In the latest edition of the Tes International podcast, we chat with Beth Kerr, global director of wellbeing at schools group Cognita, to hear about how she oversees the focus on mental health and wellbeing for 45,000 pupils and teachers across the world.
She explains that despite having worked across a raft of roles, from primary to secondary, state and independent schools, in 2012 she felt that the rise in mental health challenges she was witnessing meant she needed more expertise in the area.
“I felt I was ill-equipped to deal with the huge influx of mental health challenges coming through my door, so I did an MSc in child and adolescent mental health and, through that, I began working with Cognita and then joined a couple of years ago.”
Children's mental health and wellbeing
Of course, wellbeing is now a well-established idea within education and the wider world.
However, Kerr says that on joining Cognita one thing she set about doing was establishing a clear view and understanding of what was actually meant by "wellbeing" – not an easy task.
“One of the things that was challenging was trying to make sure I was talking about the same thing to multiple different colleagues, [across different] languages, curriculums and populations. So the first job was to define what wellbeing was for us.”
Eventually, they agreed on the idea that wellbeing is having "a sense of feeling content and flourishing socially, emotionally and academically".
Kerr adds: “That’s our definition so that if you ask a pupil or teacher what we meant by wellbeing, they would have an idea of what I was asking.”
Six goals to aim for
To then provide parameters by which this can be achieved and referenced, they further identified six areas that contribute to wellbeing: three physical points: sleep, diet and exercise; and three mental health-related points: connecting, doing and giving.
She says that creating these guides for wellbeing has been vital.
“Sometimes wellbeing can be a nebulous concept and you’re trying to define it, and it’s very difficult then to think about how you can improve it. I don’t like the idea that people think wellbeing is either you have it or you haven’t got it – that’s not the case. It’s something you have to do to ensure you do have positive wellbeing.”
The company terms this its Be Well charter, which it uses to group wellbeing resources for teachers, parents and pupils to provide a framework that Ms Kerr says has been “transformational” in terms of helping everyone to have more informed wellbeing conversations.
She explains further that by doing this schools are in a better place to start making wellbeing something that is valued and focused on as regularly as anything else – be that academic attainment or sporting achievements.
“I think it should be part of school life. If it is embedded from the start and [demonstrates] this is what we are about, that wellbeing goes first then learning because you can’t have learning without social and emotional learning…it’s intertwined.”
Making wellbeing part of life
As part of its own efforts to achieve this, the group has its own Be Well day in September when schools are encouraged to discuss wellbeing and focus on specific challenges around wellbeing – specifically being active – as well as promoting other key wellbeing events in the calendar such as Mental Health Awareness Week.
Ultimately, doing this is about making wellbeing something that pupils – and teachers – see as a fundamental part of life, not just to help contribute to their academic success in schools but also to serve them well throughout their future.
"Wellbeing is just as relevant to a three-year-old as someone who is 33 or 63 – it doesn’t change, so starting when they are young, you hope that when they go to university or into the workplace, they have the tools to say 'I’m struggling' and recognise that and know there are these six things they have to get right. If they do that they will thrive,” says Kerr.
And she adds that this is something teachers need to take on board, too. “I think for staff it is important because if we don’t look after our wellbeing as educators, we are not being much of a role model for our pupils or children.”
Watch or listen to the full interview below on YouTube or your podcast platform of choice, such as on Spotify or Apple Podcasts
Dan Worth is senior editor at Tes