Andrew Cowley is an experienced primary school teacher and leader and the author of The Wellbeing Toolkit (May 2019) and The Wellbeing Curriculum (October 2021) both published by Bloomsbury Education.
Education has seen many strategies come and go in the past fifty years or so, relating to how children learn to read, how they should be grouped, how they should be taught mathematics. In more heated discussion such strategies might be described as trends, fads or buzzwords. Wellbeing has found a place on the educational agenda over recent years and likewise it has also been described in similar ways. Arguably, wellbeing is a skill, indeed a life skill, relating as it does to how we look after ourselves as much as each other; in other words, teaching children about looking after mental health as much as physical health. Skills can be taught, so there is as much a place for the teaching of wellbeing as there is for the teaching of geography or music, for its essential knowledge and for the joy and appreciation it can bring.
An integrated approach to wellbeing
There is a universality to wellbeing: it is for everyone, not just for those who need it at a particular moment in time, to the child feeling anxious, with worries at home or concerns with their learning, but for every member of the school community, especially those who might pass under the radar. In the same way that some children are better at self-regulating their behaviour, there are children who have strategies to manage fear and anxiety, either taught or modelled, which in a busy school day may pass us by.
Wellbeing which is delivered as a bolt-on strategy is going to be reactive; responding to events rather than anticipating them. Similarly, wellbeing delivered as a checklist exercise, is going to lack the authenticity which a school with a culture of wellbeing possesses. Wellbeing is very much dependent upon school culture and by implication upon school context and the relationships that exist in the triangulation between children, staff and parents. The challenges faced by a large inner-city primary school with a diverse socio-economic and ethno-racial intake and a tiny rural school with a very different school community will differ widely. No ‘one size fits all’ model of wellbeing development will suit both settings, but wellbeing is equally as important in both.
Wellbeing impacts everything that happens in the school day and this includes in the children’s learning experiences. If wellbeing is integrated, as much as is possible, across all subject areas as well as taught independently, the school will be well on its way to developing a culture of positive wellbeing. Integrating any additional wellbeing interventions into daily practice will yield the most successful outcomes.
This can be further reinforced with children and staff by maintaining the vocabulary and discourse of wellbeing in corridors, halls and playgrounds to promote a supportive school and classroom ethos. Connectedness, focus, purpose and warm relationships need this firm footing. Most importantly, wellbeing needs encouragement and support by senior leaders and ownership by the whole school community, to give it the best chance of success.
If wellbeing is to apply equally to the whole school community, this includes the staff. This is a subject worth a blog or two in itself, but needless to say, a school with a commitment to pupil wellbeing needs to have an equal dedication to its staff, an empathy with their stresses and wellbeing and a culture which supports their career development. A school with sound staff relationships is in the best position to help its children to thrive.
Written by Andrew Cowley
This blog is part of a series looking at the importance of student wellbeing and successful strategies for a whole school approach. In our previous blog, ‘Could student wellbeing be linked to academic achievement?’, we looked at the evaluation findings from an Evidence analysis impact study exploring any potential links between wellbeing and student outcomes. On our wellbeing page you will also find a range of practical resources and guidance on wellbeing for parents and teachers, developed by experts.