Putting the Well into Wellington

On Friday morning I picked up my hire car and embarked upon the 111-mile journey to rural Leicestershire for a two-day HMC New Members’ course (Part 2). Amusingly, I missed Part 1 last year due to the lateness of my appointment and so the delights of the first instalment await me in late March. The big wigs at HMC tell me that the order in which one completes these courses does not matter – I certainly hope so! The other delegates included ex-HMs of the Anglesey (Blundell’s) and the Picton (Frensham Heights), and all the other heads in the UK who, like me, are in their first year of school leadership. We spent two days in various talks, seminars and workshops on exciting topics such as ‘Working with feeder Prep Schools’, ‘Strategic planning: lessons learned from 20 years of headship’ and ‘Sustainable staffing and pensions without the hot air’. Who knew that headship could be so exciting?!

I enjoyed all the sessions but am pleased to report that there was not a single initiative suggested by any of the speakers which Wellington was not already doing in some way or another. The speaker whose presentation I enjoyed the most was Chris Jeffery, Head of Bootham School in York. He spoke passionately about the importance of creating a culture of Wellbeing in our schools both for the pupils within our care and also for the staff who give so much of themselves to make places like Wellington such special communities to live and learn. It was familiar and comfortable territory as Chris introduced many of the assembled heads to the realm of Positive Psychology and the work of Martin Seligman, particularly his PERMA model, a theoretical framework which locates the key elements of happiness within five distinct areas: Positive emotions; Engagement; Relationships; Meaning; and Accomplishments.

The influence of Seligman can be seen clearly in our own Wellbeing course, now in its 14th year, which was designed by our Head of Wellbeing, Mr Ian Morris. Many of you will have heard Mr Morris speak at one of our regular pastoral masterclasses and you can read more about the course here – https://wellbeing.wellingtoncollege.org.uk/. As well as strands on meaning and purpose, engagement, and relationships, the Wellington course also contains three further distinct threads: ‘Physical Health’ – the importance of eating well, sleeping effectively and exercising regularly;  ‘Perspective’ – this part of the course aims to develop thinking skills which will help pupils to overcome the inevitable adversity which they will face in their lives, in other words finding ways to develop grit and resilience; and ‘The World’ – the part of the course which looks at ways of living sustainably in our modern, consumer society and considering our place in the world and what our relationship with it might be.

The reason we continue to teach Wellbeing in this way at the College is because we want Wellingtonians to engage proactively in a meaningful programme of study which gets them thinking about the ways in which they can “develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community. Wellbeing is enhanced when an individual is able to fulfil their personal and social goals and achieve a sense of meaning and purpose in their society”. These are not my words; they come from a 2008 report written by the Government Office for Science.

For me a Wellington education would not be a Wellington education without this focus on Wellbeing. If all we focussed on was trying to deliver fantastic examination results but without equipping our pupils with the skills needed to live happy, meaningful and fulfilling lives, then this, to me, would be an abject failure. Working with teenage children, however, will always involve navigating setbacks and difficulties, some more serious than others, and this is why we have made Mental Health a particular focus for the Wellington Community this year. We are hugely excited about our forthcoming Community Mental Health Day which will take place this Saturday, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mrs Lynch and the Parent Mental Health Committee for putting so much time and effort into arranging such an inspiring array of speakers and sessions. The event is very much aimed at pupils, staff and parents, so please do book your tickets here: https://www.wellingtoncollege.org.uk/news-events/events/forthcoming-events/

We hope that by continuing to engage the entire Wellington Community in this vitally important aspect of modern life, the College will remain a happy and positive environment in which everyone can truly flourish and become the very best version of themselves which they can be – an ambition which will always remain at the heart of my educational vision for this remarkable school.

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