On this page:
- The sooner, the better
- School psychologist/counsellor and professional support
- Not only academics
- Special school initiatives
- How are school activities viewed?
- Our Kids recommends
For the purpose of this series of articles, we asked Our Kids school members what they do to support their students' well-being. They sent us interesting information about their methods, strategies, and techniques, which we discuss below.
The sooner, the better
Like with new technologies, where those schools that had long focused on this aspect of teaching before the pandemic found it easier to switch to distance learning, caring for the well-being of students in this time of crisis is so much easier for those who have always paid attention to it.
Those institutions where the social and emotional aspects of education have always been considered important cope much better with the mental health of their students during the pandemic. Many schools, such as The British School Warsaw or American School Warsaw, consider the area of well-being central to their work and school organization.
Akademeia High School in Warsaw, before the pandemic, in 2019, created a special unit dedicated to the well-being of its students, its Well-being Department. “It does not only help students with struggles with mental health, but also problems like stress, work overload, academic-oriented struggles, and future choices.” Its purpose is to support students in maintaining emotional well-being, e.g., helping them develop strategies to better cope with stress, anxiety, peer pressure, and family problems, enabling them to recognize and use their potential to the maximum so they can be proud of themselves.
The British Primary School of Wilanów has a team of three (a member of staff with a clear pastoral focus, a safeguarding officer, and a school psychologist). The British School Warsaw has a special pastoral team and a safeguarding team. The former works on building the emotional well-being of all students, and the latter on supporting students with specific problems. As a school in the Nord Anglia network, it employs an expert dedicated education leadership team based in Oxford focusing on key areas such as the safeguarding of their students’ well-being and resilience.
American School Warsaw uses holistic education (“teaching the whole child”) on a daily basis, through a personalized and supportive approach to the social and emotional education of students so they can reach their full potential. This isn’t limited to school psychologists and counsellors—student well-being is a school-wide initiative; it’s not only the domain of educators, but it’s realized by all teachers. There, each of the two IB levels has its own school teachers.
At the International Trilingual School, the very hiring process of teachers is also geared towards the well-being of students: "Our teachers are specially selected taking into account this aspect and they also take part in special courses to get more tools to better understand the student’s emotional needs.”
Where a problem—the negative impact of distance learning on the mental health of students—has been identified at the very beginning of the pandemic, an action plan was prepared and is currently being successfully implemented. “From the outset of the first round of lockdown, teachers from The Canadian School of Warsaw—together with the school psychologist and managing board of directors—quickly identified the potential risks associated with online learning, particularly with regards to student well-being, and immediately set out to find ways to combat isolation and maintain a positive outlook, by staying connected with our students.”
Let's look at what private schools do to support their students’ well-being.
School psychologist/counsellor and professional support
In the current highly stressful times of the pandemic, the school psychologist or counselor has a huge role to play. Many schools have expanded the availability of counseling and psychological support.
The British International School of the University of Lodz not only offers such help to all students and teachers who need it, but has also increased the teachers’ psychological care and the exchange of information between teachers and psychologists.
Liceum Niepubliczne nr 43 im. Lotników Amerykańskich ensures regular availability of psychologists and teachers as well as constant monitoring of students' well-being by tutors: "We do not allow students to disappear from our emotional horizon."
School psychologists and counsellors in all the schools offer individual and group sessions for students as well as special workshops on emotional well-being. In Primus (Niepubliczna Szkoła Podstawowa nr 47 i Niepubliczne Liceum Ogólnokształcące), they also participate in "educational hours" (godziny wychowawcze), where they advise on how to cope with isolation and how to deal with emotions and stress. In many schools, extra group sessions with a psychologist are added in times of increased stress, e.g., before exams.
Some schools believe it’s a good idea to incorporate well-being topics into the curriculum itself as its integral part. At American School Warsaw, a counselling program developed by psychologists is woven into lessons for PYP students (lower IB level).
At the Polish British Academy of Warsaw, the school psychologist organizes therapy group sessions such as Social Skills Training (TUS) and individual consultations with elements of TUS, consultations for "Third Culture" and bilingual children, as well as concentration sessions, including discovering the dominant sensors of the cerebral hemisphere, which helps discover an effective way of learning.
The well-being of students is also achieved by working with parents. Expanding their knowledge about the emotional and psychological aspects of their children's education and growing up is a very important and effective way of achieving cooperation between school and home. In addition to the psychologist’s standard sessions with parents, used in all Our Kids member schools, there are some interesting initiatives worth mentioning.
As the pandemic began, The British School Warsaw launched the Wellbeing Newsletter and the weekly Wellbeing Café for parents—a forum to discuss the challenges everybody faces.
American School Warsaw offers parents a series of meetings and workshops on various strategies for reducing children's stress as well as important aspects of the maturation process and social functioning.
The International Trilingual School pays special attention to the process of new students’ adaptation. In the first phase of adaptation, parents receive a Preparation Package, created by the school psychologist and the principal, containing three special information booklets: “How to help the child adapt in the preschool”;
“10 steps to become a better parent”; ”10 steps to strengthen the resistance of your child”.
Not only academics
While the implementation of the curriculum, i.e., getting the knowledge across, is undoubtedly important, the private schools we interviewed emphasize that for the mental health of children and adolescents, it’s necessary to go beyond traditional school education itself. This is about teaching content as well as about non-academic initiatives ensuring students’ well-being.
At the Canadian School of Warsaw, teachers set aside times for students to share their non-school-related experiences, as well as provide regular open-ended chat groups for students to stay in touch with their friends. The British School Warsaw allocates some lessons each week so students can choose activities they believe are most beneficial to their own needs, e.g., catching up with school work, exercise, meditation, reading or talking to friends, a walk, or a bike trip.
Activities that distract students from computer screens and provide a substitute for normal, pre-pandemic reality are important. The British Primary School of Wilanow organizes the Forestry School so students can spend time together in nature, be physically active, and relax in a very calm and serene environment. The British School Warsaw has created zones for relaxation and mental well-being—an ecological garden, gym, and imaginative play equipment.
Special school initiatives
In addition to standard activities in the area of well-being, which are practiced by all schools, it’s worth mentioning a number of interesting ideas shared with us by Our Kids schools.
- The school makes a quote of the week about student well-being the motto of the week.
- Well-being sessions are organized once a week and students are all encouraged to attend. “We want to show that there is nothing wrong with asking for help.”
- A comprehensive guide to mental health was created by students as part of the Personal Development Scheme.
- The school website has a special section on well-being, (https://akademeia.edu.pl/en/wellbeing/), with tips for students and parents.
American School Warsaw
In the PYP program, the school sends out a weekly newsletter in which parents receive new ideas and advice, such as the Kimochi Self Emotional Curriculum or information on coping mechanisms in stressful situations.
In the MYP program:
- The dedicated MYP Counselling Website offers a wealth of community-wide resources.
- In Grades 6-8, there are weekly Advisory Lessons on social and emotional well-being, as well as activities conducted by school counsellors each semester. Grades 9-10 have these classes 2-3 times a week for 80 minutes, and Grades 11-12—20 minutes 2-3 times a week. Classes are held in small groups (8-12 students). Sometimes counsellors participate in these as well.
British Primary School of Wilanów
The school organized the first Mental Health Week with an emphasis on 'Expressing Yourself.' The week featured meditations, assemblies, alpaca visits, and pastoral care sessions to encourage students to reflect on mental health issues.
The British School Warsaw
- In high school, PSHE (Personal, Social, Health, and Economic education) lessons are held with topics ranging from finance and well-being to healthy living and global citizenship. In KS3 (the first three years of high school), students begin all lessons with mindfulness.
- Well-being check in—a questionnaire is sent to students every Monday morning asking how they’re doing, offering the opportunity to contact and arrange an interview, which makes it easier for students to get support from the school psychologist.
- Fitness and health day.
- Joint breaks and lunch—younger students asked to create a forum to socialize during break and lunch time. A rotating team of staff set up these meetings where students play games together, share animations, and sometimes just chat.
- Internet Safety Day—where the school holds a special themed assembly, invites speakers, has an off-timetable day, parent workshops, etc. The program was created before the pandemic.
- The school marks a wide number of occasions to raise awareness of mental health, such as Odd Socks Day and Hello Yellow Day.
Canadian School of Warsaw
- Creative online special events such as the Book Day, which included the Extreme Reading Challenge, where students were encouraged to take photos of themselves reading in unusual places and positions. It proved so popular that students asked to repeat it every year.
- Loving Kindness Month—because the school was established on Valentine's Day 2000, in February 2021 the school organized a series of special events and competitions throughout the month, with the school-wide Loving Kindness Assembly at the end, during which, apart from the results of competitions and class presentations, each class presented its own short film to help promote health and happiness during the lockdown period.
- This time, while organizing the pandemic edition of the annual PYP students' exhibition, a website accessible to the entire school was created.
- The school organizes a mindfulness course that builds attention and greater self-awareness. The 9-week course consists of 45-minute sessions that are engaging and hands-on, aimed at helping students gain a quiet mind, better concentration, reduced stress, and more energy.
- “Stop program. Breathe. Be.” is a mix of Mindfulness theory, sharing discussion, and guided meditation activities.
International Trilingual School
- The school is organizing an Anti-Bullying Campaign held throughout the school year in the primary school.
- The school promotes fun activities, such as a virtual Book Week or develops their own movies based on books. Such events fuel a culture of self-care.
- Mental health issues are included on the agenda of the weekly faculty meetings.
Liceum Niepubliczne nr 43 im. Lotników Amerykańskich
- Workshops for young people on how to take care of yourself during remote education and how to motivate yourself.
- In the school e-corridor (a Facebook group) campaign, "How to survive on the remote?", involves posts on how to deal with remote education, regular live advice sessions, and discussions about what remote education has taught us.
- During the classes, teachers share knowledge on how to deal with lockdowns and learning during remote education.
- Joint activities building relationships—Netflix Parties, Among Us competitions, workshops and others, during which students can spend time together outside of lessons.
- Sharing knowledge, tips, and inspirations on the school e-corridor and school blog.
Students with individual tutoring and an additionally assigned support teacher use separate accounts on the communication platform, so that, if necessary, they can take one-on-one lessons, including therapy sessions. The school also provides specialized therapy aids for home use if the parents so require.
Schools also emphasize the importance of preventing feelings of isolation by building a community spirit for the entire school community. For example, the Canadian School of Warsaw organizes school-wide online assemblies (with specific themes) as well as Whole School Sing-Songs.
Small gestures that show the teacher or school cares about the student also play an important role. At the Canadian School of Warsaw, teachers sometimes send out unexpected humorous messages to the class just to stay in touch and boost morale. Students at Warsaw Montessori School receive bags with materials from the teacher, but what’s important is the bag is prepared individually for each student, with their photo and a personal note from the teacher.
How are school activities viewed?
All schools’ efforts to support well-being are highly appreciated by students and parents, as indicated by surveys asking students to evaluate the methods and strategies the schools use.
International American School students said that Mindfulness training has helped them not only with stress, anxiety, and relationships, but with concentration in lessons, better sleep, and even with athletics and creativity. “For all of technology's advances, the end result for many young people is a conditioned short attention span, poor work habits, and low energy. Mindfulness tilts the scales back to a balance…”
In the Liceum Niepubliczne nr 43 im. Lotników Amerykańskich, the student council conducted a comprehensive study of the needs of the entire school community and took steps to improve the well-being of students, as a result of which a number of initiatives described above were taken.
At The British School Warsaw, the well-being program was “judged 'excellent' in our annual audit and rigorous safeguarding evaluation by Nord Anglia Education. Our school has also been granted the Safeguarding Children certification awarded by Chronimy Dzieci (Safeguarding Children). The certificate comes in recognition of the work the school has carried out to meet a wide range of criteria.”
Moreover, in the parents’ survey, over 90% of respondents said their child felt safe at school, 89% that their child is happy at school, and 89% that their child has a good relationship with teachers. In the year of the pandemic, the percentage of parents satisfied that "school promotes a healthy lifestyle for my child" increased by another 11% compared to last year.
The Akademeia High School reports that 83% of the students surveyed said the school's Well-being Department helped them significantly. 83% of students would definitely recommend it to their friends, and the remaining 17% said they would recommend it.
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