George Metcalfe portrait

Written by George Metcalfe

George is the co-founder of Tranquiliti, a new digital service that transforms the ability of schools to support wellbeing.

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” Desmond Tutu 

For years we have worked at Tranquiliti to develop a service that helps schools take a proactive and preventative approach to student wellbeing that reflects this sentiment, and I wanted to share some of what we’ve learnt in the process.

In designing our system we have spoken with dozens of pastoral leaders from a wide range of schools, from a state school in London where over 85% of students have EAL, to a grammar school in Kent, to PRUs in Yorkshire, and in these conversations we have always started with the same questions: 

“What does your school do to support student wellbeing, what challenges are you facing around wellbeing at the moment, and what are your hopes for the future?”

The responses we’ve received show that almost universally schools’ perception and approach towards wellbeing is changing.

When asked about their current provision most schools talk about the counselling on offer or their support hub. The focus tends to be on the identification and support of students facing difficulties, and the words “mental health” and “safeguarding” are mentioned. In this way, wellbeing has been negatively conceptualised, with poor wellbeing being seen as something to address rather than positive wellbeing being seen as something to promote. 

This is hardly surprising, as when I then ask about what challenges leaders are facing, the answer is usually that they are overwhelmed with the number of students experiencing problems, and so their focus is naturally on firefighting. 

However, young people’s wellbeing has been in decline for over a decade now, and with the pandemic exacerbating existing trends, this firefight is becoming increasingly unsustainable. That’s why when we speak with schools about their hopes for the future, their ambitions often centre around promoting positive wellbeing in every student and building school environments that stop concerns developing in the first place. 

Unfortunately, this is very difficult to achieve, not least because of limited time and resources, but we’ve identified three things that schools can do today to help promote wellbeing across the whole student community. These are – build conceptual clarity, gain visibility, and develop the capacity to act.

Conceptual clarity

Wellbeing can sometimes be a vague term. By having a shared language of what you as a school mean when you talk about wellbeing, it makes it much easier for staff to see how it relates to their day-to-day activities. For example, the CASEL model in the US is a great tool to use to highlight how social and emotional literacy, the classroom environment, and the school climate are all impacted by teachers and leaders, and to show how when they are promoted they in turn support learning and protect against poor mental health. Lastly, when you have a common definition for wellbeing, you then know what to measure…

Visibility

Too often there is a lack of data and insight around wellbeing. By giving staff a regular picture of how their students are feeling, wellbeing can become a tangible aspect of school life that can then be developed collaboratively. Data can also form an interface for more informed conversations and stronger relationships between students and teachers, and ensure student voice plays a significant role at every level – from the design of the PSHE curriculum through to the development of new policies.

The capacity to act

Lastly, as a sector we have to get better at answering the question “what next?”. So often wellbeing is measured with little in the way to support action. By providing all students and teachers with high-quality resources, training, lessons, and interventions, everyone in school can be given the skills and tools needed to promote wellbeing. 

At Tranquiliti, we have developed a joined-up service that achieves these three aims and in doing so transforms the ability of schools to promote wellbeing, but there are other ways of achieving similar outcomes. 

The challenge schools face in becoming truly proactive in their approach to wellbeing is significant, however, the need for this change will only continue to rise. Young people are growing up in an increasingly complex world and in order to thrive they will need support in developing emotional maturity and resilience. We believe a systemic approach is needed, and that technology can play a central role in helping schools stop young people “falling in”.

We are currently testing and developing our service with a community of committed schools, researchers and experts. If you would like to join our community then you can book a call with me here – we’d love to hear from you.

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