At St Margaret’s and Berwick Grammar School, we are committed to nurturing the wellbeing of the young men and women we work with, and to foster positive emotions and engagement at all times. The Wellbeing Hive is a place that reflects this, but what it also reflects is a curriculum that is being taught at every year level by skilled practitioners who care about the mental health of young people.
We see this as a key role in schools – to give young people the tools to manage their emotions and navigate the sometimes uncertain waters of life. All of us had a lesson in this in 2020. In addition, skills such as emotional regulation, self-knowledge, mindfulness, resilience and more are crucial 21st century skills – and ones being hotly sought by future-minded employers.
These are all excellent reasons for a focus on wellbeing, and so is the link that research shows between wellbeing and academic performance. And some of this seems obvious – of course an experience of school as a place that largely embodies positive emotions allows young people to thrive on all levels. But let’s dig into this a little more… what precisely can good wellbeing programs do to promote academic success? Here are three things that come to mind…
Self-Esteem and Self-Belief
We take a positive and strengths-based approach to engaging with young people, and in senior schools students undertake yearly their own Character Strengths profile that shows them some key positive qualities they readily draw out. Each Year 7 student in the first few weeks of school can clearly explain their signature strengths and how they see they are used in their everyday lives. Curriculum in subsequent years across Mentor sessions and the Growing Good Men and Empowering Women learning and wellbeing spaces continues to assist students to learn about these strengths, how and why they might change and how they can best apply and build them based upon their personal goals.
If you want to know more about these, we published a series of articles on how we use the VIA Characters Strengths in 2020, starting with A Case for Character Strengths.
And this is just one tool we have. Every time we help a young person understand themselves, and see their experiences as normal we assist to create not just a healthy sense of self-esteem – but a genuine belief that they are capable of so much.
Our aim is for the young men and women who graduate from our school do so with a sense that they can meet not only their own personal goals – but also that they can make a difference to the world at large. I am sure we can all think of many young people who are actively making a difference to the world by simply using their voice… who could fail to be moved by the powerful performance of US National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. What insight, what confidence and what strength of character she demonstrated.
Resilience – Particularly Academic Resilience
Resilience is the capacity to bounce back after challenge – to embrace each and every opportunity to learn and grow and to see the possibility at all times for things to be better.
While this is an incredibly powerful personal quality, it is also crucial to academic success. Nobody gets it right all the time, and we seldom get it right the first time.
I love showing this YouTube Video in my classes – which shows the difficult journey many incredibly successful people have taken to get where they are… stories that reflect not only the need to persevere, but the growth and success that striving can bring.
Every teacher longs for their classroom to be a place where students take risks – where they try new things and value creativity and are unafraid of the process of being given feedback… and wellbeing programs are the space in which the concepts behind this can be explored, where Grit and Determination are openly discussed and applied to many areas in our lives.
They are also places where we encourage self-reflection rather than deflection – and every mentor assists the young people they work with for the year to set their own goal and action plans and to put strategies in place to take charge of these.
The Junior School’s powerful commitment to the Resilience Project, which promotes Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness also plays a role in this. Our whole school commitment to the benefits of Mindfulness encourages us all as a community to slow down, be present, be kind to ourselves and look at challenges from a more balanced mindset.
These are crucial to facing the pressure to perform that many students feel, as well as the capacity to overcome embarrassment about suggestions to improve. This is the crucial role of the teacher, and is done with the best of intentions.
Better Relationships and a Great Sense of Belonging
A sense of people and place are crucial to our wellbeing – and to feeling willing to explore, get involved and take risks in your learning. Wellbeing and mentor session promote positive relationships between students and their peers, students and their teachers and students and the world.
The House System ensures that students have a family away from home, a space in which they are seen and connected. The vertical mentor groups allow students to bond with students across all year levels and to experience both structured and informal mentoring from the older students in their group. Their advice, example and support provides an additional level of safety and engagement that further encourages that risk-taking we spoke of above.
And we all know how powerful positive role models are, in achieving a strong sense of identity, autonomy and direction in the world. It’s one of the reasons why we invite previous students back into the community so often – into Senior Schools or the Junior School – to be celebrated and appreciated.
Positive Emotions are crucial to success – and good school wellbeing programs help promote these in so many ways. As do the staff who run them. A commitment to this will not only support your child on a person level, but may be pivotal in their success in their final years of schooling.