'As schools return, how we do protect students' wellbeing?'

Halcyon London International School

Halcyon London International School has just started its ninth academic year - Credit: Halcyon London International School

Children have returned to school after the long summer holidays, and teachers and parents are trying to work out what impact the pandemic and several lockdowns have had on them.

Much attention has moved from the long-term - recovering lost learning - to the more pressing issue of student wellbeing. What do students, and teachers, need in order to readjust? And what should “wellbeing” look like?

As we start our ninth academic year at Halcyon London International School, Marylebone, we have been pleased to welcome our students back to a vibrant International Baccalaureate curriculum alongside a familiar programme of wellbeing that has long been integrated into school life.

It consists of weekly cognitive coaching - a one-to-one style of mentoring that encourages self-reflection and problem solving. There is also restorative practice – where students are given the skills to manage healthy personal relationships – PSHE, and a culture of giving pupils a strong, positive voice and responsibility around how they learn best and the way the school is run.

Barry Mansfield

Barry Mansfield says teaching 'wellbeing' is building an empowering institutional culture - Credit: Halcyon London International School

This is an approach that has proved successful in our community, and it is an approach that could help other schools in the wake of the pandemic and beyond.

But they may find that an approach of continuity, rather than remedial action, sits at odds with many conversations around wellbeing.

Wellbeing is often understood as an almost medical term relating to the diagnosis of a problem. For example, you might attend a “wellbeing clinic” to help recover from a particular issue. However, wellbeing is more complex than this, and we need to better understand the role of schools in student wellbeing as we plan how to best support children.

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When we teach wellbeing at Halcyon, we are not teaching students about mental health problems, per se. We are building an empowering institutional culture, where students can develop the social and emotional skills that allow them to feel fulfilled and have meaning and purpose in their lives. This means breaking down hierarchies where we can.

Promoting inclusion, a student’s voice and sense of personal agency. Spaces such as our student council, as well as our classrooms themselves - where we practice mindfulness and consciously mediate our language to be inclusive, reflective, better listeners - are key to this.

Schools need to provide a structure that supports everyone in feeling a sense of belonging and purpose. A place that offers emotional security, and where they can feel a part of a social group. Not just in the age of Covid-19, but always.

Barry Mansfield is director of the Halcyon London International School, Marylebone