Do Good, Feel Good | Parent Wellbeing Blog
‘Do Good, Feel Good: Rewarding positive behaviour and promoting Wellbeing within the College Community’
Had I been writing this 100 years ago, or even as recently as the 1950s, the title of this piece would have read very differently, I suspect. It would probably have been something like: ‘School Rules: why all pupils must obey them’ or ‘Why we punish those who cannot behave at school’. A very brief search on the internet reveals plenty of information, accurate or otherwise, about the treatment of children in Victorian schools in England, for example. What does seem clear is that corporal punishment and ritual humiliation (think of the ‘Dunce’s Hat’) were certainly not uncommon methods of instilling discipline in children. It wasn’t just the enforcement of the school rules in schools of the 19th Century that was tough. The buildings themselves were often dour and designed in such a way to avoid distraction; windows were high so that pupils could not stare out of them and visual aesthetics were deliberately muted. The School Master or Mistress was an imposing figure, whose word was not to be questioned, under any circumstances. Such impressions are strikingly captured in some of the great literature of the period, including Dickens’ novel ‘David Copperfield.’
It is worth emphasising, of course, that the core values of schools, all those years ago, were not necessarily that different from those of today. Good manners, self-discipline, respect of property and one another, good hygiene, a focus on quiet scholarship, all remain very important now, in the same way as they did then. Fortunately, however, the promotion of such values and the encouragement of good, positive, behaviour has changed enormously.
At Marlborough, our expectations of pupil behaviour are high and quite rightly so. We have always emphasised the centrality of the three ‘C’s and Compassion is the one that is most relevant, perhaps, in this context. More often than not, if we are placing the interests of others above our own and focusing on helping others, we won’t go far wrong. Indeed, it is now widely acknowledged that doing something to help someone else is one of the most successful ways to improve one’s own sense of wellbeing. Outreach projects are a fundamental part of the College’s ethos. Pupils are encouraged to take part in many different activities for the benefit of the outside community and through these experiences, they soon learn the impact that can be made through simple acts of kindness. This was the key theme of the excellent Wellbeing blog co-written by Mrs Church, Mrs Stevens and two of our pupils, Yasmin Abdul-Razak and Sohana Jethnani back in June.
Dr. Anthony Seldon, one of the most revered and well known figures in Education over the past 30 years and is regarded as something of a pioneer in the Positive Psychology movement in schools. As early as 2006, he launched ‘happiness’ classes at Wellington College and linked these with the importance of ‘character education’. It is no coincidence that there appears to be a close link between ‘happiness’ or a sense of ‘wellbeing’ and positive behaviour in school, certainly the link was not lost on Seldon who was Master at Wellington at the time. In returning to a historical theme, it is interesting to note that the study of ‘happiness’ and the desire to promote it within societies and across communities is nothing new. In his book, ‘Beyond Happiness’ Seldon himself acknowledges this. He points to the example, from ancient Greece, of Socrates advocating self-knowledge as a path to happiness. More recently, in the 18th and 19th centuries, philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham (also the founder of University College London) and John Stuart Mill suggested that it should be government policy to maximise the greatest happiness for the greatest number and thus the idea of ‘utilitarianism’ was born1
As I hope you will have seen, the values of positive psychology and a ‘growth mindset’ are ones that have been strongly encouraged here at the College and one we feel important to develop within the ‘flourishing at MCM’ initiative. We believe that the ‘School Rules’ and the College’s policy on Rewards and Sanctions have a lot to do with Wellbeing. Thus, having a framework for encouraging and rewarding good, positive, behaviour is important in any school. A framework in which sanctions encourage reflection on the part of pupils who occasionally ‘get things wrong’ is perhaps more important still. When a pupil is asked to properly consider the impact of their negative actions on others and then act to put that right, not only does he or she learn from the experience (in a way that by writing lines in a detention he/she might not) but also, importantly, the wellbeing and happiness of all the College community is put centre stage. Our actions can have far reaching effects and this lesson is an important one for our pupils to grasp. Nothing happens in isolation so we must be aware of the impact our choices in life can have on others.
So what can you do as parents to support the promotion of positive behaviour with your children? Effective education has always relied on successful partnerships between the school, parents and pupils and conversation remains at the heart of this constant. Taking time to talk with your children about their school day, perhaps around the dining table, or over an exeat weekend is essential. When you encourage healthy discussion you have an opportunity to address any disagreements or misunderstandings. Urge your children to be honest and reflective when things haven’t gone so well. How could they have approached things differently? How may their words have impacted the feelings of those around them? These are examples of useful questions to ask if there has been a problem. Through such conversation – another of our three C’s, a great deal can be achieved.
More than anything else, perhaps, encouraging your children to ‘do good’ (helping others, being kind, speaking up in support of friends) in order to ‘feel good’ is always a powerful message.
N. Eatough, Head of Senior School
1 Seldon, A. (2015) Beyond Happiness UK: Hodder and Stoughton