(image from Pixabay)
Mental health and well-being are (as they should be) gaining more and more importance in the education system. We need to have an understanding of why and how to look after ourselves so that we can function to the best of our ability, riding the waves of day-to-day life, the ups-and-downs, the peaks and the valleys. One-in-ten children suffer from mental health issues, with a significant amount having to wait up to 18 months to be seen by CAMHS, and this indicates that we need to have well established mental health and well-being structures in schools to help cope with the demand. By this, I do not mean that teachers and schools should "fix" the children that are suffering the most and need professional help, but by implementing well-being skills programmes in schools we can give the children that are doing okay the chance to pull themselves back from the edge, therefore keeping places free for those that need extended and deeper help.
Many of the well-being programmes out there are doing the job they are supposed too - giving children (and including or by extension staff) the tools to build resilience, happiness, and purpose; schools take up resiliency programmes, such as happiness programmes, growth-mindset, mindfulness, etc, believing that implementing a single (or few) programmes will change the lives of their pupils. This is a first step, for sure, but one thing that aggravates me about this approach is the fact that the ends seem to be justifying the means. To believe that one or two programmes with a single focus will enable pupils to flourish is deluded. By all means, have growth-mindset in your school, but acknowledge that growth-mindset itself may assist with some aspects of your pupils lives, but not all. Hannah Wilson, HT at Aureus School, and Clare Erasmus, Director of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Magna Carta School, recognise this and these two schools have developing mental health and wellbeing programmes that draw on many aspects of a very broad arena. In doing this they ensure that, for their pupils, no-one is left behind. Pupils with and without mental health issues get the wellbeing support that they need.
BUT, I still have a small quibble about well-being in schools and it is this - where are the moral and ethical elements of the wellbeing programmes. Sure, some wellbeing programmes, such as mindfulness and meditation, help pupils to develop a natural sense of some moralistic elements, such as compassion, kindness, and gratitude, but it is done almost unconsciously, without any specific and purposeful directive to "aim" for moralistic thinking. In my mind, this lack of moralistic and ethically driven well-being means that well-being becomes individualistic and selfish. I have always struggled with the well-being industries individual focus - meditate so that you can be calm and stress-free, put boundaries in place so that you can protect yourself, exercise and eat well so that you feel amazing. What if we changed how we look at and talk about well-being so that our reason for and purpose of well-being is about the impact it will have on others as well as ourselves, how it will impact on the wider community. So what could this mean?
We need to underpin well-being with morals and values, so that young people have a purpose to their well-being, a purpose that doesn't just concern them, but ensures they look wider, bigger. In Michael Hands article "How to Teach Children Morals" he talks about three aspects of teaching morals: 1. Individuals subscribe to a standard, 2. Individuals want others to comply to the standard, 3. Individuals want those that violate standards to be punished in some way. As a community we aim to teach children - in families and in schools - that to be kind, generous, sharing and caring, are all important to enable the community to thrive. Families and schools create their standards and expect children to comply, with children facing consequences if they fail to do what is right. This is a very simplistic way to look at morals, but if we could underpin well-being with this approach, as a first step, pupils can start to self-regulate, creating well-being in their own lives that is up to a community standard (perhaps even peer driven) and policed by themselves, i.e., looking beyond just their own well-being they start to actively look out for others and encourage their peers to participate - it creates an inclusive purpose to well-being that is generally missing. Michael Hands also raises the point about moral enquiry - the encouragement of children to discuss and think about moral elements and scenarios. What if we had pupils engage in this type of discussion regarding well-being and mental health issues they may face? Giving them the ability to understand and justify reasons for and against some and other well-being interventions. This gives them the moral capacity to want to look after their own and others well-being and mental health. The ability to self-reflect as well as judge the wider-communities approach too and implementation of well-being and mental health strategies is empowering and creates a more universal purpose to strategy.
So, perhaps, when considering your well-being strategy for your school, look at moralistic and ethical values that could well underpin and influence your well-being structure, engage your pupils with the processes and have an ongoing evaluation from all parties to ensure that there is real purpose and meaning to well-being and mental health.