At one of the most pivotal points in my schooling, when I was a 14 year old boy struggling through a low point in my life, there was a teacher who knew me and knew the challenges I was facing. At one point, about half way through a lesson, when the whole class was working busily, he must have sensed that I wasn’t at my best. He walked over, put his hand on my shoulder and quietly said to me: “It’s going to be okay.”
It was a tiny gesture of support, empathy, compassion, understanding, and connection. It was layered with wisdom, kindness and hope. It renewed my confidence, made me smile, and became etched in my memory.
This was not an ‘intervention’. It wasn’t a tool or a strategy or a ‘coaching’ technique. It’s just part of what great teachers do day in and day out as they lift up their students.
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.