Wellbeing: Help your pupils find their own ‘ikigai’

Richard Jones, headmaster of Bryanston School, outlines the six main ingredients that can maximise pupil wellbeing

richard Jones new headmaster at Bryanston,

Protecting and nurturing the body and the mind are not default behaviours for children who are at a formative stage of personal discovery and development. Every child is an individual and there is no panacea, so it is not just a question of responding to the symptoms of mental health issues and listening to the needs of individuals.

First and foremost, it is vital to create a supportive and responsive environment that positively promotes mental and physical health for every pupil and at all times. In my experience, the best way to achieve this is to focus on a number of core qualities.

Happiness 

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that embodies the idea of happiness in living. It is the reason why we get up in the morning. By providing a real breadth of opportunities for pupils, we can help them to combine their passions with their strengths in order to find their own ikigai. This may be a subject in which they are enthused by an inspirational teacher, it may come from an outdoor education programme or it may be their passion lies on the stage or on the sports field. The choice and time that a boarding environment can offer, allows pupils to immerse themselves in areas they are passionate about, so they are more likely to wake up every day with a smile on their face and with the motivation to succeed.

Sleep 

Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health. There is a good reason why we spend a third of our lives asleep – because it is so important. Here at Bryanston, we encourage our pupils to focus on the quality of their sleep and the value of rest times during the day.

When we assimilate information, it is stored initially in a specific area of the brain that only has a limited capacity. However, when we sleep, the information is transferred into our long-term memory storage, thereby freeing up our short-term memory stores so that we then have refreshed scope for new learning experiences.

“A benefit of boarding is that there is no need to travel to school, so pupils are able to wake up later.”

Awareness and understanding of the teenage body clock and sleep patterns is also important. An adult for example, may begin to wake at 7am and feel tired at 10pm whereas a teenager may only begin to wake up at 9am and not feel tired until midnight. A benefit of boarding is that there is no need to travel to school, so pupils are able to wake up later giving them higher energy levels during the day.

Movement 

A common theme in those areas of the world where life expectancy is higher than average is that the healthy lifestyle of inhabitants is founded on regular movement. With pupils spending the majority of their day sitting down before spending the night asleep, it is vital to encourage movement during the school day.

“We are social creatures. Physical and social interaction with each other is part of our DNA.”

I have always encouraged pupils to avoid sitting in the same sedentary position for long periods of times by mixing up their seating position, standing for a while and perhaps kneeling. Spending afternoons participating in sport or outdoor activities around our campus also allows pupils to benefit from fresh air and other opportunities for movement. The whole school 10k walk on a Sunday afternoon is also really popular and not only gets all of our pupils moving, but also helps them to appreciate the natural world around them.

Diet 

This is perhaps the most debated and researched topic when it comes to health and wellbeing.

Of course, a nutritional and varied diet is important, but I believe there is room for everything in moderation. By accommodating different dietary requirements, providing information on the nutritional values of different foods and promoting “super foods of the day”, catering teams can turn meal times into another educational experience so that pupils are well-informed and able to strike a good balance between healthy foods and treats.

Connection 

We are social creatures. Physical and social interaction with each other is part of our DNA. Despite the exponential growth in digital connectivity, we now have far less social interaction than our predecessors. There has also been a corresponding disconnect from meaningful social values – both intrinsic and extrinsic. An intrinsic value or motive is something you value in itself, not because there is any material gain. In contrast, an extrinsic value is not something you want to do, but is something that will get you something in return such as money or status.

Helping another person because it is kind and the right thing to do will significantly boost personal happiness and wellbeing, and research has confirmed that those of us who focus on such intrinsic motivations are far happier and more satisfied than those who focus on extrinsic motivations. Providing pupils with the opportunity to participate in outreach programmes promotes the importance of “connection” and such intrinsic values by creating opportunities to help others – not because they have to do it, but because they have chosen to do it.

Ownership

Providing the behavioural insight and the right environment and encouragement to help pupils take ownership of their health and wellbeing is what matters most. By understanding what they can do to improve their own wellbeing and by thinking about the small actions they can take to improve how they feel will help to ensure they are always equipped to put their best self forward throughout their formative days at school … and in their adult lives.

“Helping another person because it is kind and the right thing to do will boost personal happiness and wellbeing.”

But, behavioural influences are always evolving and the pace of change in society is relentless. Only by adopting a progressive approach to well-being will we be able to provide the next generation with the right support, encouragement and environment for healthy minds and bodies to prosper. Certainly, I am always keen to work with anyone who has new ideas and fresh approaches that will provide all of our pupils with everything they need to thrive in life and to secure their personal fulfilment.