Nurturing resilient minds: the future of pastoral care in Prep Schools

Posted on 17th Jun 2024 in Prep Schools Guide, Wellbeing

Helen Marland, Deputy Head (Pastoral) at Feltonfleet School, delves into the evolving landscape of pastoral care and sheds light on the crucial elements that parents should consider when choosing the right school for their children.

Traditionally, the focus of pastoral care has been on mental health, an undeniably vital aspect of overall wellbeing. However, in the face of the complex challenges presented by the 21st century, a more holistic approach is required. The emphasis is now shifting towards mental fitness—a proactive and dynamic pursuit of mental strength, resilience, and adaptability. This paradigm shift is essential to equip pupils not only to cope with challenges but to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Recognising the changing landscape

Beyond academic pressures, today’s pupils grapple with a rapidly changing world, unprecedented societal expectations, and the omnipresence of digital connectivity. Traditional models of pastoral care, centred on reactive responses to mental health concerns, are revealing their limitations in addressing the multifaceted challenges pupils encounter. An evolution is necessary—a comprehensive approach that not only supports mental health but actively promotes mental fitness.

From reactive to proactive: the essence of mental fitness

While mental health remains a cornerstone of wellbeing, its focus tends to be reactive, addressing issues as they arise. This reactive approach may inadvertently stigmatise mental health concerns, perpetuating the notion that seeking support is reserved for times of crisis. Mental fitness, on the other hand, is about proactive wellbeing. At Feltonfleet, we have launched a bespoke Wellbeing Curriculum, transcending crisis intervention to actively instil practices fostering mental fitness. This includes resilience-building, emotional intelligence development, cognitive flexibility, and cultivating a growth mindset.

By dedicating curriculum time to mental health, mindfulness, mental fitness and elucidating the workings of the brain, we aim to highlight the significance of individual wellbeing. This deliberate investment in time not only emphasises its importance but also signals this as a priority in the School’s educational approach.

Mindfulness as a core component

A school-wide awareness of mindfulness at Feltonfleet has proven instrumental in equipping pupils to respond skilfully to the present moment, with open-minded curiosity and acceptance. Pupil-led 'mindful moments' have become a daily ritual, aiding concentration and settling thoughts. This mindfulness practice contributes significantly to the overall mental fitness of the pupils.

Holistic wellbeing: 'Wellbeing Wednesdays' and co-curricular enrichment

Wellbeing Wednesdays at Feltonfleet offer dedicated days for pupils to enhance emotional management skills, tackle challenges, and flourish. Opportunities to collaborate in mixed-age activities promotes a sense of service and community, as well as enables older pupils to develop patience, compassion and leadership, and potentially reduce any anxiety younger children may have about the landscape beyond their classroom. A diverse co-curricular enrichment program complements these efforts, providing platforms for self-exploration and identity formation.

A deep understanding: effective social tracking and comprehensive assessments

At the heart of Feltonfleet's pastoral care program is a deep understanding of each pupil's unique learning and emotional needs. Effective social tracking methods and comprehensive assessments, facilitated by an attentive and dedicated pastoral support team made up of a broad spectrum of staff, ensure meticulous tracking of pupils' social and emotional development. This approach enables discreet steering and timely support for any emerging mental health risks, which might otherwise remain concealed.

Moving forwards, the imperative for schools is clear — to prepare pupils not only for academic proficiency but also to be mentally agile and emotionally robust. As educators, our responsibility extends beyond reacting to mental health concerns; we must actively cultivate the mental strengths that empower pupils to face the challenges of tomorrow. It is crucial that these efforts continue to evolve and align with the emphasis placed on academic success. The wellbeing of pupils is not a mere complement but an integral determinant of their overall growth and ability to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Parents play an integral role in shaping the future of pastoral care. Engaging parents in a collaborative effort is essential for reinforcing mental fitness practices beyond the school gates. Regular communication, workshops, and events that involve parents in the journey towards fostering resilience and wellbeing can create a seamless connection between home and school. This collaborative approach ensures a consistent and supportive environment for the holistic development of each pupil.

In choosing the right school, I urge parents to look beyond academic achievements and consider the school's commitment to mental fitness—the linchpin for nurturing resilient minds poised for success in today’s world. Together, educators and parents can pave the way for a future where pastoral care is not just a support system but a transformative force in shaping empowered individuals ready to thrive in the challenges of tomorrow.

This article appears in the 2024 edition of John Catt's Preparatory Schools, which you can view here: