Rhiannon Phillips-Bianco, the leader of Wellbeing and Positive Education and Year 6 Class Teacher at Southlands British International School, writes about placing kindness and compassion at the core of a school community.
Teaching children to be kind is nothing new. Most teachers and parents have long taught them to share their toys; to invite others to play their games; and to help someone who has fallen over on the playground. These invaluable lessons teach children from an early age to care for others and develop empathy – both are fundamental in helping them build the kind of sustainable and healthy relationships that are vital for good mental health.
A Soft Skill or a Winning Strength?
In ‘The Kindness Test’ podcast*, Claire Hammond and Professor Robin Banerjee discuss whether kindness is a ‘soft skill or a winning strength’. Their reflections dispel the myths that kindness means weakness and that it has no place in leadership. Instead, they highlight the fact that kind leaders breed motivation and loyalty; and that kindness lies at the heart of all positive relationships. Banerjee goes as far to say that “…kindness might be one of the most important ingredients in terms of mental health.”
Kindness and Compassion in Action
From my very first day at Southlands, I saw and experienced simple acts of kindness throughout the school community: children who scooped each other up after a tumble on the football pitch; staff members who checked in one another after a tough day; friendly, cheerful “good mornings” in the courtyard from many people each morning; and support staff who were keen to help me settle into my new classroom.
Eager to build on this positive culture, we are taking a more explicit approach to teaching our students about wellbeing – both their own and others’. All staff have received training and they are being supported by a Wellbeing Team of fifteen members of staff. Our approach is based on Positive Education principles that take a proactive and preventative approach to supporting student wellbeing and mental health.
- Wellbeing Goals
Students in Years 4 and 6 are trialling a pilot programme in which they explore different elements of Positive Education, make their own wellbeing goals and coach one another to achieve them. Their initial focus has been improving the language they use to express their emotions and exploring strategies they can use to manage them. Goal setting is an important aspect of this.
- P4C - Philosophy 4 Children
Students in Years 5 and 6 have been taking part in P4C sessions. Philosophical questions of all kinds are discussed, prompted by stories, short videos or images. In addition to the question itself, it is the development of key skills that is so important. Students are taught how to actively listen to one another; how to respond to someone else’s point of view in an appropriate and empathetic way; and how to express themselves articulately.
- Wellbeing Wednesday Newsletters
These newsletters are shared with all staff every fortnight. They focus on one specific tool or strategy that is then taught and used repeatedly with students, as well as displayed in classrooms or corridors. Recent editions have focused on breathing strategies, grounding techniques and acts of kindness.
SMALL, SIGNIFICANT AND CONSISTENT
As a wellbeing leader, I have learnt that what is even more important than core initiatives, is the small, significant and consistent steps taken to emphasise kindness and compassion. Read the full article to find out how giving compliments, Quote of the Day and modelling kindness and compassion, are a few ways in which in this can be achieved in the classroom.
Working with students and staff on wellbeing is a privilege. Perhaps the greatest privilege has been learning that these soft skills are winning strengths; and that prioritising them has a positive impact on individuals, groups and whole communities. I challenge you to make kindness and compassion a priority in your school, home or workplace and to experience that privilege for yourself.
Leader of Wellbeing and Positive Education and Year 6 Class Teacher
Southlands British International School
Rhiannon can be heard talking about this topic Here on the Leader of Wellbeing and Positive Education Podcast, May 1st.
To read the full article which appeared in “Wanted in Rome” magazine, click here.
Rhiannon Phillips-Bianco has had various teaching and leadership roles in international schools for twenty years. She has recently moved to Southlands British International School, having taught at the British School in The Netherlands for seven years. The BSN's Healthy Minds initiative, led by Rhiannon, was a finalist in the Wellbeing category of International Schools Awards 2021. She is now the Leader of Wellbeing and Positive Education, and Year 6 Class Teacher, at SBIS.