Lessons in Wellbeing

Good international schools take the health and wellbeing of their students seriously, writes Ruth Holmes.

Relocate Global Schools and Education Fair banner with two female students

Whether you are looking for the best boarding schools in India, online schools or researching international and private school fees, make sure to check out our latest Guide to International Education and Schools

Nurturing mind, body and spirit

As well as ensuring a successful assignment for the whole family, international schools that prioritise the mental and physical health and wellbeing of their student body maximise overall student experience educational attainment.Research shows that stress reduces intellectual capacity by as much as 10-15 IQ points, while physical health is fundamental to good school attendance.Looking after students’ wellbeing also encourages young people to be aware of their own and others’ needs – skills that have lifelong importance and help to prepare young people for healthy adulthood and participation in thriving societies and workplaces.So, what wellbeing aspects should you look out for when researching and visiting international schools?

Wellbeing a growing focus in schools

Fortunately, the focus on the all-round health and wellbeing of children and young people has increased in schools, in the past few years."Especially during the Corona period, it became clear how important it is to create a balance between online and offline, between work and life," says Dr Chrissie Sorenson, Head of School & Executive Board of Bavarian International School (BIS). "An understanding of wellbeing is essential for private and professional development. In future skills, communication is an important ability and this also means being able to listen and to seek understanding of multiple perspectives."This ongoing focus has led to international schools continuing to invest in their sports and community facilities.Linking with its IB programme, which seeks to develop caring and inquiring young people to create a better and more peaceful world, Munich International School has recently opened its new 2,080m2 sqm fitness and athletics building.It is the perfect platform for MIS’s PE department to create a physical education programme that “empowers students in a safe, supportive environment to pursue a healthy, active lifestyle through an inclusive curriculum that nurtures confident and healthy individuals with transferable skills that enable them to adapt to, show leadership, persevere, take risks and positively impact society.”Another school highlighting the importance of a well-rounded curriculum that aligns physical wellbeing with academic success is the British International School, Phuket (BISP). “The joy of being in Phuket is that it is very much a caring environment,” explains Jason Perkins, Head of Senior School, BISP, which is located on a large campus in a majestic green space on the internationally connected island of Phuket.“We nurture wellbeing and we have a lot of sports and academics in the school, so our job is to really get our students to flourish and ignite passions.“The beating heart of our school is really our parents and the school partnership. We bring in everybody and we nurture their children as well. Our school is more of a community than anything else. Parents come here in the morning, they do their yoga, they do their sport, they do their swimming, then they pick up their kids and go home. In that respect, it’s very different to a typical British school.”

Increasing awareness of mental wellbeing and young people

Intermittent lockdowns and enforced isolation due to the pandemic have also taken their toll on all of our mental wellbeing. This includes developmentally critical opportunities for children and young people.This unprecedented global event has helped heighten understanding and appreciation of our community and support networks. It has also deepened conversations around mental and physical wellbeing and highlighted the value and importance of nurturing school communities.A UK survey conducted in 2021 found that 100% of NHS mental health service leaders reported demand for children’s and young people’s support had increased in the previous six months. For 80% of these professionals, this demand was a ‘significant’ increase.How much of this is related to anxiety and other issues caused directly by the pandemic, and a backlog of referrals, and how much is related to heightened understanding of mental health issues, as well as new stressors like social media, is a complex issue.At TASIS The American School in England, a holistic and proactive approach has seen the international, day and boarding co-ed school near London for students 3-18 acknowledged for its wellbeing work and student support during the pandemic. Today, the school continues its inclusive approach to staff and student wellbeing. Supported by a dedicated team of school counsellors, nurses and staff trained as mental health first-aiders, TASIS is able to support students thrive socially and academically.Among a number of new and continually evolving initiatives at TASIS is its recently launched Thrive Wellbeing Program within its Boarding Program. Thrive recognises the challenges boarding students may face when living away from home. It centres on weekly mentoring sessions covering a range of areas and is designed to support boarding students as they develop healthy wellbeing strategies, positive habits and important life skills.

Children’s wellbeing key to international moves

For children accompanying parents on international assignments, wellbeing is an especially pertinent issue. Pandemic aside, moving home, work/school, peer group, daily routine and country is among the most stressful experiences for adults – even more so for children. This is also now increasingly being recognised. Advice on how to make good transitions and why they are important is captured by Professor John Hattie and Doug Ota in their separate work relating to third-culture kids (TCKs).They conclude that well-managed transitions can add significant value to children’s lives and their learning journey. Leading relocation management companies (RMCs) and international schools understand this. They treat relocating families as a group of unique individuals, as well as a collective.

Making excellent international transitions

Schools and RMCs following the guidance and training of organisations like SPAN – Safe Passage Across Networks – are helping families with invaluable support to manage transitions so they can get on with “learning, loving, growing, stretching, cross-cultural competence and joy.”These schools include Relocate Think Global People Award winner the International School of London and the International School of Kuala Lumpur. Both have shared how they support families year-round in Relocate Global’s International Education and Schools Fair extensive webinar series, now in its third year.“Transition care and looking after the wellbeing of our families is so important at ISL,” says Claudine Hakim, head of advancement, transitions and external relations International School of London. "The transient world we live in today and just coming out of the pandemic, families are in need of special care.” Along with other high-quality international schools, ISL has a team dedicated to family and student welfare and that of the wider school community.Alongside these cutting-edge sports programmes and facilities, ongoing transitions support, student counsellors, named heads of pastoral care and specialist wellbeing, most schools also offer age-appropriate advice in regular and one-off workshops, and awareness days. Designed to inform children and parents on hot wellbeing topics, as well as signpost to more information and advice, these events are often led by guest speakers and subject experts on specific issues like internet and personal safety, alcohol and drug awareness, mental health, bullying, relationships and good study habits.

Sources of support

Faculty members are also important in role modelling positive wellbeing behaviours, mirroring the ongoing renegotiation between employers and employees around work-life balance and boundaries around remote work, post-pandemic.For the British School of Manila, head of primary Kate Tomlinson described in TES magazine how setting aside a ‘stop week’ for staff offers an opportunity to lighten the load from meetings and other non-urgent administrative tasks.“With a focus on staff wellbeing being prevalent across many schools, one solution to allow for that optimism and positivity to maintain is the introduction of ‘stop weeks’, writes Kate Tomlinson. “A stop week does not mean closing the school. The concept is to carefully consider the things that we could stop for just one week while also ensuring that nothing in terms of provision for children is lost or impacted. Stop weeks help provide us with time to reflect and pause.”Bringing together educators, parents and students, it’s clear that healthy schools around the world build wellbeing into every aspect of what it does daily in a truly child-centred approach.

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