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The Woodford House Wellbeing Programme

“Resilience is a GPS in your brain… it tells us how to move from here to there,” says Edmond Otis, health educator, licensed psychotherapist, and speaker. Resilience tells us how to make the next step, turn the next corner and keep moving.


I was fortunate to hear from Mr Otis at the recent NASDAP Connect 17 Conference in Taranaki who described resilience as ‘the ability to bounce back quickly, and fully, from periods of intense stress, challenge, change and adversity, and to cope with the stresses of everyday’.

‘Wellbeing’ and ‘resilience’ are terms readily heard in our modern society. This reflects a desire for these optimal strengths, concern for the perceived lack of these strengths and an understanding that some individuals need help to develop and demonstrate them.

The Education Review Office (ERO) has tasked schools with supporting student wellbeing. Their research sees wellbeing as vital for student success.

One of their online wellbeing resources states, “Student wellbeing is strongly linked to learning. A student’s level of wellbeing at school is indicated by their satisfaction with life at school, their engagement with learning and their social-emotional behaviour. It is enhanced when evidence-informed practices are adopted by schools in partnership with families and community. Optimal student wellbeing is a sustainable state, characterised by predominantly positive feelings and attitude, positive relationships at school, resilience, self-optimism and a high level of satisfaction with learning experiences”.

Wellbeing is as relevant for staff as for students and is one of a number of staff inquiry topics this year in Professional Learning Groups at Woodford House. Our school’s Family Focused Strategic priority supports initiatives designed to enhance wellbeing and develop positive skills and strategies. Thus, the Woodford  House Wellbeing programme was born – an initiative designed to support and foster wellbeing and resilience and get the individual ‘GPS’ systems working in our Year 7, 8 and 9 students.

It has been interesting looking at current research and practice around developing resilience and wellbeing in a school environment. The insightful work of Mr Otis and Positive Psychology expert, Dr Lucy Hone, has underpinned many of the messages delivered in our wellbeing programme.

Dr Hone is a self-described ‘pracademic’ (an academic and an active practitioner) who bases her work on international research and successful strategies. She has been instrumental in addressing stress and mental health issues in Canterbury, post-earthquake, and writes for the Sunday Star Times. Having also published a book about the tragic loss of her daughter in a car accident, she absolutely understands the need to navigate obstacles and keep responding to her internal’ GPS.’

Dr Hone supports a researched series of tried and true strategies in the development of a sense of wellbeing which includes identifying dominant individual character strengths and knowing how and why to work to them. Greater awareness and use of character strengths is associated with improved school performance and higher wellbeing.

The Woodford House Wellbeing programme is sisterhood in action. More than half of this year’s Year 12 has generously volunteered their time to select and shape the course material and train as peer facilitators. They have collaborated with a wide group of wonderful staff who have researched, produced and presented relevant pastoral training material. Thanks to Mrs Jo McDowall, Reverend Deborah Wilson, Mrs Kelly Ives, Mrs Charissa Barham, Ms Lynn McKenna, Dr Lee Knight and Mr Alex Nixon.

These student-led sessions have taken place every Friday morning in Term 3 and were designed to address relevant and topical social concerns around student wellbeing and to offer, through games and discussion, strategies to foster positive feelings and resilience and to build positive supportive relationships. The intention is to roll the programme out in Term 1, 2018 to start the year. The material is both international and specific to Woodford House. In recent weeks girls have looked at coping with boarding, what does ‘special character’ mean here and the rise of anonymous social media websites.

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Year 12 girls having fun during a training session.

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An ice-breaker activity promotes teamwork.

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Group work in the sunshine.

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Leadership in action.

The initiative has offered purposeful and valuable leadership opportunities for Year 12 students and we have been impressed by the girls’ energy, attitude and mature leadership. Students of all levels have positively engaged with the sessions on friendship, relationships, mindfulness, character strengths, thinking traps, coping with the tough times and counting your blessings.

It has been heart-warming to see the School’s family focus in action and to see the ‘big sisters’ of our community choosing to help their younger counterparts activate their ‘GPS’ system and learn strategies to navigate 21st Century life with a sense of wellbeing and resilience.

Mrs Stephanie Russell, Deputy Principal – Student Wellbeing