What does ‘Well-being’ have to do with school?

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Girl, Sunset, Meditation, Relaxation

The sceptical among you might say that ‘well-being’ is a ‘nice to have’ in an academic environment. Read this interview with Jan Dijkstra, however (Teacher and school Coordinator of Sustainability and Well-being), about the thinking behind the school’s first Well-being Week, and you will be likely to change your mind.

Jan, what was the inspiration for Well-being Week?

The inspiration for Well-being Week originated with Corinna Sarronwala, who works in the Exam office and organises, since the start of this school year, the mindfulness pilots at our school. She is also a parent at the school and a trained yoga and meditation teacher. Following her suggestion, the week was put on the agenda and the Well-being team, consisting of Corinna, Sarah Lalaz (school counselor), Nicola Curtin (art teacher and head of year 12) and yours truly took form in due course. The aim for the week was to raise awareness about how the school can promote well-being within its entire community; with practical sessions, including yoga, improvisation workshops and meditative drawing, but also lectures giving information about the scientific basis of mindfulness and well-being programs. On top of that, we tried to make it fun, showing that well-being is both supported by and reflected in a happy school community. This element of celebration was the background of the smiley sale, which hinged on the practice of kindness as the basis of a caring community, in buying a smile for someone else.

 

Why does ‘wellbeing’ matter in the school setting? What would you say to people who think this is a ‘nice-to-have’?
The importance of well-being within the school goes beyond the clear benefit of addressing the stress levels in our students: mindfulness research gives more and more convincing data on the positive long term impact of better focus, reduced impulsiveness and, interestingly, improved academic results. I would say that it goes even beyond the obvious value of improved results, which we could debate at length. It also goes beyond the shift of emphasis in some universities from overachieving to kindness, which you can read more about in this article. What matters most, in my opinion, is that through a balanced program of well-being at school, we can equip our students with an emotional skill set, which allows them to recognise their own stress, and that of their friends, and know what to do about it. It also equips them with the ability to learn more efficiently and to respond more effectively to conflicts and communicate sensibly in difficult situations. In short, it improves the students’ understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses and provides (this is the aim we are striving towards) the students with skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. The importance of this also includes improved chances in the job market, where employers ask more and more of the applicants at the level of EQ (emotional intelligence). Our speakers reinforced these messages and shared with us some of the practices already in existence in various parts of the world.
What do you think the lasting impact will be of this week? What changes might we expect to see?
The lasting impact of one week should not be overestimated. Instead, we expect that in the wake of the positive feedback we received from all parties within our community, we need to continue working on bringing more elements of mindfulness and well-being into our school day, notably through the pastoral program. Our pastoral program already features many effective elements, so what we aim to do is to continue developing and enriching it through careful evaluation and the piloting of new elements. In addition, we do aim to make Well-being week a yearly feature, but taking place a bit earlier in the year, in early November. The collective impact of an evolving pastoral program and a yearly theme week should result in a lasting increase of the well-being of our community as a whole. The positive response we have received in the course of this week inspires us to organise an even better week next year and hope that the lectures will receive more ample audiences. We also invite parents to suggest topics for talks and welcome any contributions they wish to make – it is a community effort after all!