ISC blog: "Practising wellbeing and self-care is more vital than ever"
Paul Clark and Christine Franklin of Langley School discuss the importance of pitching wellbeing at the top of the school curriculum.
We are living in a time when practising wellbeing and self-care is more vital than ever. In getting through a global crisis, we must look after ourselves and also each other.
Prioritising wellbeing has earned us the nationally recognised Wellbeing Award for Schools for both our Prep and Senior schools respectively, and we know that parents see it is a symbol of trust and a mark of importance. We fully appreciate that this kind of investment of time and resources is a big responsibility, but we would urge every school to pitch wellbeing at the top of the curriculum. Our approach is to not only recognise the value of wellbeing but to celebrate it, especially today.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and recent government announcements, we acknowledged the impact that the cancellation of schools and exams had on pupils. In reaction, we introduced in-class meditation before we had to close our doors. We shared videos so that staff and pupils felt encouraged to take some breathing space and switch off – the videos range from one minute to ten minute meditation – and, now that we are all working and studying from home, we are sharing more resources than ever to encourage continued practice.
Paul Clark, deputy head (pastoral) and designated safeguarding lead at Langley Senior says, ‘To achieve success in what we do, we have to be in a good place in terms of our mental health and wellbeing. It doesn’t matter how good someone is at a subject, or how good the teaching is, or how good the virtual resources are, if we are not mentally fit and well, we simply will not reach our potential or enjoy the journey getting there.’
Something that we have long since placed at the heart of wellbeing here at Langley is Mindfulness. Our advice to any school would be to include it in your everyday practice, not just in set sessions. We actively encourage pupils to experience the now, stay in tune with their emotions and bodies through a range of activities such as meditation, breathing exercises and mindful listening. To enable this, we train our staff to include mindfulness practice within their classrooms, so that it becomes a way of life.
We also have small classes, which we think offer the most advantageous learning environment for pupils, while being the ideal platform to put into practice wellbeing and to celebrate our values, which are centred around kindness, curiosity, confidence and integrity.
As our Prep School is a recognised Forest School, we believe that an outdoor offering is just as important as traditional classroom learning. Twice weekly, pupils are invited to a Mindfulness walk and are encouraged to take part in forest bathing activities. Being immersed in nature and learning how to harness nature for environmentally and ecologically friendly projects has been proven to enhance wellbeing.
Christine Franklin, deputy head of pastoral and welfare at Langley Prep says, ‘We think it’s really important to establish dedicated spaces for wellbeing. At Langley, in our Prep School we call it the Time for You room and in our Pre-Prep it’s the Brave corner. These areas enable us to welcome pupils into a safe space where they can engage in discussions with peer mentors, staff and trained mental health first aiders. Pupils often come to this tranquil haven at break time.’
Another thing we would encourage other schools to do, if they don’t already, is to have a dedicated wellbeing day each week, like our Thoughtful Thursdays. We focus on encouraging pupils to exercise a range of different strategies to proactively address their wellbeing during this time. Also, use Form time, which we believe can play a big part in any school’s successful wellbeing initiative. Form Tutors enable our pupils to collect tools for their mental health toolkit and facilitate discussion about mood, self-regulation and maintaining a healthy mind and body.
As a school you also need a dedicated staff body that understands the importance of wellbeing – we have trained mental health first aiders, and a programme in place to train up all remaining staff. We have a volunteer listening service, where pupils and students can talk to a trained professional about any issues that are concerning them.
You can actively raise awareness of issues throughout the school year – we do it via our assembly programme. Every pupil also has the opportunity for silent reflection once a week when they attend the school’s chapel service. The walk to the chapel itself is the perfect setting for mindfulness, particularly when the snowdrops and daffodils line the pathways. Our grounds are also the ideal home for our wellbeing dog Indi. Our resident golden Labrador brings a huge amount of joy to pupils as they take her on wellbeing walks. If your school can add a dog to its family, we would recommend you do so and watch as they quickly become an important and well-loved member of your school community.