Headmaster's Blog 5: The Curriculum for the Soul (Part 2 of 3)

Monday 30 Jan 2017

We left the last blog with the consideration that parents and teachers should seek in our children a balance of matters regarding the head, the hands and the heart.

Why only now are schools talking about this?  Why now is personal wellbeing coming to the top of the agenda? 

Does feeling good equal learning well?  

RELATIONSHIPS AND ESTEEM

The increasing pressures on children are enormous: family break-ups, the impact of technology, celebrity, body image and academic expectations from parents, schools and universities, to name but a few.

This is a stressful time to be a child.

We know from research and experience, that the quality of relationships has a real impact on overall happiness and fulfilment.  Positive relationships appear essential both to the overall quality of our lives and the ability to cope with the inevitable losses, frustrations, disappointments and failures.

How we think about ourselves clearly influences how we get on with other people.  How we get on with our peers at the age of three or four seems to be of crucial importance in how we manage our relationships in adolescence and then as adults. 

Having low levels of emotional literacy and the subsequent inability to handle relationships would appear to be related to poor behaviour and under-achievement.  

Therefore, we must ensure social inclusion and high self-worth amongst our children, and this can be facilitated by good early emotional literacy provision and the continued nurture thereof.  Close and positive teacher/pupil/parent relationships are essential.

So does one assume, therefore, that emotional literacy and academic attainment go hand in hand?

ACADEMIC ATTAINMENT AND SELF WORTH

The evidence of the impact of wellbeing strategies in schools on academic attainment is actually inconclusive.

If 'academic success' is simply regarded as passing exams, we have a problem in that the most emotionally illiterate of students may achieve very highly. This may be down to the neurotic need to be the best and the use of academic brilliance as a refuge from the more threatening demands of relationships!

However, problem-solving and creativity are surely the essential skills really needed today for success in future vocations, rather than superficial rote-learning for exams.   The former of the two requires high levels of emotional security and believe in one’s inherent worth, just both skills need an openness to the unpredictable and to risk.

‘Having a go’ requires the pupil to trust those around them, have the self-belief to take the risk, and the confidence and security to survive possible failure.

Equally, any degree of shared problem-solving or the need to work collaboratively or show leadership requires the delicate understanding of the emotions of colleagues in order to foster trust, confidence and reliability. 

Personal politics are inevitable in all professional situations, as they are for pupils in schools, and it is vital that we acknowledge feelings and show sensitivity for shared success.

Therefore, from a sound emotional literacy comes genuine self-awareness, empathy and motivation.  If these are secure, then academic success is more likely to follow.

MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID

Before outlining that which we feel at Cransley is the very best approach to pupils emotional wellbeing, I re-iterate the qualification from part 1:

I write this as a teacher.  We at Cransley are teachers.  We are not psychologists or mental health analysts or child psychiatrists, therapists or counsellors.

The very best teachers amongst us do everything we can to help all pupils deal with anxieties, stresses, difficulties and issues.  We deal with matters openly, positively, constructively and individually.

We don’t claim to have all of the solutions, despite what is expected of us, but we do have the best of intentions.

We will endure conflict with pupils and parents and colleagues alike, and - I assure you - we will make mistakes, but I challenge my staff and, indeed, myself not to avoid this responsibility.  

I ask parents to support my staff in their efforts, just as we will support you.

Our principles must be firm and shared, and although we may fail, our efforts must stem from a commitment to nurture and support these children in our care - their heads, hands and hearts.

 

NOTES

The Head acknowledges the following sources, amongst others:

Ten Trends 2015 RSAcademics
Southampton Psychology Service: Emotional Literacy studies
'Teachers as Mental Health First Aiders: The Danger of a Little Knowledge' by Dai Green, Headmaster of Arnold Lodge School, Leamington  https://arnoldlodgehead.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/featured-content/,
‘Heart in hand’ by Stephen Cook https://www.theguardian.com/education/2004/jun/29/highereducation.news
‘Expansive Education: Teaching learners for the real world’ by Bill Lucas
‘Detoxifying Childhood’ by Sue Palmer