Placing Mindfulness at the Core of School Life at Aureus School, Oxfordshire

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A case study by @JoMcShaneEdu from The Little Book of Flourishing Schools

Julie Hunter, Deputy Headteacher: Culture and Wellbeing @MsHMFL

‘Happy children learn. A school which is truly flourishing will have wellbeing for all top of their agenda every day.’ Julie Hunter

 Background to the school culture:

Aureus School is a brand new, state of the art comprehensive 11-16 school that opened on the Great Western Park, Didcot, in September 2017 with their first cohort of Year 7 students. The school leadership team collaborates with local stakeholders to shape their offer as a STEAM specialist mixed school to create choice for the wider community in southern Oxfordshire.

 The school’s mission is simple:

We will strive to educate the whole student so that each individual in our community may ‘Grow, Learn and Flourish’. Mindfulness as a practice has been embedded as a means of achieving this and lies at the core of the school’s offer.

 Julie Hunter, Deputy Headteacher was appointed with a specific remit to deliver holistic wellbeing across the whole institution, and this short case-study captures her journey so far!

Julie defines what she feels makes schools blossom:

‘A flourishing school culture is where each student is provided with a toolkit to support them in their academic classes and for their growth as independent citizens. Mental health and wellbeing can be strategically planned into school days. There is a need to be proactive and to help everyone in a school have a toolkit to flourish in the 21st Century and beyond. Flourishing schools will have a universal offer which is pre-emptive but will go beyond this offer to have bespoke intervention. Many schools deal with the critical mental health and wellbeing events and a flourishing school will have clearly signposted support along the spectrum.’

  Describe the situation before your intervention…

 As a leader, I had never been responsible for delivering a holistic wellbeing offer where every adult in the building would need to be mindful or mindfulness to help students have a flourishing journey at secondary school.

Staff arrived at the new school knowing that it would have mindfulness as a core part of our offer, but none of us had experienced what it would be like to deliver and experience it on a daily basis.

Students arrived from primary schools with limited or no understanding of what mindfulness was. During our first week together as a staff team in July prior to opening the school, I shared with staff the basic toolkit behind mindful activities. Every day we started the day of training with a 30 minute mindfulness offer so that staff could see the reality of the activities our students would be experiencing.

Your intervention: Summarise what you did to bring about change…

During the first week of September, all operational and teaching staff launched each day with a mindfulness activity. A flourishing school can only develop when all adults in the building understand the importance of mental health and wellbeing. As the academic year continued, mindfulness activities continued to operate as embedded provision for all staff and students, and we evolved this essential facet of school life by offering bespoke mindfulness and wellbeing interventions for those with a greater need for support.

Why was this essential?

Not all staff had experience mindfulness before. When a student is in need of support from any adult in the building, they need to have the same language and script to enable students. Students need the assurance that they will receive a standard support package. It was vital that there was a universal wellbeing offer to all students in the school with mindfulness being our core offer every morning.

What were the outcomes?

 All teaching staff run a mindfulness activity on four mornings each week. Our flourishing school ethos is to ensure that every day starts with a calm and purposeful activity where we consider our mental wellbeing. Students and staff learn about their brains and are building their wellbeing toolkit to support them in the classroom and beyond.

How do your staff and pupils feel now?

 Staff have flourished into their roles as mindfulness teachers. Every staff development sessions begins with a mindfulness activity, as we model our wellbeing and make sure that the adults in the building flourish too. We have a dedicated staff wellbeing room where staff can have a mindful pause in their day without being surrounded by work paraphernalia. Students can discuss with their parents and visitors to the school how they use their mindfulness skills to cope with the rigours of life in school and in the community.

 Summarise the three top leadership strategies you would recommend to school leaders seeking to develop a flourishing school:

1       Place mental health and wellbeing as a universal offer to all staff and students every day as part of the curriculum time

2        Ensure that staff wellbeing is a priority so that they can model the ethos of how to flourish in a school.

3       Prioritise wellbeing training, time and decisions so that students and staff do not miss out on this important aspect of preparing students to flourish.

What steps will you take to sustain the flourishing school culture you’ve created?

We are fully committed to maintaining mindfulness at the start of staff in-service training days, ensuring new staff are inducted into the practice and that staff learning is ‘topped-up’ and up-dated. We will also ensure that staff have access to a quiet space and time during their school day. Crucially, we will enshrine staff wellbeing and student wellbeing in all aspects of school life and ensure that there is an ethos of a happy school is where everyone flourishes.

‘The Science of Happiness needs to be understood in our schools so that the entire school community can flourish.’ Julie Hunter

Links to useful websites or resources you’d recommend:

 Julie Hunter- Can Mindfulness Change Education? This is our very own video summary!

Mindfulness in Schools. Fantastic start-up strategy resources:

It’s Our Nature to Nurture- Pastoral Guidance. An excellent, free PDF

Get in touch with Julie:   @MsHMFL 


The Little Book of Flourishing Schools by Jo McShane is A FREE resource for schools seeking to create a school ethos and culture where all can flourish.

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This post originally appeared in Jo’s LinkedIn articles and is reproduced here with her kind permission.