How to handle the new wellbeing situation

Kelly Hannaghan

Kelly Hannaghan is a Mental Health and Wellbeing Consultant and has spent her professional career passionately focussing on enhancing the opportunities and life chances of people in education. Through the power of her mental health training and therapeutic relationship skills, she has successfully led a school on the Wellbeing Award for Schools process, resulting in the school being the first nationally to achieve this. Kelly is an active speaker, blogger writer of wellbeing in education and is passionate about creating the conditions under which teachers and pupils and families flourish.  

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Pupil wellbeing is high on the agenda for educators as the phased return to school begins. Indicators such as Young Minds Charity are telling us that there is a growing need for mental health support. The Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield shared her views that all schools would need to have an onsite councillor to help manage the current children and young people’s mental health crisis in the return from lockdown. Only today the DFE have announced that pupil mental health and wellbeing needs to be a priority for the school reintegration process. So, what can educators do to prepare for this additional support for young people’s mental health as the country moves out of the pandemic? 

Start from where people are

With schools reopening to more of their pupils this month, staff wellbeing is vital in order to manage this new normal of education. It’s important to understand there may well be a periphery of emotions for school staff, along with some professional and personal conflict. As educators we have a strong sense of purpose and duty of care to meet the needs of our pupils, however this time of pause has provided us the space to breath and reflect on what our life priorities are. There may also be a shift of focus from work to family life or simply a need to slow down, for others, the lockdown may have provided an opportunity for professional growth and development. Wherever you sit within this gauge, know that it's ok to prioritise your own wellbeing and still effectively fulfil your roles to a high standard.

Pupils will have their own stories to tell of how their lockdown experience has played out. Offering a safe space for these narratives to be shared is key for recovery. We have the opportunity to flip the narrative from post-traumatic stress to post traumatic growth. I am a firm believer that we need to start from where people are in order to move forward with any kind of wellbeing prescription.  

Nurture First, learning second

For children and young people to regain a sense of safety, it’s important to offer a healthy hub where building secure relationships is a priority. Trust and empathy are key ingredients for successful transitions back to school. Understanding the impact of our words can also play a huge part in helping children feel comfortable. The language we use has incredible power in re-establishing safe relationships. Wellbeing first and learning second, effectively if you look after the wellbeing, it takes care of the learning. I know this to be true through my work as Wellbeing Lead at Lessness Heath Primary School. We now have the data to show that placing an emphasis on wellbeing has increased the outcomes for our pupils and their families. People often ask me; how do you measure wellbeing? My reply is simple, you only have to walk into an environment to pick up if the people there are happy and engaged. A key question to ask yourself is “would you younger self thrive in your school community?”

 

Social distancing doesn’t mean emotionally distancing 

Human beings are instinctively built to connect with each other, in these unprecedented times we are regularly being advised to socially distance in order to stay safe. These guidelines go against human nature to socialise and interact with others. We know that physical connections play a huge role in enhancing our wellbeing. To grow a sense of connectedness whilst respecting the government guidelines we must promote emotional links in order to lay the seeds for long term future recovery, resilience and reform of the system in normal school life.  

Deconstructing Wellbeing 

The best recipe for wellbeing post COVID-19 is a collection of the following:

  • The 3 R’s, Relationships (create a sense of connection and belonging), Regulation (whole school practices to help regulate children’s emotions and promote physical and emotional safety) and Reflection (providing a safe space for the noticing, and wondering for people to reflect on their experiences of what’s happened
  • Be outwards facing and build collaborations and networks for preventative and early help work
  • Amend key principles, values and policies to align with the new landscape in education (bereavement and relationships policies)
  • Provide high quality mental health training to enable staff to recognise and respond to children and young people’s mental health needs
  • Whole school approach means capturing the voice of needs of every person in your school community, feeding back and responding to
  • Nurturing schools, nurture hearts, develop a trauma informed approach to therapeutically meet the holistic needs of pupils
  • Create a universal directory of useful links and resources that support potential emotional health needs for both staff, pupils and their families
  • Provide opportunities for fun and laughter in these serious times humour and excitement can provide a welcomed light relief

Most importantly celebrate the positive experiences and learning in lockdown, many of us would have taken something good from these exceptional times. What will you be taking with you into your new normal?

 

Helpful Resources 

The Anna Freud Centre

Education Support 

LGFL Wellbeing Connected Digital Resource

The Education People

Child Bereavement UK

Young Minds

Mentally Healthy Schools Website

Heads Together Charity

MHFA England

The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust

PSHE Association

Winston’s Wish

 

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