truly inspiring.

In addition, my eldest is studying, and has held down regular work and a beautiful relationship these last three years. My youngest completed year 12, is taking a gap year, got his license and bought a car.

We miss Lance every day, yet we are embracing life.

 

   

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About the Author: Sophie Archibald

Sophie Archibald

Sophie manages marketing for the Langley Group, helping people around the world use positive psychology, neuroscience and emotional intelligence to flourish. She holds a BSc in Psychology from the University of Exeter, is accredited in the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and is currently studying the Langley Group Institute’s Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.

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