Education Blog

Marika Ratnik: “You need to have a goal or goals to pursue”

An interview with Marika Ratnik of the School of Educational Sciences at Tallinn University who defended her doctoral thesis in November. Her thesis was entitled ‘The application of the arts in supporting the wellbeing of students in schools.’

Marika Ratnik

How did you come up with this topic during your studies?

I became interested in the wellbeing of students as I was working as a counsellor for children and teens. Some of the main reasons students reached out to me or were directed to me were relationships at school, academic pressure and motivation. Using art therapy at schools for educational purposes interested me because I studied and practiced art therapy and it has been developing in Estonia. The application of this practice can be seen in every school, for both general and special needs students and in general education as well as various subject classes. However, little research has been conducted on the practice.

I participated in the international Erasmus+ KA203 strategical cooperation project STALWARTS – Sustaining Teachers and Learners with the Arts: Relational Health in European Schools, which gave me the opportunity to examine how the teachers at Randvere School used music in various subjects and what they needed to consider when wishing to integrate music (and arts) into their teaching.

Writing a doctoral thesis is a huge task and definitely needs constant self-motivation. What’s your trick? How were you able to consistently work on it to achieve a successful final result?

I found my supervisor’s support and flexibility in accepting my interests as a researcher to be the most important. I also valued my supervisor’s understanding in situations where my internal motivation was low and I needed more motivational conversations. Designing and conducting the research was not hard for me but I struggled with writing the articles. During the process of completing the thesis, I gained a lot of skills and knowledge that I can use as a lecturer and while guiding students in their own research.

Describe a memorable or funny event that happened while you were writing your thesis.

I recall interviewing the students at Randvere School, even though I couldn’t use the data I collected from them in my thesis since the number of interviewees was too small. I was moved by the sincerity and authenticity of the Grade 1 and Grade 3 students when they were sharing their experiences of classes where their teachers used art. I was also touched by how they cared about their teachers, as they mentioned that using art makes their job harder.

How is your research going to change the world?
I don’t think it will change the world. I hope that it will spark interest in how to support students’ wellbeing with arts, for example through using a novel support service – art therapy. A good development would also be if teachers, special education teachers and/or specialists in the education or health fields (like art therapists) could work together to find opportunities to research the various schools’ heterogeneous and not yet researched practices in supporting the students’ wellbeing with the help of the arts. These practices can range from recreational and educational activities to school-based creative therapy which has been gaining popularity in the last few years.

What are the most important values and beliefs that you live by?
I don’t know if they are values or beliefs but throughout my life I have always thought that you need to have a goal or goals to pursue and you can always learn and develop more both in terms of work and personal life. Working at the university provides me with challenges daily, both for self-improvement as well as for professional development.

Please tell us about a book that you recently read and would recommend to others. Why would you recommend it?
On my work desk, I have a book that is composed by the students of the medical professor Jon Kabat-Zin and it introduces mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques developed by him. If you are aware of the pleasant and unpleasant states you go through and you accept them, it helps you to become more tolerant towards yourself. You can be more in touch with yourself if you learn to take the time to be in the moment and experience it. I have discovered mindfulness practices for myself and recommend everyone to give them a chance, because in my experience they help to keep your body mentally and physically healthy. And of course, I found my new challenge: to connect Kabat-Zin’s mindfulness therapy practices with art therapy.