Inspiring healthy minds

Dr Ray Swann interviewed for The Weekly Review

This piece by reporter Melissa Heagney appeared in the Domain Review magazine:

Adolescent boys growing up in today’s world face many challenges. Stress from study, worries over friendships and concerns about their future can all take their toll. It’s something Brighton Grammar School’s Ray Swann knows well.

As head of the senior, all-boys ELC–VCE school, Ray works not just on ensuring students excel academically, but also making sure their physical, social and mental health and wellbeing is prioritised. “I know the young guys that I work with; they are really inspirational in how they deal with what they’re facing daily,” Ray explains. “But they need guidance.”

Ray, who has been in his role for four years, works with the students to provide ways for them to deal with these complex issues, and to become young men who embrace diversity – including the different perceptions and values of masculinity.

He has helped introduce a health and wellness program at Brighton Grammar, which has become a leading school in the federal government’s Respectful Relationships in Schools program.

This health and wellbeing program also features the Rethinking Masculinity course aimed at year 10 students. The course challenges the boys’ ideas of being a man and introduces them to new philosophies, including that of positive masculinity.

“A really good example, and a tricky example, of this is around boys and feminism, because I think that boys really need to understand feminism,” Ray says. “We look at those ideas and those ways of looking at the world, because students need to find a way of critiquing the world that they live in, and that they’re advantaged by, but that they don’t always see it that way.”

This year, Brighton Grammar has partnered with a number of experts including Arne Rubinstein, whose Rites of Passage programs aim to offer a symbolic transition for teenagers becoming young men. Arne’s The Making of Men, a program that taps into what motivates boys to be good men, is being piloted at the school.

For Ray, motivating students to be good men can mean he and his staff lead by example and, at times, challenge the boys’ beliefs and values.

“Doing this is raw and it’s real and it’s important and it’s high stakes. This is so important because it’s the lives of young people we’re dealing with; you’re helping set them up to be successful in life,” Ray says. “And we are really lucky. We’re at a great school which is committed to the mental, emotional and social health of young boys and young men.”

Brighton Grammar often invites guest speakers to talk about their experiences with masculinity, including footballer Wayne Schwass, who recently spoke to students (and parents) about dealing with depression during his football years; ironman turned-life-coach Trevor Hendy; and pioneering LGBTI advocate Jason Ball.

Ray, who began his career as a drama teacher, says that as well as the programs, real stories can have an impact on students. “My role, in its basic sense, is to tell stories – to provide ways through complex issues at assemblies and to let students know they are supported,” he says.