By Life Skills Group
Published 22 October 2020 09.00 AM
Interview with Erik Albers, Assistant Principal for Oakleigh South Primary School (VIC): Implementing whole-school wellbeing with the help of Life Skills Group
Up to 2016, Oakleigh South Primary School (approximately 1,000 students, 45 classes) had implemented some wellbeing programs that were somewhat effective; but they wanted a whole-school wellbeing approach. They chose Life Skills Group in-school student programs, because their school values matched the Life Skills wellbeing focus areas. For example, resilience, teamwork, and respect are some of Oakleigh South's values and Life Skills offers focussed lesson areas for each of those values.
When COVID hit in March, they had to implement remote learning quickly in Victoria. They decided to start using Life Skills Go, which has all the wellbeing lessons and curriculum that can be managed online.
Since implementing Life Skills in-school student programs and Life Skills Go across the school, the noted benefits have been:
How did you start with implementing Life Skills Group programs in your school?
We started with particular year levels for each term; for example, we started with years 5 & 6 first, years 1 & 2 next, and years 3 & 4 next. And, at the end of the year, we focused on our foundation level. We changed it over the years; one year, we flipped it and put our foundation kids in term 1. Great start to the year and set them up, and that actually worked. We had to fit it into our massive time table and other events that were happening in our school and would give our year levels the best opportunity to participate. So, we started off 2 year levels a term and we ran the 8 week program, which was great and it was face to face. We would have the same Life Skills Instructors come back year after year. The kids were so rapt to see the Life Skills teacher, because they knew her. The Life Skills instructors loved coming to the school and became part of our community.
The communication that Life Skills Group gave us was really clear; it was clear for stage 1-stage 2 on what the focuses were. Very clear for our teaching staff. With the weekly focuses, we were able to use those as the wellbeing focus for the week. These wellbeing strategies (such as mindfulness, resilience) carried through and really linked in with our school values which was really good.
What has been the impact of implementing the program?
The strategies that our teachers are teaching our students and the students are actually using those strategies outside of the classroom. They are actually going out using the mindful techniques, and looking very calm. Calm classrooms are coming through. The children are going back to their families and talking about it.
The feedback we are getting, our students make comments in our school reports. One of the key things that comes up all the time are the things they enjoy doing and one of the main things they really enjoy doing is Healthy Skills for Life. And, that comes right through. The kids really love the program and the Life Skills teachers are present and the classroom teachers really value the program; so that’s why we keep going back to it.
When did you start using Life Skills Go? Describe that journey.
When COVID hit, we went straight into remote learning and we wanted to support our children and their wellbeing. We had previously looked at LSGO, and we decided to take it back to the leadership team to review. The principal really values wellbeing in our school and really values the Life Skills Group in-school student program; so that’s why he said yes and wanted it built into our remote learning program.
If there was another school looking at Life Skills Group and Life Skills Go - what lessons have you learned or advice you’d give them?
Communicate often and get buy-in
What was really good was the resources that Life Skills Group gave us - such as the newsletter snippets for all the year levels - we placed them into our weekly newsletter, including what the kids were doing. And, that created a situation where our students were going home and talking to their parents what they had done. The newsletter also had lessons that parents could do at home, which was very helpful because they engaged with the activities as well. It was really good to communicate with the community about the program.
Some key points:
Make sure you’re transparent about communicating the program and the benefits of the program. That is a key area - so you get that buy-in from the community.
Before you actually start the program, you should be promoting it regularly in the communications with parents.
As the program is running, because you have support from Life Skills Group - you can add to it as well; making sure that you’re communicating how you’re using it.
Create the situation where the kids are going home, and the parents are asking about it, and they’re going to try to practice some of the strategies at home.
Assign a Wellbeing leader to help each year level with Life Skills Go
What was good was we made 1-2 people within a team with a focus where they could develop their understanding of the program and then they could teach others in their year level. In each team, we usually had 6 or 7 classes in a team.
We had a wellbeing professional learning team, and had people from every year level involved in that and if you were a member of that team - that was your role to roll that out within your team and have someone in your team to support you.
How do you measure wellbeing? Are there certain measures you're looking at?
We measure student’s wellbeing from regular student feedback via Google Forms. We get feedback from students on how they’re feeling and on the teaching/learning programs.
Another metric we use is “attitude to school survey” - used in years 4-6. There is a wellbeing section there that we analyse. Unfortunately, that’s only years 4-6, so then that’s where we get Google Forms to fill in the gaps.
We also track student’s connection to school, which can improve or ensure attendance - but there could be many factors contributing to that. It comes through that our kids are happy and resilient kids, and our data shows that.
During remote learning, fortnightly - we had wellbeing feedback forms to check-in. We had students write weekly reflective journals and were able to see if anyone was struggling. That would be communicated with myself and the other assistant principal to intervene, if we needed to provide more support or sometimes bring the student in to the school to work on site.
We have schools that claim they have happy and resilient students, so they don’t have to work on wellbeing. What would you say to that?
While you may have happy and resilient students, I think we should always strive for excellence and keeping building on that regularly by giving them opportunities at a school level and also externally. And, give them those tools that they can actually continue to be very happy and resilient as they move through their journey in life.
If you give children opportunities, especially at school, to feel connected to the school - they’re going to be happy and they’re going to be resilient. For example, we offer Healthy Skills For Life (from Life Skills Group) and that is one thing they really love. But, we also offer many things - lunchtime clubs, and they feel connection. We’ve got sporting clubs, photography clubs, art clubs, writing club, code clubs. Tackling the niches of all our students; so they feel connection and feel happy to come to school.
We ensure our teachers feel connected to their students and show their concern for their students; interested in them, in their welfare, and interested in what they do at school and interested in what they do outside of school.
What are you doing for Term 4 to integrate students back into the classroom?
We’ve got a few priorities: one of the major priorities is health and wellbeing of our students and our staff.
Another priority is transitions. Transition to the school, or year 6 moving to secondary school, or Kindergarten who are coming up to the foundation area.
Numeracy and Literacy are really important, so we will support those that might have fallen behind and work to build their confidence.
We’re still using our Life Skills Group and Life Skills Go programs, wellbeing is a key focus. We’re marrying that up with the Four R’s - Resilience, Rights, and Respectful Relationships.
We want our kids to come in; reconnect with their peers, reconnect with the school, and ensure they are really engaged.
“Student initiative and confidence were two areas that have been greatly influenced by the program. I found that students who were usually reserved in taking part in discussions became far more confident to voice opinions. Several students have also shown a consistent improvement and consistency in putting the group before themselves. This has been particularly apparent during packing up of tech equipment before lunch. The group on the whole have all developed their social literacy and self awareness as consequence of the program."
Classroom Teacher, Year 5, 2019
"Healthy Life Skills help stimulate children's mind as well as help them relax from the troubles they have (whether it is from behavioural issues to outer school issues). The course helped students to understand how to be responsible and explore their inner self. After HLS, I found the students were more calm and were able to control themselves. One of my students use to cry a lot in the morning, after learning about resilience, he now comes in with a smile every single day. "
Classroom Teacher, Year 1, 2019
"It has been fantastic the students are engaged each week and look forward to the session. They have learnt calming strategies and built on their understanding of values such as honesty and teamwork and applied this learning in the classroom and playground. Students have an increased awareness of their mind and body and how to be healthy. They enjoyed the calming strategies and practiced the breathing techniques in the classroom to stay calm. They have become more focused. "
Teacher, Prep JF, 2017
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