Why we're running a remote wellbeing festival

To give its community hope and inspiration in the pandemic, this school is organising a wellbeing festival
29th January 2021, 11:19am
Emily Hardwicke

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Why we're running a remote wellbeing festival

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/why-were-running-remote-wellbeing-festival
Coronavirus: Why Our International School Is Running A Remote Wellbeing Festival

Nearly a year on from the day everything changed, and our school community was thrust overnight into a shapeless world of online learning, the situation still feels fragile.

In those early days, interminable discussions deciphering nascent research on the best way to timetable classes, whether we should be "going live" or prerecording and what to do when an overeager parent tries to participate in a lesson, were key points to troubleshoot. 

However, the main lesson learned is that school life during a pandemic simply cannot carry on with its usual routines without detriment to the mental health and wellbeing of staff, students and even parents.

Coronavirus: Schools supporting wellbeing

During Lockdown 1, as senior leaders, we prioritised how everyone was coping with weekly check-ins, dedicated time away from screens, and hand-delivered Easter eggs. 

Realising the value in connection, we hosted an online talent show and charity fitness challenge, finding that these moments of community celebration and a chance to take positive action were, if nothing else, a welcome distraction from the mundanity of lockdown.

And then something changed, because in Switzerland at least, things appeared to get back to "relative" normality. 

Of course, there have been occasional disruptions with individuals having to quarantine, as well as the removal of so many things that make our school a joyous place to work, but we have been back teaching in school face-to-face since last May. 

Although there is no singing any more and the first time my Year 7 students and I saw each other unmasked was during a virtual parents' evening, there is more than a semblance of business as normal, especially as students have sat mock exams (despite the constant drip of uncertainty every time a new communication from the International Baccalaureate Organisation pings into our inboxes).

Normal, but not normal

Perhaps, however, while this is starting to feel "normal", we know it isn't the same.

There are those who haven't seen their families for over a year; those who are unable to leave a country that they might not feel is home; those who have experienced grief or loss or ill health; all a personal battle against the backdrop of a black, Covid-shaped cloud.

Now, more than ever, a focus on wellbeing is needed, so that the relentless anxiety of a year of worry, grief and stress can be acknowledged and processed. 

As a school, we know we are a central community in the lives of our teachers, pupils and parents and so we knew we had to step up and be the ones to help in these tough times.

Community spirit

With this in mind, we started to develop a vision for "LCIS Celebrates…Wellbeing" - a festival-style programme of events focused on mental and physical health, sustainable living, as well as exploring creative possibilities geared towards our whole-school community.

It would be an opportunity to support, nourish, provide encouragement and motivation, and simply acknowledge that we are living in unprecedented times.

The first thing to do was to see who could help. Drawing on local contacts and word of mouth, we found willing contributors who believed in the ethos of what we are trying to achieve.

Many parents and staff have offered their time voluntarily, pre-recording or planning live sessions linked to their talents and interests, from cookery to character building, so that the festival schedule can all be virtually delivered via Zoom.  

External providers have reduced their costs or agreed to additional sessions because they have loved the concept and wanted to support teachers with building resilience into their day-to-day routines or upskill parents in positive language to create supportive environments for their children at home.

This has allowed us to create a programme that includes a wide range of fun events, all designed to help student, staff and family wellbeing, such as:

  • Stress and anxiety management - Some in-school sessions will be more student-centred and delivered via games and activities while parent and staff sessions will explore how to create a positive family environment and troubleshoot issues that children may be experiencing, particularly during a pandemic.
  • Learning to live and eat more sustainably and consciously is another big focus, and talks on how to limit food waste whilst cooking or what to do with a limited food budget have been designed to resonate with those soon heading off to university or reduce their carbon footprint.
  • How to unleash creativity will look at ways to develop approaches to writing, thinking, being that could provide a welcome escape.
  • Family sessions focused on yoga for all encourage parents to have fun with their children and use physicality to express themselves.
  • Fashion design sketching classes, doodling and a toddler-focused session on using cardboard printing techniques provide an artistic dimension.
  • Speciality food cook-alongs (one parent is offering a live Indian food cook-along with a Valentine's Day theme and a vegan teacher is ready to share her top tips for the perfect breakfast pancake!).
  • And if that all sounds a bit too frenetic, there is even a workshop on the art of making the perfect cup of coffee!

Equipping our community with practical skills to get through the next stages of this pandemic feels vital when everything hangs so finely in the balance. 

Just as important is a chance to reconnect and be given opportunities to emerge from our forced isolation, even if this needs to be through the safety of a screen for now. 

Emily Hardwicke is assistant head (lower school), MYP coordinator and head of English at an international school in Switzerland

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