How we will stay together, while the world stays apart

Posted on 23rd Feb 2021 in School News, Wellbeing

Sherfield School discusses the importance of a whole-school approach to good mental health and well-being, and shares some of the ways in which they have been supporting their pupils.

Family life has changed considerably since lockdown began. Being a parent can be challenging in everyday situations, but those challenges have certainly increased as we face supporting our children through remote learning, limited opportunities for socialising, and restrictions to our hobbies and outdoor activities.

Staying at home more, or having to work from home, during these difficult times can put different pressures on everyone. When things are different to what we are used to it is important to give young people reassurance and support. It is a key part of what we do at Sherfield School and we have extended this into our remote learning provision.

A mentally healthy school is one that adopts a whole-school approach to mental health and well-being and our approach means that all phases and areas of the school work together and commit to the care and support of those around us.

Chris James-Roll, Deputy Head, explains the importance of a whole-school approach: “It is about developing a positive ethos and culture where everyone feels that they belong. It involves working together to develop a school community that is welcoming, inclusive and respectful. It means maximising children’s learning through promoting good mental health and well-being across the school; through the curriculum, early support for pupils, staff-pupil relationships, leadership and a commitment from everybody.

The situation we all find ourselves in reinforces the fact that good mental health and well-being is a journey that involves us all. It needs thought, communication, planning and on-going evaluation and is certainly not a one-off activity, but as a community I believe we are in good shape and well placed to ensure the continued mental fitness of our children.”

Looking after your own mental health is also vital to the pupil’s well-being. As parents we dedicate much of our time to caring for others and sometimes forget that by caring for yourself you are caring for others too.

At Sherfield School we actively teach the principles of kindness, knowing that kindness is contagious.

Berna Bouwer, Head of Junior Prep, talks about the positive effects of kindness on our mental health: “Research suggests that being kind relieves pain, as it releases endorphins in the brain. It’s a natural painkiller. It lowers stress and delays ageing. Kindness improves mood, depression and anxiety. Kindness stimulates the production of serotonin which heals wounds, calms us and increases happiness. Kindness brings about elevated levels of dopamine in the brain causing our pleasure/reward centres to light up. This is known as the 'helpers high'. It not only makes us feel good about ourselves, but helps us begin to believe in ourselves, increasing our self-worth. But most of all, kindness helps improve relationships by reducing the distance between individuals.”

What are Sherfield School doing to support their pupil’s well-being and mental health?

- Proactively contacting parents of pupils who struggled with online learning last time and where we can, identify parents who are struggling and reach out to them.

- Providing one-to-one support, daily group support and lunchtime virtual social sessions making sure that no one is left out.

- Daily tutor check-ins with tutors staying on for a few minutes in case the children want to talk privately.

- Bringing the whole school community together at assemblies, house competitions, singing sessions and daily morning motivation fitness classes. Both exercise and singing are a great way to help stay positive.

Emilie, Year 13 Student talks about the importance of exercise: “With more and more people suffering a decline in mental health as a result of the pandemic and the lockdown we are in; it is more important than ever. Know you are not alone, and that as hard as it may seem some days, it is important to keep active and motivated.”

In the Sixth-form, we are keeping to regular academic mentoring so students get the chance to have a regular 20-minute conversation with their tutor. We are also starting university prep with Year 12 to help them to feel motivated and excited about their future.

The Sherfield Enrichment programme has continued online on Friday afternoons which has encouraged pupils to be proactive and do something different and exciting whilst remaining rigorous.

To give the pupils a break from online classrooms, the school held a carefully planned off-screen day for all pupils, offering them a huge selection of activities to take part in, getting them away from the screens. Activities included obstacle making, baking, bird feeder creating and chair yoga. We received plenty of positive feedback from parents about this initiative – “This was such a gift. Thank you so much! I haven’t talked to my son so much in ages.” Year 10 Parent.

These are just some of the many activities that have been offered to maintain social connections for the children and bring some opportunities to support them through the challenges that they face.

“Positivity is essential, and the promise of vaccines brings us closer to reuniting with friends and family – whether in the UK or abroad. It will also allow our school to return to the vibrant and exciting learning environment we all enjoy. There’s plenty to look forward to”. Alfie, Year 8 Pupil

“Even in this time of uncertainty, it is clear that nothing can damage the school spirit here at Sherfield.” Oisin, Year 13 Student