By Joanne Offer, Health and Well-being Committee Chair, St Michael’s International School, Kobe, Japan
Are you thinking of strengthening the health and well-being support in your primary school? Here are five steps we learned through our recent experiences at St Michael’s International School, Kobe, Japan.
Many of your school communities will be familiar with these contexts: Covid-19, being separated from loved ones, puberty, social media pressures, and acclimatising to a new culture … it’s no wonder that international primary schools are realising that a comprehensive health and well-being offering is crucial for their young learners.
So, we recently implemented a new Health and Well-being Curriculum with the aim of ensuring that children know how to be safe and healthy, how to develop positive relationships, and how to ask for help when it’s needed.
1. Buy-in is vital
A key stumbling block to an effective health and well-being curriculum is staff fear around feeling unable or unequipped to effectively support students, particularly when addressing sensitive issues.
Understanding your ‘why’ is essential!
Our very first step was to engage all staff in a discussion about why we were making health and well-being a priority.
We didn’t want this to be top-down; we knew that the people delivering this curriculum every day needed to understand and believe in its key messages.
Staff were given the chance to voice concerns, highlight any issues that they might find difficult to address, and discuss culturally sensitive points that might occur for an Anglican international school within Japan.
We reviewed our existing curriculum, looking for strengths and weaknesses.
While all this was a good starting point, we also wanted to empower students to feel more confident in making their own decisions, and perhaps to be ‘intelligently disobedient’ when they spot an adult behaving as they shouldn’t.
Ultimately, this would be a curriculum to allow both staff and students to explore their own attitudes and those of others.
And one that links closely with our existing school values—it supports our focus on respect and responsibility and enhances our school mission of growing, working, learning together.
We didn’t change direction, we just supported our existing school vision.
2. Tailor it
Our health and well-being journey actually started with a focus on comprehensive sex education; we realised that, in the online age, we needed to do more to address students’ needs than traditional puberty lessons had covered.
Pretty soon, we wanted to broaden our focus into a more encompassing Health and Well-being Curriculum, especially with Covid-19 on our doorstep.
Positive mental health—and strategies to cope when things get tough—needed to be front and centre in any curriculum we offered.
Therefore, we planned our Health and Well-being Curriculum using the UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education as a starting point and with an additional focus on mental health, with objectives woven in from the International Primary Curriculum’s Health and Well-being Rubric.
We also took inspiration from UK and Australian schools’ Personal Social Health and Economic Education plans and tailored it to our unique situation in Japan.
Consistency for children is key, so we agreed on a vocabulary to be used by all staff at all times; scientifically accurate terminology that is age and developmentally appropriate and also sensitive to the backgrounds and beliefs of pupils, staff, and parents.
3. Phase it in
Rome wasn't built in a day! Rather than charge ahead, we phased in this new curriculum.
All staff planned one unit—‘My Rights’—as a trial four-week unit and took into account that the current Year Six wouldn’t have had any build-up to these lessons. (Unlike, the current Year One students who would have benefitted from the whole new curriculum when they reach that age.)
Our trial unit allowed us to see the need for one, cohesive message across all year groups.
Whatever the situation, children needed to be empowered to make positive choices, keep themselves safe and seek help.
So, we came up with three simple steps that children of all ages could understand and remember in circumstances they feel unsafe:
- Say no
- Walk away
- Tell a trusted adult
4. Be ready to deal with real and immediate needs
The great thing about being a teacher is that you are honoured to be one of the child’s ‘trusted adults’.
So, the minute that you encourage them to open up and reveal their feelings, you have to be ready to support those emotions.
This could include encouraging them to adopt certain strategies to destress or manage their emotions.
Staff will need to be familiar with your procedures about disclosure, protection, and referrals—what support is out there for children who need it?
If you’re a small school without your own school counsellor, do you have a network of counsellors or health agencies who can offer support?
5. Track it
Alongside the academic plans for teaching health and well-being, we continue to use our well-established pastoral tracker.
Created as part of our Child Protection & Safeguarding Policy, this document securely records any and all concerns or disclosures.
This allows relevant staff to spot and monitor any trends, and to see if current behaviour or concerns are a one-off or part of an ongoing pattern.
It is too early to see big changes as a result of our new curriculum, but teachers are already seeing children coming forward more often to talk about their worries or emotions.
Perhaps by putting a comment in a worry box, sharing their ideas during a lesson, or talking to a trusted adult when the time is right, this can only be a good thing.
You can read more about how to effectively use well-being data, including how to use pastoral data, in the post The Wellbeing Data Wheel: Case studies from schools around the world.
- The Wellbeing Data Wheel: Case studies from schools around the world
- In Focus: How to use data to solve the student well-being puzzle
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- Unpacking well-being part 3: What did students teach me about well-being?
- Unpacking well-being part two: Driving change
- Unpacking well-being part one: the glittering gem
- How international schools can safeguard LGBTQ+ students and faculty