Well-Being in the Primary Classroom.
Hi everyone, I hope you are all keeping well and I’m sure most of us are now on our summer holidays. As teachers, we have definitely earned our holidays this after a very strange and challenging end to the school year.
This year, was my first year teaching in Ireland after teaching in London for over nine years. I trained and graduated over there and although I only planned to stay a few years I was actually living in London for almost twelve years. I was exceptionally lucky in the schools that I worked in and gained a vast amount of experience that I will always have.
I was made art and design and technology coordinator in my second year of teaching and then was made literacy coordinator in my fourth year and this was a role that I had for over 5 years in the end. Literacy teaching and promoting a love of reading is a passion of mine and something that I work exceptional hard on. I have redesign a library, carried out reading pupil voice, created a book store in school where children earned ‘airmiles’ that they could use to ‘buy’ books and most of all, I have given numerous children the reading bug! It gives me great happiness to see children fall in love with reading.
In my fifth year of teaching, I was asked to teach in Year 6. Those of you that are familiar with the Education System in the UK will know that this is the last year in Primary School in the UK and where 11 year olds sit state examinations called SATS. They are taken by the children at the end of Key Stage 2 (Year 6) in May every year. They assess the children against the age-related expectations as set out by the National Curriculum. The majority of children (In four years of working in year six, I had one child exempt due to severe learning difficulties) sit the exams, there is no differentiation or support given from teachers during the actual tests, we are in the room while they sit the exam but that is all we can do. I can only compare them to sitting your Leaving Certificate Exam. Each child at the own desk, nothing on the desk, no talking, papers brought in by the head teacher and opened in front of children, handed out and completed in complete silence. The papers are collected and sent off for marking. The results are then sent to the school in early July and teachers are then expected to tell the children if they have passed or failed. It was a difficult time for children and teachers. Especially as schools were judge on these results.
It was during my teaching of SATS that I became aware of children’s mental health and their well- being. I have seen many children crumble during these tests, even my most capable children. I quickly realised that I needed to act to help these children. A lot of children were becoming caught up in the end result of passing or failing. “I have failed primary school,’” was a common statement that I heard from my class. I watched these children work so hard during the year, make significant progress from their starting point and then I had to say that they hadn’t passed and for some children, they would never have passed due to EAL (English as an additional language), SEN or other issues.
I introduced a Well-Being Slot into every day, it could just be 5 minutes some days and other days it would be longer, especially as May got nearer. Well-Being was starting to become a bigger focus in many primary schools across the UK.
As a school we introduced Action for Happiness, with a particular focus on the 10 Keys to Happiness.
Everyone’s path to happiness is different. Based on the latest research, they identified 10 Keys to Happier Living that consistently tend to make life happier and more fulfilling. Together they spell “GREAT DREAM”.
This was a really lovely way to talk about our Well-Being and its importance and we linked these to talking to the children about how they could help and support our own Well-Being. We also used the Monthly Action Calendars, these are packed with actions you can take to help create a happier and kinder world. We felt as a school starting out on the Well–Being Path this was ideal. It worked really well in the school and it had an impact on the children’s wellbeing.
Now back in Ireland, I am keen to continue to promote the well-being of the children that I teach as I feel that by establishing good well-being habits now, children will be better able to cope with life’s stresses as they get older.
In my class this year, we discuss well-being every day. The week was broken down into the following and this gave us a starting point each day for our Well-Being time. I have continued to promote these during the Covid-19 pandemic and I would upload the activities to SeeSaw for the children to work on.
- Mindful Monday
- Thoughtful Tuesday
- Well – Being Wednesday
- Thankful Thursday
- Feel Good Friday
On the different days we might have an activity, some discussion time or something else. As the year progress, the children have more ownership over it.
Here are some of the things that I would do:
- Breathing Techniques
- Discussions of Feelings, what feelings we feel and how they make us feel and act. How can we deal with these? Children need support understanding theirs feelings, how they make them feel and they react to them.
- Doodle Meditation. (A class favourite!)
- Do something kind for someone else, without being asked
- Make/bake something for someone. (We have often done baking in school that they can take home)
- Reading with younger classes and sharing our books. (My class weren’t keen on this at the beginning but after a couple of weeks, they wanted to go everyday as they seen how happy it made the younger children)
- The School Community, asking the principal about things they could do around the school to improve it. We do litter picking, planting up pots and flower beds. Sweeping the school paths.
- Visits to Nursing Homes.
- Charity Events in School.
- Making Calm Jars.
- Mindful Colouring.
- Well Being Journals.
- Making a Positivity Jar. (Pinterest has lots of lovely ideas.)
- Gratitude Chains (Pinterest – Kindness Chains)
- Writing Thank You Notes and Letters
- Gratitude Scavenger Hunt
- Gratitude Collage, this can be done individually, in pairs, groups or class. They can also add to it or complete a one of piece.
- Thank You Window or display in class. This is lovely as a talking point when visitors or parents are visiting the school.
Friday I leave as very child lead, what do they want to do. At the beginning of the year we have discussions around what makes us feel good and these are the things that we use here. It is important the children do something that they want to do, it has to make them feel good. Some of things that we do are: reading, colouring, outside time. It really does depend on your own class.
I also created these quick Mindfulness Activities that can be printed out: https://mash.ie/product/mindfulness-activities/
A set of 24 Mindful Activities that can be used in class. These are doubled sided circles that can be used in class to promote mindfulness.
On one side of the card is the activity name and on the other an explanation of how to do it.
How I have used these:
- We had a Mindfulness Week as part of our distance learning and these activities were sent home.
- I plan on having them on my desk in the new school year so that I can use them regularly with the children at different points during the day.
- Great when children come in first thing in the morning or after break or lunch.
- End of day activity
- Calm Box
- Brain Breaks.
- Transition between activities.
Returning to School in September.
Pupils’ experiences of the lockdown period will have been very varied. For some, it will mostly have been a safe and enjoyable time. For others, it will have been challenging or traumatic. Schools and teachers are used to supporting their pupils through challenges that they face in life – the current situation will amplify those situations many times over. I think lots of us are concerned about the return to school in September and what school will look like. We all have those children in our class who are anxious, and I am concerned about how children will cope when they return. Some children will have been out of school for almost six months. I feel that the top priority for the first term back will need to be the Well-Being of our children.
Things to Remember When Returning to School:
One size will not fit all pupils. Children within our classes will have had very different experiences of the lockdown period, they will also had varying levels of coping strategies and resilience skills in dealing with the experience. Have an open mind when you return, think about all children (families) individually and what they have personally gone through and experienced. It is worth check with the head to see if any families and experienced family bereavement as they children may also need further support.
You are part of a team. I have no doubt that the return to school will be an overwhelming one for many. Remember that other teachers, SNA’s, the school community and the world around you is facing similar challenges. It is important to talk about how you are feeling and how you are coping. Draw on other teachers and professionals for the help, support, and guidance during this time.
Different emotional responses. Given that there are many kinds of loss that pupils may have experienced over their time away from school, you may see different kinds of emotional responses. Children and young people will respond in different ways to challenging experiences. The same child may display different responses from day-to-day.
I hope you have found this useful, please do give me a follow on Instagram as I will be sharing ideas and resources over there to help with the return to school. Look after yourself during this challenging time too, it is easy as teachers to focus on our classes but we must remember our own well-being as well. We cannot pour from an empty glass.