Russley School begins the year with the introduction of a Wellbeing Curriculum that focuses on the use of well researched instructional tools that support student wellbeing. ‘Relationships and Resilience’ is the over-arching theme for the introduction of ‘MindUp’ a comprehensive, classroom-tested, evidence-based curriculum which is easy to use. It promotes and develops mindful attention to oneself and others, tolerance of differences and the capacity of each member of the community to grow as a human being and a learner. The children learn about their brain and how it works.
The lessons include repetition of the Core Practice - deep belly breathing and attentive listening. These skills must be repeated for a few moments every day throughout the school year. The books are levelled, include previously learned skills/tools and build on prior knowledge activities.
A second resource being used is ‘Bounce Back’. This resource teaches social-emotional learning skills that underpin wellbeing and resilience. It uses games, drama, books, activities and Circle Time as vehicles of delivery.
The activities in these two resources are being linked to ‘Sparklers’ which can be found on the ‘All Right?’ website. The focuses are on managing emotions, feeling good and being ourselves. Sparklers 50+ activities teach children things they can do to stay calm, manage worries, be kind and feel good. http://sparklers.org.nz/
Staff professional development has included research completed by Dr Kathleen Liberty and her team at the University of Canterbury with the Juniors Settling In and Learning Strategies project. This project arose following the Christchurch earthquakes and aims to assist schools to provide calm and settled environments for children to learn effectively. One of the strategies we are looking to implement is a ‘Play, Eat, Learn’ timetable. The aim of this is to decrease arousal levels prior to learning, so the quality of the learning and the ability to focus and concentrate improves. Research shows the body physiologically responds differently to the two activities – playing and eating. Play – the body response is more aroused and heightened. Eat – the body response is to natural calm.
When eating occurs after play, the body has a chance to calm and the children are better placed to be ready for learning. Arousal levels fall.
We are currently reviewing our school timetable to support the improvement of student self regulation, attention and memory. Many schools throughout Christchurch have implemented ‘Play, Eat, Learn’ with great success. We will be looking to introduce this modified timetable in term 2.
A further strategy is called Water – drink to think, think to drink. As part of the project, we encourage all students to have water bottles to use in class time, so that they stay hydrated.
Student Wellbeing - The Quiet Room
The Quiet Room is a safe and calming place for students who are sometimes overwhelmed by the busy, noisy playground. This initiative began at the start of term two when the school opened Room 20 (the ESOL room) on four days a week to provide a supervised space during the lunch break.
The children invited to use the room have access to mindful colouring in, craft activities, building materials, books and board games. The lights are kept dim and sometimes music is played.
The Quiet Room is a space away from the noise and bustle of the playground; a space to relax, calm down and chill out. Having a safe and peaceful place to go helps a child take ownership of his or her ability to self-regulate emotions and sensory systems, which are crucial for learning.
Last year, Russley students were introduced to mindful breathing or tummy breathing. This type of breathing is a quick and easy way to engage the body’s natural relaxation response. It draws the child’s attention away from the present, boosts concentration and helps them turn anxiety and anger into feelings of relaxation and focus.
Younger students were introduced to this practice through a Sesame Street video that features Elmo as the main character. Elmo explains in a fun, interactive way when and how to use tummy breathing. This video can be found online at Elmo Belly Breathing. The older children viewed a video entitled Just Breathe.
We suggest parents encourage their children to tune in to their breathing whenever they feel upset or angry, or want to relax.
In addition, there are online resources at https://allright.org.nz/ that support wellbeing and mental health. You will find Elmo Belly Breathing in the “Sparklers” section and the website also has a useful “Tips for Parents” section.
A much talked about topic in educational psychology is the growth mindset. Stanford University professor Carol Dweck’s claims in her book “Mindset: The new psychology of success” that teaching children to have a growth mindset does work and can be developed. Children who have a growth mindset seem to face challenges in a more positive way. They will say things like, “I love a challenge,” instead of having negative thoughts when faced with difficulty.
When we have a growth mindset we believe that our brain can be developed and we can grow our intelligence, whereas a fixed mindset is the belief that our brain can’t be developed and it is static. Research shows time and again that if a growth mindset is encouraged by teachers and parents, children perform better and see obstacles as opportunities to improve and learn.
Children should be taught not to give up on a task just because they cannot do something immediately. Effort and perseverance are the start to training the mind, in order to achieve, learn and grow. One of the ways adults can encourage this is through the language we use when we discuss challenges with children. Dweck mentions that saying “not yet” to children instead of saying they have failed at something is a much better way to show them that even if they have difficulties overcoming a challenge, the time will come when they will succeed. The use of “you haven’t learned it yet” shows that there is a learning curve, and points to the process, not the outcome.
According to the Mindset website, “Every so often a truly ground-breaking idea comes along. This is one.” The mindset theory explains:
- Why brains and talent don’t necessarily bring success and in fact, can stand in the way of it
- Why praising/rewarding brains and talent doesn’t foster self-esteem and accomplishment, but rather jeopardises them
- How teaching a simple idea about the brain raises grades and productivity