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A new chapter – focusing on the ELICOS sector’s wellbeing

Patrick Pheasant spent seven successful years as CEO of NEAS Australia, the quality assurance body in the country’s ELICOS sector.

Photo: Patrick Pheasant

Pheasant’s objective will be to help schools and organisations in the sector with their students’ mental health

In November 2023, that tenure came to a natural end, as Pheasant decided that he was going to expand his horizons – and simultaneously go back to his roots.

“I’ve been studying drama and the use of drama for different applications for a very long time now.

“I did my PhD in that at Sydney University, and it took about ten years to work through it. I’m a teacher by trade – I was an English language high school teacher and worked all over the world teaching English.

“When I came back to Australia after doing various stints in the US and, in Japan and in the Netherlands, I thought I should focus on the PhD, which was on using process drama to teach English,” he tells The PIE News.

Two years ago, whilst still carrying out his duties as NEAS CEO, he got his graduate diploma in counselling and is now doing a master’s in counselling, taking a deep dive into different therapies, but primarily psychodrama.

Aside from making himself available in education consultancy, Pheasant will now be focusing on mental wellbeing – something that will tie in very effectively, he argues, to the international education sector.

“My new business is using psychodrama and other techniques to help people unpack trauma or any type of issues, career counselling and building confidence,” he says.

Pheasant’s objective will be to help schools and organisations in the sector with their students’ mental health in a myriad of methods, as well as helping equipping staff with the mental strength to both help them and help themselves.

“Last year at NEAS, we ran a very large program looking at trauma-informed teaching in English language teaching, an online course. We worked with the Ukrainian ambassador to roll out a series of training courses for Ukrainian English language teachers.

“The project made me aware of the different traumas that people go through, you know, some great trauma, like, you know, the Ukrainian teachers in Ukraine. But also, the trauma that we face in general, and the issues that they’re facing as a result of that.”

The Australian ELICOS sector has begun to blossom once again after a very tough pandemic period – but with that has also come challenges, Pheasant says.

“One of those elements is we’re struggling to find qualified teachers, but we’re also bringing in students from all sorts of different countries and backgrounds – some from very, quite severe backgrounds, like Ukraine.”

And as such, mental health and wellbeing is a really topical issue, for ELICOS in Australia.

“There is this increased need for teachers to be really aware of what the students are bringing to class and what they themselves bring to the classroom as well.”

While there are legal responsibilities for companies to look after their employees’ mental health, through new legislation introduced recently, the bigger organisations are the ones who stand to benefit the most.

“They have employee assistance programs, and have really good access to mental health services.

“But in Australia, the English language school is often a little bit smaller, and doesn’t have as many resources as the larger universities. They don’t have the means to look at employee assistance programs,” he explains.

His focus will not just be within language schools. He’ll be working with individuals in the sector, too.

“I’ll be working to support LGBTQ+ professionals in the sector and their allies to move into management to have self-confidence to look at their professional development, you know, in context of their sexuality.

“There is this increased need for teachers to be really aware of what the students are bringing to class”

“I’m certainly bringing lived experience to that as well. It’s a big way I can contribute. What’s fascinating to me is a lot of us in the community have this shame from coming out and from childhood experiences.”

Sometimes, he goes on to explain, that childhood experience can – in teenage years – develop into perfectionism and over-performance.

“They try really hard to kind of overcompensate or to prove themselves and consequently become very successful, but then wake up in their 40s going, what now?”

After seven successful years running NEAS’s operations and knowing the sector inside and out, he’s excited about this new approach to helping the sector flourish.

“I am just really keen to look at how I can support those in the sector, with the training I have – not just individuals, but also, management, students, teachers – the whole organisations’ mental health offering.”

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