5 ideas to boost pupil wellbeing
Hertfordshire Feelin’ Good Week 2018 #HertsCAMHS
Feeling Good Week is a Hertfordshire-wide event which aims to encourage our young people to recognise that good emotional health and wellbeing is fundamental to being able to enjoy and achieve in life.
With this in mind, below are 5 evidence-based activities that will help teachers to boost the emotional health and wellbeing of their pupils:
1) Gratitude Postcard – studies show that when people regularly practise gratitude they generally feel happier, experience fewer negative emotions, sleep better, boost their immune system and are more generous towards others.
· A simple, yet effective exercise is called the ‘gratitude letter’ (we’ll use a postcard for ease). Simply ask your class to bring to mind someone important in their life who does a lot for them but who they maybe take for granted. Then, using this gratitude postcard template, ask them to write them a note saying thanks for something that person does for them (try to give some specific examples e.g. ‘thanks for always listening to me when I have a problem’ z). Their mission then is to give their gratitude postcard to that person.
2) Dance to the music – according to Paul Dolan, author of Happiness By Design, music is one of the fastest routes to feeling good. He states that music, “most strongly affects the brain region associated with positive emotion and memory in a way that no other input to our happiness production process can.” Similarly, a report by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing showed that taking part in aerobic and hip-hop dance can boost our mood, and dance training is shown to be effective in lowering self-reported depression.
· So, to get your class moving, why not sign up to www.gonoodle.com which has free dance music videos. Children can learn short dance routines whilst simultaneously learning about something educational! There are loads of videos to choose from so get your class moving! Alternatively, bang on some dance classics on Youtube and dance with your class like no one’s watching!
3) Mindfulness – it can sometimes feel that life has never been more stressful. With so many things pulling at our attention, it can leave us feeling frazzled. But a simple mind-training technique called mindfulness has been shown to help lower people’s levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and even boost their immune system, whilst increasing their levels of happiness. Mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening in the mind, body and surrounding environment, in the present moment, with an attitude of kindness and curiosity. It can help children to take pauses in the day to check in with what they’re feeling before making wise choices about how to proceed. The following exercise comes from Tammie Prince’s book Mindfulness In The Classroom – 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers.
· Deep breathing – Guide the children through this practice. They can do it sitting or lying down. Ask them to take a deep breath in, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 silently in their heads (model a slow and deliberate inhale that fills the body). Ask them to pause for a count of 1. Then breathe out, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (model a slow and deliberate exhale, pushing all the air from the lungs). Pause for a count of 1. Then repeat as desired.
4) What Went Well? – our brains have an innate negativity bias due to evolution. Our ancestors that could spot dangers quickly and avoid them, passed on their genes to us. A symptom is that our brains remember negative events more easily than positive ones. But, it is possible to rewire our brains to notice and savour the positive more (this is called self-directed neuroplasticity). When people are asked to do an exercise called ‘3 Good Things’ (or ‘What Went Well?’) where they write down three things that went well for them each day, for one week, they often report significant increases in positive emotion and decreases in depressive symptoms for up to six months later! The more people write down what went well for them, the easier it becomes for their brains to notice and savour the good stuff.
· What Went Well Board – using this free downloadable banner, create a ‘What Went Well?’ display board in your classroom. At the end of each day during ‘Feeling Good Week’ give your class a post-it note and get them to write down three things that went well for them that day. They can be small things like a tasty lunch, a fun game at playtime or an interesting lesson. Each child can share one of their WWWs with the class before the post-its are stuck on the board. If the children enjoy this activity, why not carry it on and make ‘What Went Well?’ a weekly activity at the end of the week?
5) Laugh more, worry less – it is impossible to laugh and feel stressed at the same time. When we laugh our bodies release happy hormones such as dopamine. Studies show these hormones help to reduce feelings of anxiety, sadness and fear while increasing energy and self-esteem. But that’s not all. Dopamine is also a neurotransmitter meaning it helps the neurons in our brain to communicate with each other. In fact, research shows that laughter can aid learning by: improving memory recall; increasing attention; and stimulating brain regions associated with complex thinking.
· Have a laugh in class – come on, it’s Feeling Good Week so enjoy some laughs with your class. You could set a homework where each child has to learn a joke to come and tell to the class the next day? Or why not show one of the many funny Michael Rosen performance poems on Youtube – Chocolate Cake or No Breathing In Class never fail to get my class laughing!
Promoting good emotional health and wellbeing should not just be for one week so give these ideas a go and then see how you can incorporate them into your weekly teaching routines in the future.
All of the above ideas were adapted from my forthcoming book Wellbeing In The Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide To Teaching Happiness published by Bloomsbury Education which you can pre-order here.
Enjoy and teachappy!
 Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage, p. 101.
 Louis Cozolino, The Social Neuroscience of Education, p. 90