Inevitably, from time to time, I have to ask myself, and my staff, “are we actually doing what we intend to do?” Are we actually delivering excellence in education? It is a crucial question, and in some ways an easy one to answer, because academic results, competition results, and sports results can be measured - and on that basis I can happily report that we continue to excel in these areas, where we achieve results comparable with the very best schools in the State.
However, other areas are less easy to report on, especially areas such as the pastoral, the spiritual and character development. Yet these are crucial areas to us as a Christian school, because we see the whole child as valuable, not just the academic or the sporting child.
Actually, these whole-child areas of development should be crucial to all schools – even those schools that (depressingly) only value the academic or sporting aspects of the child –because an unhappy child or a child who feels unsafe is not going to perform as well as they could or should. As humans we simply don’t thrive if we are unhappy or feel unsafe – and here at Emmanuel we don’t just want our children to achieve, we want them to exceed as complete people.
So it was wonderful to return from a recent conference and see two reports on my desk.
The first was a report on our recent Junior School wellbeing survey. Remarkably, every single question received over 93% positive responses. Included amongst those high responses were several particularly pleasing sets of answers. Firstly, 99% of students felt that “teachers care about me at Emmanuel;” secondly, 100% felt the “bullying is not allowed at Emmanuel” with a similar number believing bullying is “dealt with fairly and carefully;” and then 96% of our students “enjoy doing [their] school work.” These are extraordinarily good results and they strongly suggest we are on the right lines pastorally.
The second of these documents was slightly different. It was an email from a teacher who was on After School Detention duty. This teacher took the opportunity to pose the students some reflective questions – a teacher behaviour which itself denotes a deep concern for students’ well-being – and so he asked the students to write about what they would want to pass on to their children, and what they valued. Here are the responses:
Year 7 Boy:
“I would pass on a couple of things to my children, but the most important is self-control… because without it we would be doing idiotic things and not doing what we need to do to keep society together.”
Year 7 Girl:
“Values I would pass on to my children: …able to be busy and still have time for the important things in life… to be able to talk with their parents with no fear of doubt… to love God and trust in him…”
Year 8 Boy:
“My first value I would pass on to my children is the show of respect and manners. For example saying please and thank you, hello and goodbye, good night and good morning…”
Year 9 Girl:
“I believe gratitude is an essential for humans, regardless of your wealth…”
Year 8 Girl:
“…people that have influenced me… I have chosen a person that I look up to with all my heart. He is my grandfather and I love him dearly… It makes me want to follow in his footsteps and save and help the animals in danger or in need so kids in our future can learn and discover the magic of the ocean.”
Year 7 Girl:
“…living your life for God, as it really isn’t our life, it is Jesus’ life since he made the sacrifice for us. …don’t be scared to stand out or be different from everyone else… God sees you for who you are on the inside, what your heart is like, not what your outward appearance looks like.”
I believe that this is as good a measure of our effectiveness in pastoral, spiritual and character education as we could find.
Of course, not every child is happy all the time, but wellbeing is not simply about being happy, it is about feeling safe-enough, resilient-enough and supported-enough to cope when things are tough. And if, as I believe (and experts insist) wellbeing is a pre-cursor to success in areas such as academia or sport, then these responses bode extremely well for the future thriving of our students.