Next week, we recognise World Mental Health Day. Here, Tara Jones explores why wellbeing matters to all, always.

 “Primary school teachers have more impact on the emotional health of the children than on the children’s performance in maths.” Lord Richard Layard, The Origins of Happiness

Wellbeing and learning are inextricably linked.

Research shows that effective, evidence-based wellbeing initiatives and strategies greatly enhance student learning. In the book The Origins of HappinessRichard Layard’s research explores what contributes to human happiness, and it turns out that schools and teachers play a crucial part—an instrumental role that cannot be overlooked.

There is a constant daily timetable battle for teaching; what subjects to teach when. The end of each academic year brings the same familiar anticipation—what class will you have and what will your timetable look like? Then comes the challenge of ensuring correct curriculum coverage and, if you’re a SATS year, you will optimistically plan, knowing that come January the fun stuff will be squeezed out!

Wellbeing and creative subjects often don’t make the cut, leaving room for the ‘essentials’—English, Maths and Science. One of my oldest friends, a secondary art teacher, has said that over the past 10 years she’s seen a rapid decline in knowledge of colours and basic skills coming up with each fresh cohort of Year 7s. There just isn’t the time to teach it all.

Two years ago, our timetables were already stretched and strained and we couldn’t keep up. Then, over the last 18 months, we had that time restricted even further. So how do we now prioritise ‘catch up’ whilst also ensuring mental wellbeing is given the attention it so critically deserves?

I have seen many examples of positive wellbeing programs in schools. When used constructively and consistently the impact is clear. But it takes a big investment and a shift in school culture. I have also seen wellbeing pushed out of the timetable time and time again. “I’ll come back to that later.” “We can chat about that on Friday afternoon.” All too often, we see Mental Health shelved for a one-off ‘Wellbeing Day’ and usually to the detriment of both pupil and teacher.

Considering the overwhelming evidence to support it’s much-needed place in our ‘daily diet’; how do we ensure that wellbeing is given the status and time it deserves in our busy school days? 

One solution is to build wellbeing teaching into your full curriculum offering. To embed it into existing lessons, not as an ‘add on’ but as integrated Wellbeing, within History, Geography and Science.

We’ve been doing it in English for years; empathising with characters, predicting patterns, exploring characteristics and behaviours, considering what might have happened differently if or when…

How many of us have taught Wonder in Year 6 only to spend a whole English lesson discussing how Auggie must have felt on that fateful day he heard his best friend turn on him. The children are always gripped with this plot twist. Why? Because friendship matters….wellbeing matters! Conversations with Year 6 children in Summer Term post-exams will always be some of the favourite moments of my teaching career. With hindsight, you realise it’s only then that you finally find the capacity to make time for the conversations that matter.

“It is easier to build strong children than repair broken adults.” Frederick Douglass

Embedding wellbeing into your curriculum with eduu.school 

Embedding wellbeing needn’t be a daunting task. When you teach Minibeasts in Year 2, why not explore the origins of a phobia and consider that some of the children in the class might feel scared to go outside and search for a minibeast. Ancient Greece, let’s sympathise with the experiences of a Spartan boy soldier and discuss the range of feelings that they may encounter. What did the Romans do for us? Discuss the strength shown by Roman soldiers and the skills that they possessed. Then ask your children to share their own strengths and learn to celebrate the things they are good at.

Consider how you can incorporate wellbeing teaching into all your curriculum subjects. Wellbeing in History – no problem! Tackling stress in science, we can help you!

Teachers, it’s World Mental Health Day next week. Use these plans, save some time. From all of us, a big thank you; you make our schools a happy place.

EYFS/KS1 – ‘Blast from the past’

In Blast from the Past, pupils will make the connection between memories and feelings by looking back at experiences that made them feel happy, sad, excited or nervous. They will discuss how change can affect the way they feel and create very powerful memories that we remember for a long time. Download to find out more. 

Lower KS2 – ‘Zeus’

Zeus is a theme that is focused on learning about Ancient Greece. This lesson will deepen pupils’ understanding of good and not-so-good feelings through: Mental wellbeing: The twelve labours of Heracles. Download to find out more.

Upper KS2 – ‘Galaxy Quest’

In Galaxy Quest, pupils will discover what stress is and how it can affect their mind and body. Pupils will learn coping strategies such as deep breathing and seeking comfort and advice from another person. Download to find out more.

Click here to access free resources

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