Today, we had a terrific experience watching a Chinese opera involving our P6 class. This was due to a partnership with our friends at the Scottish Opera and the Confuscius Institute at the University of Strathclyde. Standing next to Mrs Liu, our Hanban / Mandarin teacher you could see quite clearly she was absorbed by the Scottish Opera translation of the Dragon of the Western Sea. We all were! It was celebrated by parents, grandparents, children, carers and staff.
Mrs Mitchell, Mrs Hoggan and Mrs Bell’s smiles were as bright as the theatre lights overhead. It was also celebrated by our P5 classes who attended the dress rehearsal and were transfixed by the exotic costumes, the spectacle, the performance.
Even today as the children lined up to have a slice of toast at the toast bar I overheard, “ I was a pirate,” “I was an African,” “ I was Chinese,” “Do you know we learned all those dances in an hour and forty minutes Mr Murray.” Not the usual toast bar discussions outside our office this morning. A member of the leadership team joins the toast queue and sits, relaxed taking part in the animated conversations.
Thanks to our parents group (council ) we fund a “give us a BREAKfast,” this allows children who need a breakfast or a chance to have an enhanced check in to take it, no questions asked. This toast bar is the seed for an ambitious project firmly focussed on children’s voice, family learning and above all wellbeing. This will be run by our voice of the pupil group ( pupil council ) and we will make good use of the new guidance from Education Scotland on learner’s voice and participation.
Sometimes the line is long for toast because payday is a few days away at the end of each month or on a Monday because the children have slept in as their weekend habits aren’t the same as the school week and they were rushing to be in on time. Something has to give – usually the hair style and the breakfast. Lots of bed heads and grumbling tums.
Today, it was pretty long because children just needed a wee bit of time to talk and celebrate the performance…even if it meant we used up three loaves and some cherry jam donated by a parent. We trust our children to be responsible and respect the toast offer. We don’t make a fuss we respect their choice to come or not.
So what does wellbeing and making a decision to use our toast bar have to do with a Chinese themed opera?
Simply put, we are of the belief you don’t “find” wellbeing without first creating it for yourself.
We are exposed to all manner of texts growing up which empathise this ideal of “finding.” Finding vocation, redemption or ones true self. All of course are noble pursuits. To pursue something suggests you know what it looks like, sounds like and feels like and it takes sacrifice, energy and effort.
We give children opportunities to apply and reflect on their experiences about wellbeing daily through check ins, check outs and discussions about our school aims for this very reason. We talk about wellbeing and have a relentless ebb and flow of chats throughout every day.
As Michaelangelo said “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” Isn’t this what an education should create? To go after wellbeing like an artist emboldened to create his or her own masterpiece. A craftsman who uses the tacit knowledge to give the illusion their work is effortless, but, as we all know …the truth is it’s acquired through countless mistakes, tears, escalations, held breaths and lessons learned. Who is doing the chiselling? Teacher or child, family? All three? Or is it the relationship which is emerging between mind and experience. Or environment and child? We know the brain is very different from mind.
We are committed to learning about science and the biology of behaviour in our school but the mind is something more. We are not just impulses and drives, we are much, much more than this.
This evening we were visited by CAMHS Education Officers who gave a spellbinding performance of their own, giving all our staff the benefit of their expertise. The staff were having lightbulb moments across the evening as they connected experience with theory and practice. Thank you to Kerry & Ruth at NHS Tayside. We look forward to learning more to continue to support all our children and develop our use of the right strategy at the right time. This I might add could even include something as simple as a visit to the toast bar. We are planning to use their support to map our own strategies onto a continuum to support an ever growing toolkit to promote mental health and resilience.
So how do you “create” your own wellbeing?
First of all we encourage children to make choices.
As Robert Frost so poignantly wrote, “ I took the road less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. ” Children are encouraged to reflect on the “why” behind their choices each day. “Why did you choose to use this strategy?” To consider like Frost “What is making the difference.” This applies to wellbeing just as much as writing a story or solving a number puzzle.
Children are also encouraged to make connections across as many different points of learning as they can. It’s more likely to be applied, if it’s meaningful and memorable. This is why we have developed a partnership with Allied Health Professionals who will performing a whole school communication audit to enable all our children to communicate effectively. We can’t promote questioning of any description if a child lacks the vocabulary to construct a response whether that’s internal or external. Monologue or dialogue. We believe this expression of thought is an imperative if we are to support all children to bring meaning to experience.
We also believe in supporting children to make decisions.
Take for example the opera today in our gym hall. Do I take part or not? Do I go for a big part or a small one? How do I respond if I’m disappointed with the outcome? Do I wear a costume? Do I sing or mime? And so on….
“People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves,” as Pablo Coehlo once wrote. This takes time and patience and an unwavering belief in the power within the decision making process. A wee example of this power ensues…
Stradivarius made the best violins in the world, seemingly effortlessly. However despite thousands visiting his workshop and studying his methods. Despite his own sons working with him, when he passed away – no one could make a violin like he did. It just did not sound the same. Why? Because he learned through experience and could change the sound of a violin in a heartbeat with the tiniest of adjustments. We are all capable of becoming a Stradivarius in our lives whether that’s as a parent, a professional or a brother or sister, son or daughter.
The ability like Stradavarius to make those almost imperceptible adjustments to keep our wellbeing on track. This takes practice and feedback and courage to try again when things don’t go to plan. We try and be mindful of the need to be brave at all times in our decision making as staff whether it’s trying to support a distressed child in their own home (which happens) or school or taking the time by folding our priorities over momentarily on our daily to-do list so we focus on the now. We are always learning.
This is why schools are constantly striving to find innovate ways to create the conditions for self regulation and self directed learning at all levels. How you learn as a professional is just as important as what you learn. We are all so very different…we must remain open and celebrate the diversity within collective thinking around the same subject and respect people will find their own way to consensus. Or respectfully disagree and find some common ground to brush ourselves down and start again.
So why am I making the link between wellbeing and learning?
These experiences, which schools across the country try so hard to provide, illuminate a simple yet fundamental concept linked to wellbeing.
Learner agency. The ability to do things for oneself. As Mark Twain apparently said “Don’t let schooling get in the way of your education.”
You need to have trust in others and be willing to be guided. This relies on the quality of relationships. It’s that simple …the decision making landscape is full of texture and colour, engulfed by sunny showers, downpours, thunderstorms and the occasional blue sky. It’s always better appreciating a vista with another.
In our school we are absolutely committed to supporting children to learn to unfold the capacities which underpin wellbeing for themselves. Sometimes they lack maturity. Sometimes we lack maturity and “immaturity” is defined as the inability to make sense of something for oneself. This is where intervention is required. Is it easy? No, nothing that’s worth doing ever is…but the ability to create wellbeing must surely be worth it…
Good luck everyone….