Teachers create student wellbeing programme

Nelson College for Girls has transformed form time from an administrative dominant, under-valued paper-shuffle to a meaningful wellbeing and mentoring programme which helps the school produce good people, not just good students.

Spending 15 minutes every day checking uniforms and reading out notices was a wasted opportunity at the school. This year, all that changed when maths teacher Kathryn Stahl and biology teacher Jo Beggs put their hands up to help run a new mentoring programme, called ārahi time. 

The Senior Leadership Team reviewed data and evidence for many years prior to Kathryn and Jo working with fellow teaching staff to devise ārahi time. It’s based on the idea that great, positive relationships are at the heart of powerful learning.

 “We felt we needed to do more for the wellbeing of each and every one of our ākonga/learners and had to find a way to do that,” Jo says.

How ārahi time works is simple yet effective.

"It’s building on the student as a whole and enhancing relationships as we go."

It’s a student wellbeing and mentoring programme, thirty minutes three times a week. Students are arranged into groups of no more than 18 and with different year groups with one teacher called the Kaiārahi.  The “key aim is to build emotional literacy, resiliency, self-efficacy and collaboration skills. It’s building on the student as a whole and enhancing relationships as we go,” Kathryn says.

Though only in its pilot year, the programme is already positively impacting on students’ sense of belonging and wellbeing. Random acts of kindness shown by juniors to seniors after their school exams is just one example: juniors made a card for a nominated senior to welcome them back after exams, some made morning tea, others brought in flowers or a mini bouquet for seniors to wear for the day.

There are no hard and fast rules for running ārahi time, only that it must use the circle time model where students and their Kaiārahi sit in a ‘circle’ at the same eye-level at the start and end of each session. During ārahi time, students might talk about things happening in the news, what everyone is feeling grateful for or strategies for those not-so-happy days.

Teachers Kathryn and Jo holding some of their resource packs for ārahi time – a new wellbeing and mentoring programme for students at Nelson College for Girls.

 

Before launching the programme in Term One, professional development sessions with teaching staff were conducted and Jo and Kathryn collaborated with both students and teachers, to create a resource pack for all staff.

The resource pack is a collection of stimulating and interactive activities based on researched themes - for example, Term One was focused on building positive relationships.

“So, within this pack, we had information on the philosophy behind circle time, activities to get to know yourself and each other, building a mentoring culture, a sense of belonging for each student, sharing goals and views,” Kathryn says.

Term Two focused on enhancing wellbeing, so resources included showing gratitude and kindness, building on self-confidence, positive emotions, the power of exercise and sleep. Term Three focused on setting academic goals, planning, timetabling and dealing with stress and anxiety.

“At the end of the day all staff believe that ultimately we want to produce students who leave our gates as confident, well rounded individuals.”

Kathryn and Jo say it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ programme. The resource packs are there as a guide to help each kaiārahi and each ārahi session focus varies with the needs of the girls – “The students are at the centre of it all,” Jo says.

“We don’t want it to get too heavy – it doesn’t always have to be deep and meaningful - and that’s quite important because we are not all trained health professionals, guidance counsellors or social workers,” Kathryn says.

Jo says after Term One a survey was sent out to get feedback on how the students were feeling about ārahi time.

“We had comments from junior students, saying ‘its relaxing, it’s a brain break, people are really kind.’”

“And from senior students: ‘I like getting to know people from other year groups, talking and meeting and being mixed is really accepting, it’s a time to chill, having a break in a warm room with fun things to do.’”

Kaiārahi meet regularly to share ideas of what is working well, and bounce ideas off each other.

Though it is more work for teachers, Jo and Kathryn say staff can see the big picture of what ārahi time is aiming to achieve and feel it is worth the extra effort. Leadership opportunities are being developed where students are even beginning to lead ārahi time themselves as they become more comfortable in their groups. Staff, too, are collaborating more and sharing online resources to enhance the programme which also reflects their commitments to the Code of Professional Responsibility.

“The big thing for us, is if we think of the four principles of the Code, we are promoting the learners’ wellbeing and hauora [number two: commitment to learners] and engaging in professional collaboration with colleagues to make it all happen [number one: commitment to the teaching profession],” Kathryn says.

Jo says: “At the end of the day all staff believe that ultimately we want to produce students who leave our gates as confident, well rounded individuals.”

Facilitating ārahi time has been a learning journey and Kathryn and Jo are eager to hear from other secondary schools doing a similar programme. They would love to share ideas or offer advice and support to any school interested in developing a similar wellbeing and mentoring programme. Get in touch with us at letstalk@educationcouncil.org.nz and we will put you in touch. 

A bit about Kathryn and Jo

With 20 years teaching under each of their belts, Kathryn and Jo are passionate educators.

Kathryn started her professional life in public relations but felt the work wasn’t real or satisfying enough and turned to teaching mathematics. Her passion for teaching started at school when she loved helping her peers, especially those that struggled with mathematics. She finds teaching extremely rewarding, tiring at times but never is there a dull moment!

Jo fell into teaching by accident. After doing a university degree in microbiology and helping friends’ children with their science homework while she worked in a laboratory, Jo realised she was a people-person and a capable educator. She says everyday as a teacher is invigorating and extremely rewarding and as a previous Dean she has a strong passion for the pastoral care of students.

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