There are approximately 37 trillion cells that make up the human body. Between and surrounding these cells is interstitial space. This space contains a fluid-filled, life-giving microenvironment, full of proteins and ions and nutrients that allow our cells to flourish.
Humans, like the cells of which we are made, clump together and depend on each other for survival. And like cells, we exist within our own little interstitial space.
Wellbeing is only partly about the individual. If we really want to make a sustained, positive impact, we need to be acutely focussed on the physical, psychological and social environment in which our students and colleagues are living their lives.
Does the classroom furniture foster cohesion? Do your students feel psychologically safe at school? Do your actions allow colleagues to feel connected and that they matter?
When the microenvironment around a cell is healthy and rich, there is every chance for the cell to thrive. But when the interstitial space becomes toxic, even the healthiest cell will die.
The concept of ‘values’ is one of those rare psychological constructs that is understood by laypeople almost as well as it is by scientists. Our values represent a hierarchy of what really matters to us, the type of person we are trying to be, and they are closely related to our sense of identity.
In theory, they are our guiding principles in life, our inner compass.
But how well do you know yours?
Try this…(say the answers out loud if you can…)
Name three foods you love to eat? Name three places you like to visit? Name three close friends? Name three of your core values?
Was the last question harder for you than the others? It is for many people. Is that because it matters less? Or maybe because it matters more? Maybe it’s just something we don’t talk about much? And if, like many of us, and many of our students, you were unable to easily recall your core values, what is it that’s guiding your decisions through life?
My core values are: connection, caring, contribution, adventure.
Write down yours, put them somewhere prominent (Post It note on your mirror?!), talk about them with people you care about, ask others about their values. The better we know our values, the easier it is to make decisions that feel right, that are right for us.
In the 5th century BC, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War:
“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”
Unfortunately, many schools are still too focussed on wellbeing ‘tactics’ and actions and interventions and activities and curriculum without having a proper, long-term, coherent strategy in place. It’s certainly understandable. We see some cool mindfulness activities or hear a talk about a new student-led purpose initiative and we want to share it, straight away, with our own students or colleagues.
Strategy is less visible, and often less fun and more arduous. But without one, even the best tactic will be a firework that goes off with a bang and then fades.
Do the hard work first. Spend time and energy articulating a rigorous, comprehensive, informed, wellbeing strategy. Map it across five years. And even if it’s not really ‘seen’ much, it will be the foundation from which whole-school wellbeing can really evolve.