When I speak to head teacher colleagues in other schools I realise I am not alone in facing an increasing range of issues related to the mental health and wellbeing of our students. This is happening at the same time as the external services we are able to access are increasingly stretched to capacity. We have realised that we need to do all we can to help our students understand the importance of managing their own wellbeing as they move into adulthood and we are working to provide them with the tools to do this. We want our students to be able to cope with the anxieties and stresses that we all have to face in our daily lives. We have decided to use the National Health Services ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ as a way to structure our work with students. We also recognise that the wellbeing of our staff will have a direct impact on our students and are trying to structure opportunities in the same areas for our colleagues.
1) Connect. We know that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and that social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing. We have tried to create systems and structures in our school that emphasise the importance of positive relationships and work hard to enable students to make connections with a broad range of people.
2) Be active. Regular physical activity is linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety. People who work closely with me can tell instantly if I’ve managed my daily gym visit based on my own state of wellbeing! We’ve been encouraging students to be active in form time and have already seen tutor groups having a mile walk outside, completing seated yoga exercises and encouraging students to be active.
3) Take notice. We know that studies show that being aware of what is happening in the present can help enhance wellbeing. We have encouraged staff and students to take notice of their surroundings, clear clutter from workspaces and have even seen an increasing number of plants in office spaces! We have led mindfulness activities with staff and students to help them raise their awareness and savour the moment.
4) Learn. Continued learning through life enhances self-esteem, promotes social interaction and helps people lead a more active life. We’ve been sharing with students the new things we are learning and have encouraged them to attempt to learn something new. Some forms have learnt sign language, others have been solving puzzles. I’ve been attempting film appreciation by slowly working my way through Mr Posner’s ‘Greatest films’ list he shared with the year 12 film studies students!
5) Give. We talk to our students about the positive effect of active participation in social and community life. This could be through helping others in school or volunteering to support local groups. I know from leading the Duke of Edinburgh Award that the students themselves and the wider community benefit hugely from the volunteering section in the award. This year we will be supporting a range of groups in a variety of ways.
Whilst we know we will all face a range of challenges during our lives that test our resilience and challenge our mental wellbeing, I hope we can at least provide our staff and students with a range of strategies they can use to help them lead a happy and healthy adult life.