Wellbeing in the primary classroom with Adrian Bethune

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17/10/2019


Below is a transcription of a previously existing podcast that has been converted to text for your convenience.

Caroline talks to Adrian Bethune, a primary teacher, wellbeing expert and author of the award-winning book Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom: A Practical Guide to Teaching Happiness. We discuss why supporting both children’s and teachers’ wellbeing is crucial for a positive school culture and how curriculum content and delivery can help. Adrian also offers tips for teaching happiness and wellbeing in low-cost, high-impact ways.

Caroline: Welcome to the curriculum, a podcast by Cornerstones Education. Here we discuss all things curriculum plus leadership issues, teaching tips, and much, much more. Hello everyone. In today’s podcast, I talk to Adrian Bethune, who’s a primary teacher, wellbeing expert and author of an award winning book, Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom: A Practical Guide to Teaching Happiness. We discuss many important topics and tips around supporting children’s and teachers’ wellbeing. I hope you enjoy the podcast. Hello, Adrian. Welcome to the podcast.

Adrian: Hi,Thanks for having me.

Caroline: Right. So let’s kick off by asking you what you think are the key issues at the moment for wellbeing and happiness in schools, particularly primary schools?

Adrian: I think two of the key issues are a lack of pleasure and purpose. I use those two words because a definition of happiness that I really like comes from a wellbeing expert called Professor Paul Dolan and he says that your happiness is your experience of pleasure and purpose over time. And from my perspective as a teacher, I’m finding more and more that there’s an innate lack of pleasure and purpose in teaching. Teachers are expected to do more kind of non-teaching tasks that we know are kind of meaningless, and filling in data sheets or ticking meaningless boxes, and that feeds down into the curriculum as well. So, I think there’s a bit of a lack of pleasure and purpose, that it’s not innate and teachers and heads have to consciously bring that to life. Some of the key issues are increased sedentary behaviour in schools. We know that young children are not getting anywhere near as much physical activity as they should be. One of the places that children spend some of their most time sedentary, like sitting down, is in schools. And we know as well from the data from the Youth Sports Trust that children are doing less and less PE in schools. So, we’re kind of reducing their movement and activity even more. I don’t think there’s enough focus on the importance of relationships and how fundamental they are to learning and wellbeing and with this move towards a focus by people at Ofsted on curriculum, in some regards that’s really good, in others it’s just that’s the focus and we forget about the fact that there are human beings in our schools and how we nurture those relationships between teachers and children, between children and children, between teachers and teachers. That’s crucial.

Caroline: Looking at children in particular, what are some of the other reasons, the main reasons why you think children’s mental health is on the decline for certain children anyway?

Adrian: I thinkone of the first things to say is that my perception or my ideas are just that, that there’s actually a lack of good, robust evidence for the reasons behind children’s decline in mental health. So, for example, the statistic of one child in every ten will have a diagnosable mental health issue that comes from data from 2005. That’s one of the most commonly cited reports into children’s mental health, the most recent kind of big systematic review of children’s mental health has come from NHS digital in 2017, I believe. So, it’s been over a decade between that 2005 report and this latest one. And experts in children’s mental health, like Professor Tamsin Ford at Exeter University, has said in a blog I read recently that, the fact that we’ve taken a decade before reviewing its mental health shows where we are and how we view children’s mental health in this country, it’s not given the priority that it perhaps should. We don’t know the causes of why children’s mental health does appear to be declining, but there are some clues, such as the lack of physical activity, because we know from the research that regular physical activity is profoundly important for your physical and mental health. So, if children are doing less and less activity, and the British Heart Foundation estimate that about 80% of children in England don’t meet the minimum requirements of daily physical activity.

Caroline: I saw that, I’ve got children of my own, and I found that shocking. Also, the amount of exercise that a child should be doing. I don’t know if a lot of us are aware of what the recommendations are. It’s actually a lot more than you think, isn’t it?

Adrian: Yeah, it’s a minimum of an hour daily moderate to vigorous activity. So, every single day at least an hour. Social media does play a part. But from a perspective, yes, it can connect people and human connection is really important for wellbeing. But something that massively undermines human happiness is social comparison. When you compare yourself to someone else and you realize that your life is lacking compared to their amazing life, and so children are from a younger and younger age on devices where they can compare themselves to others. There are things like increasing levels of childhood poverty. There are more and more children in the UK in extreme levels of poverty and that’s massively detrimental to wellbeing and mental health. Children dealing with ACEs, so adverse childhood experiences such as growing up in a home with alcohol abuse or domestic violence or parental separation, those things and the study show that more children have ACEs to deal with, the greater the increase of them developing mental illness. And finally, I think the data that shows how poor teachers mental health is that has an indirect and direct impact on children’s mental health as well. If the role model at the front of the classroom is suffering with anxiety, stress, depression, it’s going to have an effect on the children in their care as well. So, I think those factors have a big role to play, but there’s a lack of evidence to kind of pinpoint the exact reasons.

Caroline: Yes. It’s terrible to think of primary age, we’re talking primary age children getting affected. But I read somewhere recently that mental illnesses, many of them start when children are quite young. I think it’s pre 14 and it’s worrying. So, we know it’s a very important time for children. We want children to feel well. But why from a school point of view and a primary school should we care whether a child is coming in and feeling content or know that they can handle adversities. Why worry about that?

Adrian: Say, from a purely learning perspective, then there’s really good evidence that shows that good levels of wellbeing underpin academic learning. There was a report published by Public Health England called The Link between Pupil health Wellbeing and Attainment. That showed that schools that put in place programmes to develop children’s social and emotional skills, on average, showed an 11% gain in attainment. There’s also a big study carried out by Doctor Alejandro Adler from University of Pennsylvania, where in his study, up to 8000 students in Bhutan were taking part in this study and half the participants were taught a wellbeing curriculum. And basically, not only did the wellbeing kind of curriculum intervention group show significant increases in their levels of wellbeing over the duration that the curriculum was taught, but also for the following year afterwards. But they also scored significantly higher on their standardized tests compared to the control group.

When you focus on children’s happiness and wellbeing, they learn better, they’re able to focus better, they’re able to pay attention, they’re able to retain that information. They cope better with the stresses and challenges of school life. That’s number one. The second one is that, if you ask any parent, you ask any teacher, like, what is it you most want for the children in your care? Very few people will say, I want them to be a doctor. I want them to be something very specific. Generally, we just want our children to grow up to be happy and whatever that looks like for them, that’s up to them. But we want them to be happy, content and living the life that they want to lead.

Now, research shows that the strongest predictor of adult life satisfaction in childhood is the child’s emotional health. The weakest predictor, according to this study by Professor Richard Layard, is the child’s intellectual development. So essentially, the grades they’re getting in school and subsequent research shows that the child’s emotional health is significantly more important in terms of adult life satisfaction than any qualification that that child goes on to get. So, it doesn’t matter whether you go on to get a degree, a master’s or PhD, your emotional health at 16 is the strongest predictor of adult life satisfaction. His research shows that schools and teachers have major impacts on the emotional health of the children in their care. What Layard and his colleagues argue is that because children’s happiness, well-being, emotional health is the strongest predictor of adult life satisfaction, because we want children to grow up to be happy, because schools and teachers have major influences on their emotional health. That’s where we should be investing a lot more time, energy and resources.

Caroline: And as you say, it’s win win. If then it’s linked to, in the end, better outcomes academically as well and do you think less behavioural issues as well?

Adrian: Yeah, the Public Health England report showed that those social emotional skills programs reduced incidences of negative behaviour as well.

Caroline: Which is distractions from carrying on with your learning and I noticed in your book you talked about flow, that deep state, but also you need to be mentally in the right zone don’t you. And if you’ve got troubles going on or you’re very disturbed by something or you’re upset, it’s impossible to get into that state. And that’s where some really deep work can happen, isn’t it? So, I was very interested to read that. Okay. So, children need good mental health to adapt to life and also to enjoy themselves. You mentioned teachers. And as an ex-teacher, you know, I do go into schools still, but I know how important wellbeing is. The listeners, many of you will be teachers or head teachers. You will know why is it so important for teachers to feel well.

Adrian: First of all is that teachers are significant role models in their pupils lives. There was a report in 2008 called the Foresight Mental Capital Well-Being project, and there was a section on education and in it, it said that teachers who are stressed or demoralised make poor role models for children. So, I think, first and foremost, before we teach any kind of curriculum, the way we behave, the way we talk, the way we act is having a major impact on the children and our care because we are significant role models in their lives. And they look to us to set a good example, there’s um, developmental psychologist called Professor Alison Gopnik, and she says that children learn far more from their caregiver’s unconscious behaviours than any of their conscious manipulations.

Caroline: I hope you’re going to give us some tips, because I’m sure there’ll be people listening thinking, oh my gosh, how did I come across in that week when I was struggling or.

Adrian: Yeah, the other thing is there’s something called emotional contagion, which is that moods are contagious. So, you know, we know from scientific studies that happiness spreads, through friendship groups, through families. But equally, the reverse is true and negative emotions can spread. So, if I’m at the front of the classroom and I’m feeling stressed and under pressure and I’m really snappy and short with my class, then that spreads throughout my class as well. The other thing is related to teacher effectiveness, and that there are, again, studies that show that teachers that are suffering with poor mental health are less effective at their job. So, they’re not teaching the curriculum the content as well as they can and they can’t respond to questions as well as they can, things like that, but also their concern for their students has been shown to decline. If it’s harder to be empathetic and be responsive, if you’re struggling and you’re thinking something like God, I’ve got this performance management review coming up, my class aren’t performing well and you know you’re under pressure.

Caroline: I think if you’re a parent listening as well, you’ll know what that feels like. It’s  like an empty battery. You haven’t got any energy almost for yourself, let alone the people in your care. So yeah, I can completely resonate with that.

Adrian: So, in terms of teacher well-being is massively important because when we are healthier and happier, we teach better, we respond to our children better, we set a better example. But it’s really important that we are allowed to be human, that we’re not trying to be perfect role models because that’s inauthentic and it’s impossible. And what I mean by that is, as someone that tries to live and breathe what I write about in the classroom, like prioritizing my own mental health and well-being, things like that, there are times where I’m tired and I’m snappy and I’m irritable and I’m less responsive than I normally am and things like that. And although I do my best to mitigate that, it still happens. We can’t always be amazing role models and really responsive and the best teachers we can be. Because, you know, I’m the Dad of a 16 month old son who doesn’t sleep, and there were times I go in to teach and I am shattered, of course, and I’m not going to be as effective as if I’ve had a bit more sleep. But that’s life, and we need to respect that. All of our lives are complex and we just need to do the best we can do, and some days we’ll fall a bit short and other days we’ll be amazing. And that’s okay.

Caroline: Maybe behind this, we’re thinking of the level of support that there is in the school and nationally for teachers. But, if it’s constantly you are under stress or you’re struggling, there are people you can talk to about that and go for help. But also the culture and the school needs to be supportive, doesn’t it?

Adrian: Yeah, definitely.

Caroline: And then teachers can have bad days or bad lessons, that’s fine. But on the whole, if you’re supported, then hopefully that teacher wellbeing will be at a higher level. Are there any particular needs you think for primary teachers?

Adrian: I think so, my perception is that primary teachers are more heavily invested in their pupils’ lives because you have one class, you’re with them all day, every day. You get to know their families, you get to know their parents, their carers. A downside of that is that if you have children that are struggling and dealing with some sometimes quite horrific stuff at home, it’s very hard, if not impossible, to switch off from that when you’re at home. The other thing I think I’ve got secondary teachers that are friends, and when I tell them how many lessons I have to teach and how much non-contact time I have, they just can’t believe it. You know, from the moment you’re in the classroom, you are teaching something. You’re with a guided group, you’re doing booster sessions.

Caroline: I can hear nodding through the microphone to the listeners here, because if you’re teaching currently or if you’ve ever taught in the past, you’ll know what Adrian’s talking about. Going back to what you were saying earlier about teacher wellbeing. You have to look after your wellbeing, so that doesn’t impact on you in a negative way, because your minds are buzzing and that can easily tip over into stress, couldn’t it, if you didn’t keep that in check? I’m hearing an awful lot about the particular wellbeing needs of head teachers, and I wondered if you had any thoughts about that, because not an awful lot is talked about in terms of their wellbeing. They’re sort of the captain of the ship. They’re soldiering on and in a way they’ve got to keep that persona. But they are still human and obviously a lot of them really struggle with their own well-being.

Adrian: There was a report last year called the Teacher Wellbeing Index and in that, one of the most insightful statistics was 60% of teachers experience stress, but it’s 80% for senior leaders. SLT, head teachers are massively overlooked when we talk about teacher wellbeing. When I talk about teacher wellbeing, by teacher, I mean every teacher within a school, including head teacher, because they’re under huge pressure themselves. Often, I hear it more and more when I speak to head teachers. Some of them genuinely feel and it’s probably on good basis that their jobs are at risk if they get a poor set of results or an Ofsted inspection doesn’t go their way. I think as well, when I talked at the beginning about lack of pleasure and purpose and this being fundamental to our sense of happiness and well-being. I think SLT and head teachers, when you are 1 or 2 steps removed from interacting with children and you’re having to spend your time doing stuff that is less meaningful and less enjoyable, such as attending meetings or paperwork. But it’s not meaningful. It doesn’t directly, positively impact children or their teachers in their care. And I also think it takes really brave and courageous head teachers and senior leaders to do stuff differently and buck the trend and not tick all of the boxes that most people are ticking. So that that risk taking has a potential for increased stress because you’re going out on a limb to do stuff differently.

Caroline: What we’ve found recently when we talked to head teachers about because obviously we work in the world of curriculum when they now feel that they can design and implement their own curriculum and develop a curriculum that’s right for their school. It’s interesting you were saying about that meaning and purpose, because in a way, they’re getting that through, directly influencing how the children learn. And you get immediate feedback. So, we’ve been talking to senior leaders recently and they seem fired up. It gets them back to doing what they love. So, we talked a lot, Adrian, about the issues at the moment. Adrian has written a book called The Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom. I’ve been reading it and it’s a very practical book because you talk about the studies and the research behind the issues, and then you offer tips and things to do in your classroom, and they’re not all massive changes. You can start small, and that’s really nice, that’s quite doable. One big question I do hear from people is can you actually teach happiness? Because it’s quite a transitory feeling, isn’t it?

Adrian: Yeah,you can. There are top universities around the world that are studying what contributes to human well-being, human flourishing. So, there’s Professor Richie Davidson. He’s a world leading neuroscientist. He said that he and his colleagues research all point to the fundamental kind of conclusion, that well-being is a skill that can be taught just like any other skill. So, it’s no fundamentally no different to learning to play the cello, that when you practice the skills of well-being, you improve at well-being.

Caroline: I think this is quite new to people, really. The ideas in your book, you’ve split them up, you show the evidence for them and then, describe the tips and how to bring them into the classroom, like the gratitude idea. There are others that I’m sure you’ll talk about. So you can teach it, you can teach tips for children to nurture and manage their own well-being.

Adrian: Yeah. On that point, there’s one other expert I’d like to cite, Professor Laurie Santos at Yale University. She said that knowing what makes you happy has no impact on your levels of happiness whatsoever. Just knowing that isn’t going to make you any happier.

Caroline: Bit like being an armchair well-being expert. Like an armchair cyclist, isn’t it? You just know about it.

Adrian: And what she says is you have to put that knowledge into action. So, it’s the practicing of the skills like Richie Davidson said. That’s really fundamental to me, there’s the knowledge that I think you can teach children, and I think that’s an important aspect.

Caroline: Yes, that was interesting. You talked to children about the brain, I agree with you, when you talk about the brain, they’re fascinated by how the brain works. It distances them from their emotions. They can almost see the logic of where that’s come from and what can influence things, and maybe opens up an avenue for them thinking, well, my brains are plastic, you know, it can change. And that’s quite a step in the right direction.

Adrian: I think learning about yourself should be one of if not the fundamental bedrock of a good education is knowing yourself. And I think when you teach about the brain or you teach about psychology and we understand ourselves better. That is massively satisfying because sometimes, and this is my own experience of growing up, sometimes we have thoughts or feelings or we react in certain situations when other children don’t, and we can think we’re a bit odd or why am I like this? And no one else is like this? And when you learn about yourself and actually the more you talk about it, you realize, actually, I’m not alone in this and that this is quite a common way to think or to feel and that is massively empowering. It actually creates a sense of belonging that actually what I’m experiencing is fundamental to being a human. The fact that, yeah, I do have this amygdala and when I feel affronted, I get really angry or I get really cross and I can’t find it very hard to calm myself down. Well, that’s because it’s a massively powerful part of your brain, and it’s evolutionary designed that way to keep you alive. And it means, you know, if a teacher says something to us that we don’t like, it can kick in. But knowing that and knowing how to manage that is hugely powerful and important for young people.

Caroline: You can’t really make a change in someone unless they want to do it themselves. No amount of telling a child to meditate will work unless they’re actually really practicing it and can notice the changes. It probably won’t make as much impact.

Adrian: Just on that point, I’ve just finished teaching in the year four class, and I had a boy with a diagnosis of autism. Very logical thinker, but would anger very quickly if things didn’t go to plan or things didn’t go his way, or he felt affronted when I taught. It was a mindfulness curriculum and we were learning about the amygdala and what it does and how to kind of manage it through mindfulness techniques that had a massive impact on his ability to understand himself, like he would get angry in situations and then get upset that he got angry. But just learning about this amygdala, he was able in situations to kind of say to an adult, I’m feeling my amygdala is taking over. But even that had some self-regulation right there. He has not lashed out. That created a bit of space between his emotion and his reaction. And then he had a choice. Do I speak to an adult or do I thump this person on the face, which is what he used to do.

Caroline: He’s been taught knowledge about the brain, scientific knowledge which is then transferred into a skill in his life. Something I’m interested in, you were just talking about that sense of belonging and otherness and feeling different. One of your groundwork exercises at the beginning of each year is to really create a team and a sense of belonging. You call it a tribal classroom. I’m sure people listening, many of you will have done this, maybe not even thought of it like this, but why is that so crucial, do you think? And what would it mean in practice? Maybe give us a couple of ideas.

Adrian: So, the term tribal classroom comes from Professor Louis Cozzolino, and he’s written a book called The Social Neuroscience of Education. So, reading that book was like a massive eye opener for me. And what he says in that book is that for the majority of the last 100,000 years, modern humans have lived in hunter gatherer tribes. And it’s only in the last, say, 5,000 years, have we moved from hunter gatherer tribes to agricultural based societies to the industrial based societies we live in now. And he argues that although 5000 years seems like a huge amount of time in terms of biological evolution, it’s the blink of an eye. And he says that we are deeply rooted in our tribal past, and that teachers and schools that can kind of create tribal classrooms and tap into children’s, what he calls primitive social instincts, can achieve amazing things in even really difficult educational settings. So essentially, we’re a tribal species. We feel happiest, safest when we feel like we’re part of a tribe. We learn the best. It aids neuroplasticity when we feel like we’re part of a group and belong. So, tribes and tribal classrooms are typically based on some kind of democratic leadership, cooperation, teamwork, fairness, trust and a sense of belonging, like strong personal relationships are at the fundamental part of being part of a tribe. So, if we can foster tribal classrooms where those qualities are brought to life, then that massively benefits children’s learning, and it also fundamentally supports their happiness and well-being.

One of the first things I do at the beginning of an academic year is get my class to think about what it means to be part of a team, because that’s our way of kind of bringing a tribe to life. Typically show them a video montage of team GB performing amazing things at an Olympics. The reason I choose team GB is because there’s male and female role models, and there’s athletes from all different colours, creeds, faiths. I think it’s diverse and hopefully someone in my class will see an athlete that they could relate to. I show them this montage and I just say, what values do you think you need to have part of a successful team like team GB? And after the video we have a discussion. I scrubbed some on the board. So, it might be friendship, trust, honesty, hard work, perseverance, all of these kind of terms. Get the children to choose a word that resonates with them on a piece of plain paper. Write it in bold, colour it in, and we piece all 30 parts together to create one big kind of team flag. And then whatever our class was called before that. So, my class is named after artists. We moved from being Class Picasso to Team Picasso, and the team flag really is a symbol that everyone belongs, that you might have just created one small part of that flag, but you’re part of a something bigger than just yourself. That those are our values that we’re trying to live up to, and that it’s a work in progress. So, we’re not always going to be honest and hardworking and part of a team every day. We’re working towards being a good team. The success of our team relies on every single member contributing their part, but also tribal classrooms about all those micro moments, the little conversations, the greeting. So, I now every morning greet my class at the door with a smile and an offer of a handshake. And that’s nothing revolutionary.

Caroline: I like the way you say offer of handshake.

Adrian: Yeah, some children have issues with touch. It’s an invitation

Caroline: I know what you mean, it’syou’re here, you belong, you’re part of this group.

Adrian: And the other good thing about that is that that greeting in the morning allows me to pick up on those, micro expressions that signal to me that this particular child isn’t in a great place. And just to keep an eye on that. And sometimes children’s moods change all by themselves with no intervention needed. Like someone comes in feeling a bit wobbly and then by the end of that English lesson, they’re fine. And then other times that mood lingers. And it might be that during a break time or, you know, on the way to assembly, I might just take them to one side and just have a chat with them. But those interactions, everything that is about fostering those relationships is fundamental to tribal classrooms.

Caroline: Looking at curriculum now, the actual sort of bread and butter subjects, the subject learning, can that support children’s wellbeing in any way?

Adrian: Yeah, definitely. So, the foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing project that I mentioned earlier on in the podcast, one of the things that came from that was the five ways to wellbeing kind of evidence based ways to improve the quality and wellbeing of people’s lives. And one of the five strands is learning new things. Learning is fundamental to wellbeing. So, when you’ve got a curriculum that is interesting, that is important and relevant to children’s lives, then that fundamentally nourishes children like we want to. We’re a species that learns, we want to learn. The curriculum must also be kind of challenging.

Caroline: You talk about stretch zones, we try and build that into our curriculum.

Adrian: Yeah. We again, are a species that want to be challenged. We want to problem solve. And when we can overcome obstacles or complete challenging work or master stuff that originally we found really tricky, that has an immense sense of satisfaction. We mentioned earlier that when you take part in kind of challenging activities and challenging work provided by a good curriculum, you’re most likely to experience flow, which is when you lose sense of yourself. You’re fully absorbed in a task and activity. And the great thing about that is when you’re fully absorbed in work like that, that’s challenging and absorbing, you forget about you’re not aware of the worries and stresses and strains of other things that are going on in your life. So, it’s really important that our curriculum does give children that ability to immerse themselves in it. But I also think it’s important that children know what the point is of what we’re teaching them. And that can be made clear either by the teacher or studies show that if you get children to reflect on their learning and think, how might this be relevant to your lives? That process is really good for them. And also overall, is it enjoyable? I’m not for one second saying that all learning has to be enjoyable and pleasurable the whole time. That’s not feasible, but overall, I think we should be enjoying what we’re learning.

Caroline: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with you because the feedback we get a lot is engagement. It can be, some people almost saying, oh, engagement, it’s not as important. But when the children are engaged and know the purpose, the context, one headteacher told me from Kentmere she’s seen the children come into school with real purpose. They know what they’re learning and why they’re learning it and they’re just switched on so yeah, it is extremely important.

Adrian: I think a well-planned, well intentioned curriculum can definitely support children’s wellbeing. And it’s also really important to teach wellbeing. If I’m teaching content that I think is interesting, it’s relevant to children, I see the purpose in it. I then get pleasure as the teacher delivering that content, seeing the engagement of my class, getting their responses and their questions and stretching them. And that is fundamentally satisfying.

Caroline: Something else you mentioned in your book, which we really believe in, is curriculum that that develops links with the community and maybe looking at charities to support through the curriculum projects that they’re doing, getting children outside. It was nice to see you’ve mentioned those in your book, because they do give children a sense of belonging and place, and also, they’re about wellbeing because they’re about altruism or kindness. And we’re very interested in how wellbeing can be taught through curriculum content, but also in your way, you’re actually specifically teaching wellbeing skills as well.

Adrian: I would also add that as part of that curriculum you could have a wellbeing curriculum. It can be interwoven through your normal curriculum, but it also could be a kind of separate discipline.

Caroline: Like the Daily Mile is something that’s been really popular as a physical intervention. But it becomes part of your curriculum offer. That’s what we offer at school, and there are reasons why we do it. And the impact is there, isn’t it, it’s been shown. It’s all very, very important work that we’re talking about here. But we know the reality that teachers have a very tight timetables and they’re having to sort of juggle what they fit in where. Have you got any practical tips for how they can fit in wellbeing? I don’t want to say intervention. It’s practices, isn’t it? Really?

Adrian: Yeah. One thing that I would say, and it’s something that I’ve adopted, is that by taking small amounts of time away from traditional subjects to focus on wellbeing practices, it means that the rest of the time in that lesson. So, say if you took five minutes out of a science lesson and you had 50 minutes left, that 50 minutes has the potential to go a lot better than without that wellbeing. So, the Daily Mile, for example, it takes 10 to 15 minutes a day. Which means that’s going to be 10 to 15 minutes out of some lessons that day. But the studies show that regular exercise improves brain functioning, which means you’re likely to have students that are able to pay better attention and learn more.

Caroline: Well didn’tElaine’s school in Scotland, I think she’s the head teacher, I saw that their results went up, said she was doing it and the obesity levels went down. There was a huge impact from doing very little amounts.

Adrian: So that’s kind of what I want to say at the start that don’t be so tight and rigid that you know, oh, we’ve got this curriculum. We’ve got so much to teach that I don’t have time for any of this other stuff. Well, actually, this other stuff that we might call wellbeing is going to help with all of your academic learning, your academic aspirations. Yeah, I always have a daily mindfulness practice. So straight after the register in the morning we do like a three minute mindfulness practice.

Caroline: And that might sound scary to those of you listening who’ve never done or have heard about this and think it’s deep meditation, but it could be as simple as counting breaths, or a sound one can it just listening to different sounds?

Adrian: Yeah, there’s loads of practices you can find online. I’ve got some practices in my book. Essentially, mindfulness is about children tuning in in the present moment to their present moment experience. So, it could be tuning into body sensations, their in-breath and outbreath, but with attitudes of kindness and curiosity. So, we’re trying to move away from our tendency to judge our experience.

Caroline: likeI can’t do this. I’m not counting my breaths.

Adrian: Yeah. So, you know, that’s in my experience, like a three minute practice. So straight off the register. And because we do it in the morning, it kind of sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Caroline: Do you find that then that once you’ve done that can you see the impact of the mindfulness on the children?

Adrian: Yeah, definitely. What’s interesting is that it’s often the children that remind me that we haven’t done a mindfulness practice, and often sometimes the children that are most lively as well. There’s an activity called what went well, which is basically the end of a week, we reflect back over a week the things that have gone well for us, things that we’ve enjoyed, small things. So it could be a tasty lunch, it could be a game we played at playtime, it could be a lesson that we really enjoyed, and we write down three things that went well for us that week. And each member of class shares one of their three good things, and it goes up on a what went well display that takes 15 minutes on a Friday afternoon. So those are a few, a scattering of the activities you could take from my book. And there are many more in there.

But, your day to day lessons kind of incorporate well-being. We kind of touched upon that when we talked about a curriculum. If your lessons are challenging and engaging, if you’re able to kind of stretch your learners so they can go kind of further and deeper with their learning, that massively enriches their lives and their well-being. The feedback that you give them and how you give feedback can support and nourish relationships, which are again fundamental to children’s ability to learn and also feel good within themselves and underneath everything. And this is why chapter one in my book is the Tribal Classrooms chapter. Strong personal relationships should be a bedrock of your classroom practice, so making sure that children feel like they belong, making sure that you foster a sense in your class where children become supportive teammates for one another. That friendship issues are addressed and supported to be resolved. That bullying any incidents of bullying are immediately dealt with so that they don’t turn into anything larger than that. So tight timetables do not restrict you from incorporating these ideas.

Caroline: Particularly if you think of them as priorities. Like you’re saying, you said all the benefits, but this is investment time, isn’t it? And if you like you say, if you can get the relationships and children feeling more secure, then, you could do all the English and maths you want. But if that child’s stressing internally, then I suppose I don’t know the words for all the parts of the brain. But, if you’re fired up. I know for myself, if I’m very stressed, I can’t focus particularly well, and I won’t perform my best. And I know in your book you do cite studies that show that, in a way it’s investing, isn’t it? And giving children the tools to have a more productive and happier time at school.

Adrian: You’re right. I think it’s about changing your perspective on well-being in that it needs to be given the same status as academic learning. It is as core and fundamental to a child’s experience of school as anything else. And when you change that perspective, the activities that you could do, the changes you might make to your classroom practice, they’re not add ons and they’re not something else to do. They are fundamental aspects of your teaching practice. And when you start to build them in and they become part of your teaching routine, you know the curriculum feels less packed. You’ve got more time to do the stuff you really want to do. And from my experience, teaching happiness and well-being and incorporating it into your curriculum and into your daily teaching practice, it fundamentally enriches my experience of being a teacher. I feel like I’m genuinely, positively impacting my children’s lives, not only teaching them a rich academic curriculum, but also teaching them skills and knowledge that I feel will help them in their lives now, but also in the future, particularly in a more stressful and challenging society environment as they get older.

Caroline: What do you think is going to happen or what do you think should happen then in terms of education in England?

Adrian: I think there have been some positive changes on a kind of policy level. So, the government green paper that came out a year, a couple of years ago, with a greater focus on the importance of mental health in schools. So that was talking about having a mental health lead in every school by 2025 I think. Also, the Ofsted changes to their framework, where they’re going to be placing a greater focus on what schools are doing for pupils’ personal development and in that comes what schools are doing to develop good mental health in their students and increasing their levels of resilience and character, things like that.

Caroline: And they also mention teacher wellbeing as well, don’t they? And how leadership need to keep an eye on that.

Adrian: And, from 2020 relationship educations are going to be compulsory in schools. So, all of that I think is setting the foundations for schools to place a greater emphasis on that. The UK is actually leading the way in terms of one reducing stigma of mental health issues, there was a report done recently in the UK.

Caroline: We’re actually leading the way in an area. That is good to know.

Adrian: It’s probably because of people like the Royal Princes and the Heads Together campaign. There’s things like that that are raising the profile that it’s okay to share and talk about, If you’ve had mental health issues, and it transpires that pretty much all of us have at some point in our lives. There’s an increase in mental health, first aiders in schools, organisations like place to be placing counsellors in schools. Obviously, this is for children that are maybe struggling a bit more, but that’s fundamentally important that we reach these children before they fall off the cliff edge of mental health difficulties. Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families have the schools in mind network. They’re creating amazing resources for schools to talk about mental health but promote wellbeing. So, there’s there is loads happening that schools are having access to organisations resources to promote good mental health, to promote wellbeing and in the times of kind of tight budgetary constraints, it doesn’t have to be massively expensive. For example, the Daily Mile is a free intervention.

Caroline: Well, most of the things you talked about if not all of it.

Adrian: The schools in my network use free resources for schools. I think things are heading in the right direction and we’re slowly picking up momentum.

Caroline: Well, it’s been wonderful talking to you, Adrian. It’s a really, really important topic and I like you, I feel that positives will come with this in place in schools and teachers across the land trying these things out, but also looking at their own wellbeing and feeling more supported. Thank you ever so much. I’m really grateful of your time. And if you’d like to follow Adrian,

Adrian: @adrianbethune on Twitter.

Caroline: And you’ve got a website, haven’t you? is it teach happy.

Adrian: teachappy.co.uk

Caroline: And you’ve got resources on there for teachers and heads haven’t you.

Adrian: And blogs and some videos

Caroline: And in your book you mentioned the BBC, there’s an archived collection of films about little videos about the brain, which sound amazing.

Adrian: BBC brainsmart

Caroline: So do check them out if you want to teach children about the brain, because that’s a great place to start. And thank you again. I hope that’s given you, the listener, lots of food for thought and tips for making this an enjoyable and necessary priority in your school that works for you and your children. Thank you again for tuning in. Until next time it’s goodbye.

Here is a list of links to some of the things we reference on the show: