Book Review: Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom by Adrian Bethune

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The tagline of this book is “A practical guide to teaching happiness”. If the idea that happiness can be taught is the kind of thing that would put you off buying a book, I urge you to think again. What @AdrianBethune has managed to do here is to make accessible a swathe of research into the importance of wellbeing in the classroom, for both pupils and staff. Not only that, he offers examples of how he has applied this research in his own classroom. Each chapter is divided into two sections, “In theory” and “In action”, which make explicit the theoretical and research basis of each section.

While this book is, by its very nature, positive in tone, it does not shy away from some of the criticism levelled at positive psychology in recent years. For example, it examines the difference between blind and reasonable optimism.

In the words of Ruby Wax, “Adrian Bethune really knows how to condense that hard stuff and make it clear”.  With a light touch, Bethune ranges across evolutionary psychology, habit formation and neuroscience, (the bibliography runs to 11 pages) in an accessible style aimed at the busy class teacher.

There is an entire chapter devoted to teacher wellbeing in which Bethune strongly makes the case that teacher wellbeing is essential to pupil wellbeing. He then goes on to offer practical strategies for staff to improve their own wellbeing, in the work context.

If you’re still not convinced that happiness is something that is worth teaching, or even something that can be taught, Bethune lays out the research underpinning his philosophy.  Consider for example, this evidence from a longitudinal study from the LSE. “The study concluded that ‘the most powerful childhood predictor of adult-life satisfaction is the child’s emotional health… the least powerful predictor is the child’s intellectual development.’” So what, you might say, schools cannot influence how happy a child is. Except that there is abundant evidence that they can, and that it has a positive impact on academic attainment; one study shows an 11% gain in “schools that have put in place programmes to boost pupils’ social and emotional skills”.

With wellbeing so high on the educational agenda at the moment, this book offers some practical, simple ideas that could be implemented at very little cost, a major benefit in these times of straitened budgets.


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