Zoe Benjamin explains Heathfield Schools whole-school approach to promoting students’ wellbeing.
Positive psychology is the scientific study of happiness with the goal of identifying the qualities required for happiness and wellbeing. Csikszentmihalyi and Seligman (2000) introduced this new branch of psychology, proposing that psychologists should ‘learn how to build the qualities that help individuals and communities, not just to endure and survive, but also to flourish’.
The Pillars of Wellbeing
Seligman’s research revealed five essential pillars of wellbeing (PERMA); a sixth pillar was later added to represent the impact that physical health can have on mental health (PERMA-H).
The pillars of wellbeing are shown below, along with examples of each one.
- Positive Emotions
- Being positive and grateful
- Having self-control and emotional intelligence
- Showing creativity and curiosity
- Being intrinsically motivated
- Having empathy and compassion
- Showing forgiveness, leadership, and kindness
- Understanding your core values
- Having a sense of purpose
- Embracing a growth mindset
- Being confident when making decisions
- Understanding the mind-body connection
- Being resilient
Positive education aims to improve learners’ wellbeing by teaching or strengthening each pillar of wellbeing. Teachers at Geelong Grammar School, home to the Institute of Positive Education, have been teaching students to develop the character strengths associated with wellbeing for the last ten years. Students’ wellbeing has been seen to improve while they are at the school and is still evident years after graduation when compared to students from similar schools (Institute of Positive Education, 2019).
Improving Students’ Wellbeing
Heathfield School began to include wellbeing education in their curriculum in 2018 and became the first school in Europe to implement the Flourishing at School programme. The online platform uses questionnaires to monitor students’ wellbeing throughout the year against the six pillars described above. The goal is for students to flourish in all areas. By identifying areas in which this is not yet happening, online or school-based interventions can be put in place. It offers a proactive approach to mental health and wellbeing by providing opportunities to develop the character traits that promote wellbeing rather than waiting and reacting to a problem when it occurs.
In 2021, Heathfield School extended its wellbeing programme to include Flourishing lessons that are taught to all students in the school for one hour every fortnight. Each half-term focuses on a different pillar of wellbeing. Lessons are used to model and practice the techniques that will enable students to flourish in each pillar. The school’s Flourishing curriculum has been developed by the institute of positive education and uses resources and techniques that have emerged from research.
A Whole-School Approach
To successfully promote and support students’ wellbeing in schools, discreet lessons and interventions are not enough. Wellbeing must be a focus and priority throughout the whole school and for the whole community.
Heathfield School has adopted a three-stage approach to promoting students’ wellbeing: Live It; Teach It; Embed It.
- Live It
All staff have been educated about the pillars of wellbeing and the techniques that are taught in Flourishing lessons. They are encouraged to prioritise their own wellbeing and are offered Flourishing sessions to support this.
- Teach It
All students receive Flourishing lessons every fortnight, with each half-term focussing on a different pillar. Tutors and peer mentors support students to monitor their wellbeing through the Flourishing at School programme. Students receive targeted support if there is a pillar in which they are not yet flourishing.
- Embed It
The school is developing an implicit curriculum that promotes the collective wellbeing of the whole school community. This implicit curriculum includes:
- Recognising and building upon students’ strengths and positive characteristics
- Supporting students to manage their relationships with peers
- Modelling failure as a learning tool
- Encouraging reflection and gratitude
- Teaching grounding techniques
- Providing opportunities to contribute to the wider community
- Offering healthy food choices and access to daily physical activity
- Providing all staff with mental health training
- Praising effort and defining success as the accomplishment of personal goals