Sunday, December 11, 2016

To Be "Well"

ABRHS Weekly Wellness board in the Fitness Center

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be "well." In a rapidly changing world, how do we preserve mindfulness, wellness, and health? Our adolescents face a barrage of images, ideas, and opinions through social media each day. How do we reconcile the pace of the global information age with helping our students to be in the moment?

We began our professional learning focus on mental health, wellness, and learning in the fall of 2013. Our initial work was centered on a school-wide guiding question: How do we put our students' wellbeing at the center of our community while maintaining our academic standards? While we have evolved this work over time, our students' wellness remains at the center. 

In response to students' voices through a combination of our own survey data and information we gleaned from Harvard's Making Caring Common survey and now Stanford's Challenge Success, our high school's Wellness and Advisory committee continues to evolve and improve our extended Advisory Community Building and Anti-Bullying curriculum. We will begin these lessons in Advisory after the new year. One lesson is dedicated solely to mindfulness. We now have the therapy dogs into school once each month, due to the overwhelming response that students and staff find the dogs to be helpful in encouraging relaxation and stress management. (I can attest to this having a chocolate lab at home.)

Cassius, honorary therapy dog

I recently asked our K-12 Physical Education and Health department leader, David James, to share with me his department's perspective on student wellness. In both a required 9th grade class and in a choice upper level elective class, students learn about self-esteem, time management, stress management, nutrition, understanding sleep cycles and the importance of sleep, and education about healthy teen relationships and the dangers of teen dating violence.

Lessons also include yoga and meditation, progressive muscle relaxation techniques (PMR), and mindfulness activities with positive affirmations and visualization of goals. If you work out in our fitness center, then you see a board titled "Weekly Wellness" on one of the walls. The board was started with student support, and it includes monthly health topics, articles, and local road races and volunteer opportunities to encourage lifetime wellness. 

This year, I charged both our faculty Wellness Committee and our student-led Wellness Club (new this year and co-advised by associate principal Beth Baker and science teacher Katelyn Saaristo) with this to consider: How do we infuse wellness strategies into the school day? If someone walked into the doors of A-B, how would s/he know that we value wellness here? What would that look and feel like? There are of course the structures (schedule, homework and assessment practices) that we are considering through our Challenge Success partnership. But I also think about the physical look of our school spaces and the larger culture, including the ways we relate to each other everyday. I'm asking for their good thinking, staff and students alike, as we continue to put our students' wellness at the center of our work together.

Challenge Success Update
Our district's PK-12 monthly Challenge Success newsletter, titled Expanding Our Notion of Success focuses on fostering resilience in our students. According to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, "the essence of resilience is a positive, adaptive response in the face of significant adversity." I hope you will take a few moments to explore the articles and resources contained in this newsletter. We will keep you updated on the high school's progress to expanding our notion of success in the coming weeks.