“Is this the place where you come when your heart hurts?”
Luisa was just 8 years old but she was well aware of the perils of emotional restlessness. She was standing at the door of Paty, our school counselor, a warm, caring grandmother with a PhD in psychology and a special way with children.
No school can do its job of educating youth without seriously taking student well-being into consideration. A heavy heart is rarely compatible with a focused mind. But, how can we reach the whole child? The exquisite complexity of human beings – and the overflowing of young ones at our schools – makes this a difficult task. At the same time, its relevance makes it impossible to dismiss.
Our school is far from perfect and there is still much to be done, but here are some of the things we do to promote happiness, well-being and health in our classrooms.
Create relationships. It seems obvious, but being able to form strong connections with our students is crucial. Only when there is a climate of trust will they be able to open up and let us in if they need help. Every child should have at least one adult at school that is close to him. Some years ago, I learned a strategy to make this happen. When there is a staff meeting at school and all teachers are reunited, write the name of each student in the school in a post-it. Display all post-its in a large wall. Give each teacher a colored felt pen, and ask them to mark their name in the post it of each student that they are particularly close to. Each kid should have at least one mark on her name. If that is not the case, find the children with no marks and make a plan to create the lacking connections. Very large schools could do this if they divide by sections.
Teacher’s well-being is important. Stress is contagious. If a teacher feels anxious, it will be almost impossible to keep a positive classroom environment. Schools are live, organic entities. If there is a problem somewhere, it will eventually hurt the whole system. Sean Bellamy, a UK based teacher and founder of Sands School, is currently working in partnership with The Well Being Project to develop strategies that support teachers’ well being in schools – he believes this to be a pre-requisite for quality teaching and learning. “The programme is still in its early stages” -he says. “And the people at The Well Being Project have been extremely helpful”. Sean’s forward-thinking TEDx talk about risk and the teenage brain is available at TEDx Talks YouTube Channel:
Mindfulness works. Back to our school counselor, Paty. Some years ago she began to have weekly mindfulness sessions with whole groups – especially those with troublesome issues, like bullying. She also works with teachers at our monthly staff meetings. The results have been encouraging. When issues are faced and treated, school climate improves, which decreases stress and improves well-being. The whole system thrives. But not all responsibility falls in the counselor. Teachers – and students need to learn the tools that will help them to self-regulate and de-stress.
Create a rich, stimulating and wide learning environment. No school day should be complete without daily exposure to arts and opportunities for physical movement. If possible, spend some time outside the classroom: sunlight is great for improving health – and mood. Exciting lessons from passionate teachers will chase away boredom and inertia, so strive to create fun, engaging experiences – for everyone, including parents!
Happiness and well being can’t happen by decree – they are part of a very personal journey for each one of us. However, the environments we create and the relationships we build will have a definitive impact on the way we experience life. So let’s make the most of it, for us and for our children. They deserve no less.
As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: How are you promoting well-being, health and happiness in your classrooms?