By Abigail Alexis Olubuyide – Primary Headteacher, Wesgreen International School, in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
“Scrap the well-being lesson!” he said.
“Anyway, well-being should be woven into every area of school life.”
I was shocked. I did not agree. I had to speak up.
Yes, well-being should be woven into every area of school life but surely some emotions required the space to be talked through and life skills that needed the time to be discreetly taught and explored. During a well-being lesson I recently taught, we read ‘The Invisible Boy’ by Trudy Ludwig. We explored the feelings that Brian – the invisible boy – had, and the situations and actions of others that led him to be and feel invisible. The conversation that ensued was both invigorating and poignant. Most children could relate and wanted to contribute their experiences of feeling invisible in the playground, in the classroom, and at home.
This invisibility knew no limits
Students agreed and disagreed and then agreed to disagree. Once rules were outlined, the conversation was respectful, yet challenging. “But Ms, do I have to play with someone I don’t want to play with?” asked one student. “You wouldn’t like it if someone did not want to play with you!” another retorted before I could respond. Students’ first exposure to this level of conversation should not be when they are in the heat of an argument or the midst of a disagreement.
Approach well-being proactively instead of reactively
We should expose students through role play and discussions to traditional playground quarrels in a safe and controlled environment in anticipation of what they could face in real life. Granted, we cannot prepare our students for every eventuality and a weekly well-being lesson will not give them the space to explore every hazardous friendship situation, but we can start to build their toolbox of skills, values, and responses that they can transfer from situation to situation. I agree well-being should be at the heart of all we do and woven into every element of school life.
Where the curriculum permits, I agree that well-being can be delicately weaved in. But I also have seen the benefits of a formal timetabled well-being curriculum that is discreetly taught to students systematically and progressively. These explicit lessons have raised their confidence when dealing with challenging situations, increased students’ levels of resilience, and enhanced their ability to understand and see things from different perspectives. Students cannot be incidentally taught the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. They cannot be taught how keeping a gratitude journal enhances their sense of wellness and happiness through the topic of Romans.
Value mental well-being as much as physical well-being
As physical health is a priority and represented by a Physical Education Curriculum so should mental health. A Mental Health Curriculum should be taught in every school and every classroom. Leaders should not expect well-being to be taught by teachers without explicitly giving them the tools and resources to teach it. It should be seen and treated as a whole school priority. Well-being should have its place in the school’s Mission, Vission, and Values. It should be a standing item on the agenda of every senior leadership meeting and it should also be reported on during every inspection.
The Oxford Wellbeing Impact Study by Dr. Ariel Lindorff (2020) found that:
“whole-school approaches to promoting wellbeing can have an effect on academic attainment and have positive effects on a wide range of other educational outcomes, including mental health, self-esteem, self-efficacy, motivation, behaviour, and decreased probability of dropout.”
The value of emotional well-being
It is important to note that employers are placing increasing value on the soft skills that their potential employees possess. Employers want to know that the young adults entering their organisations are adaptable and emotionally resilient. They want employees to be able to think critically and communicate effectively. Employers it seems, are looking for more than just qualifications. They are looking for employees with a healthy sense of self, that can regulate their emotions and motivate themselves and others. To what degree is our curriculum preparing our students for the workplace and life beyond the school walls?
The Oxford Well-being Impact Study (2020) found that students who are happy and healthy tend to:
- Develop and improve concentration, motivation, and energy levels
- Develop coping skills for life
- Build and maintain better relationships
- Successfully overcome difficulties
- Continue with and be successful in their academic studies.
If you are interested in building a better and more inclusive well-being curriculum, below are a few pointers taken from research:
- Take a whole school approach, that starts at the top and filters down into every classroom
- Engage all stakeholders in the process: staff, students, parents, and governors
- Ensure teachers have the training they need to confidently deliver the integrated and discreet lessons
- Ensure well-being time is ringfenced on the timetable and resources are available and prepared
- Monitor outcomes and effectiveness of the programme through student and teacher voice, observations, and academic data
“Respectfully Sir, no. We will not be scrapping the well-being lesson.” I replied, smiling warmly.
Abigail is the Primary Headteacher, Wesgreen International School, in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here: