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Schooling a happy school

By Sam Di Sano on 21 October 2018NSWstaffroomLeadershipWellbeing

The 21st century has brought many changes to the fore in educational pedagogy and, by default, schools. What has not changed and for the moment appears to be going nowhere is the fundamental paradigm of the relationship between teacher and pupil. ‘Pedagogy’ in itself is an interesting term. For much of the late 20th and early 21st century the term was not well understood. It is now commonly used and worth considering its origins. Pedagogy is the study of the theory and practice of education and how best to teach. It comes from the Greek synthesis of two words translated “to lead” and “child”. The pedagogue originally referred to the Greek slave who accompanied the young person to school.

Education has moved an incredible distance in the 21st century. In particular our willingness now to openly discuss issues concerning psychosis and depression among young teens. With both being prevalent among young teens we also have begun to invest in education and welfare programs which aim to guard against them by concentrating on the education of the whole person.

Fundamentally, it can be argued that young people learn best when in an environment where:

  • They are happy and positive
  • Pastoral support networks are available and genuine
  • Relationships are positive and dynamic
  • They engage with their school community or network, most often through co-curricular involvement

Happiness and wellbeing can be defined in any number of ways and most often than not the attributes of a happy person are a sense of wellbeing; a sense of safety and a sense of wonder and awe about what they do.

In a parallel universe, teachers need to engage this happiness by being able to deliver the same in their classroom. For that to eventuate, their school needs to invest in staff wellbeing and happiness programs. The corporate world has latched on to the same by offering health and wellbeing programs for employees – from the physiological to the existential – anything from yoga to meditation. Schools would do well to mirror this and parallel student involvement in service and immersion programs for their staff as well.

Celebrating achievement can also be hit and miss in the busy schedule of school life, but any opportunity to praise publicly, whether through assemblies or liturgies will provide a sense of self worth and improved self esteem for students and staff alike.

With immersion and outreach type programs now being de rigeur for many schools, it is worth considering the enormous benefit of such programs in the way they connect us with the wellbeing of other people, often those marginalised by their own societies.

A network of support structures, both internal and external help foster a sense of identity, allowing for students to not only be someone but, importantly, to be known to someone.Despite all the technological advances of our times, despite social media and young people's propensity to spend more time in the virtual world than the real one, the one fundamental dynamic which has not changed, been suppressed, diminished or replaced is the relationship between the student and the teacher. While the 21st century teacher has moved a long way from the pedagogue of the classical Greek world, nonetheless it is still vital we do not suppress the sense of awe and wonder a child can gain from his or her interactions with a teacher who brings their classroom to life – one whom rather than covers the curriculum, ‘un’ covers it. That sense of awe and wonder was captured in this generation’s readers of the Harry Potter series or Matthew Reilly’s novels that had something on every page to surprise, excite and delight.

It is true that the tech revolution of the 21st century has also provided that same sense of awe and wonder in every mobile, handheld, wireless device known to us and even the ones we don’t know about yet. Whether it is through song, dance, music, drama, art or the sciences, none of it will excite if it is not led by a passionate teacher, willing to encourage, challenge, extend and inspire thirsty young minds.

Do you have an activity or experience which has provided that sense of awe and wonder for your students? Feel free to share it - I would love to know what you do.

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