Assistant Head of High School
Why worry about wellbeing? The start of a new semester is as good a time as any to consider that question. Hopefully your own wellbeing is in a good place having recently celebrated the arrival of another New Year, enjoyed time with loved ones, and indulged in some of the finer things in life.
You are well placed to reflect on the balance between working hard and having the time to enjoy the things, and people, you work so hard for. In amongst today’s fast paced lifestyles, we often don’t create time to consider our wellbeing and that of others.
There’s no doubt, however, that wellbeing has been creeping up the agenda in schools for a number of years and it became a global priority with the arrival of Covid-19. Indeed, Covid-19 has exacerbated the need for effective wellbeing programmes in schools across the world due to the additional and unique challenges it has created for school communities.
Pupil wellbeing has always been a priority in schools. However, it has historically been an informal expectation rather than an area of accountability or a discreet subject. It is without contention that school should be a safe place where young minds are nurtured and developed in a supportive environment. A tapered introduction to the challenges of adult life helps to mature the brain and character in a sequential fashion.
Nonetheless, pupils at Huili have witnessed some of their teachers dealing with the wider implications of Covid-19, and themselves have found their movement around China, holiday schedules and residential opportunities restricted. Covid-19 has caused young people to face unprecedented scenarios and resulting anxieties, and though its impact in China has undoubtedly been less than in other parts of the world, it remains an ongoing threat to normal life.
Wherever wellbeing is placed in a school there is now undoubtedly a sharper focus on mental health and the contribution that wellbeing has to play in maintaining it.
Mainstays of wellbeing such as value based learning and healthy lifestyles have been taught in schools for years, so what is it that has changed to determine that wellbeing and mental health are so much more of a priority?
One reason is a clearer understanding and appreciation of the importance of good mental health as society challenges previously tolerated conventions. Higher incidence and implications of poor mental health, especially amongst younger people, has also been a catalyst for change. Acceptance of the need for progression is only the start of the solution though and this is where individual schools vary dramatically in their response.
Imagine introducing a brand new subject to a school curriculum. It’s so new that you don’t have any teachers to teach it. You don’t have space in the timetable to teach it. There isn’t even any real consensus within the profession as to what it looks like and how it should be delivered. In most cases the new subject would be delivered by non-specialists, shoe-horned into a far corner of the curriculum and absorbed into the most accommodating subject area.
What is impressive about wellbeing at Huili School is that the questions above have been answered decisively. Its identity and position are clear.
Wellbeing has been given discreet time on the timetable. Pupils have time to explore the key components of wellbeing without the shadow of assessment looming over them. Wellbeing is quite rightly seen as the path to success in the other subjects.
Beyond being given curriculum time, there are other aspects that set wellbeing provision at Huili apart. Huili has invested in an infrastructure of professional support and expertise. George Anderson, a wellbeing professional from the UK, is actively involved in the planning of the wellbeing curriculum, and beyond this is also engaging with the teaching staff and parent body.
The school has invested in a comprehensive pastoral staffing structure which currently sees each house benefit from both a Housemaster and a Deputy Housemaster. All pupils are assigned a mentor in addition to a tutor, and counsellors are on hand where required. A specialist Head of Higher Education and Careers is another example of investment in bespoke support, as is the involvement of external sex education providers, a school nurse and commitment to wellbeing focused programmes such as morning exercises.
As the government increasingly looks to support the wellbeing of young people by curtailing tutoring, encouraging sport and physical activity at weekends and limiting online gaming, Huili’s proactive approach to wellbeing sits in alignment with these wider strategies.
The true value of Huili’s approach, however, is that wellbeing is not just taught, it is practised in all senses of the word. Pupils are being equipped to manage their own wellbeing and taught how to protect their wellbeing in even the most challenging circumstances.
The subject of wellbeing should aim to teach skills and techniques that allow pupils to self-manage their wellbeing, not merely be able to recognise that there is a problem.
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
Wellbeing lessons at Huili equip our pupils to cope with the challenges of daily life, and more than that, to flourish.
The culture of care and wellbeing infrastructure that has been established supports the pupils’ personal development, so that wellbeing growth permeates every aspect of life at Huili.
And so, in response to the opening gambit, ‘why worry about wellbeing?’, it is our aim that you don’t have to.