Mental Wealth: Children’s Mental Health Week

Last month we were awarded the accolade of the Gold Mental Health in Schools Award. Only 6 secondaries in the country have received it, and we are the first school in Oxfordshire.

For Children’s Mental Health Week we opened our doors today too share our vision and our provision with others. At Aureus we don’t talk about mental health, we talk about ‘mental wealth’. 20 visitors came to Aureus to experience our culture and ethos, and our partners came to share their collaborations with us.

We were delighted that Lucy Butler, Director of Children Services for Oxford County Council and Richard Venables the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire joined us to celebrate our award.


Our DHT for Culture and Wellbeing, Julie Hunter, who is dot B trained, was due to share our mindful start to the day to ensure that all learners are ready for learning but, unfortunately, got stuck on a motorway so had to narrate it instead. Our Student Council explained how Mindfulness prepares them for learning and helps them be emotionally resilient.

Culture for Wellbeing:

Julie presented our ‘mental wealth’ programme, our universal entitlement to all of our students. We pride ourselves on being preemptive, proactive and preventative, not reactive and responsive. Julie spoke at length about our commitment to staff wellbeing so that we put well staff in front of our students.  She was joined by Bogusia our Chair of Governors and Holly and Patrick, two of our Student Council who all passionately shared their experiences of our values-based school.


We took our guests for a walk around our school site to share how we have created ‘safe spaces’ and invested in a staffing model to ‘nurture hearts and minds’ to ensure that all can ‘grow, learn and flourish’. Our safe spaces include:

We call our holistic education our ‘Inner Curriculum’, a phrase coined by Dr Neil Hawkes, the founder of VBE. We also shared our VBE artefacts such as our values chandelier and our values totem poles.


Being outward-facing and collaborating brings value to our community.    Our best practice session enabled us to share who we are working with and why. Micro presentations were shared by:

Each contribution demonstrated that we believe we are ‘stronger together’. Lisa summed it up as our “pluralist approach” to collaboration. A phrase I will be magpie-ing!

I also gave shout outs to Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, Dr Pooky Knightsmith, Edukit , Clare ErasmusMike Armiger and Paul Dix and the Pivotal Approach – partners we work closely with but who were  not present on the day.

Family Dining Experience:

Our visitors also experienced our community time and saw first hand how we invest in our relationships. We believe that we are what we eat, a focus on healthy eating underpins our values-based culture. We use our lunch times as an opportunity to connect and build our relationships with students.

Vision to Provision:

We are 4 nearly 5 terms old and are still a work in progress, but we are proud of what we have achieved to date.  Our consideration of why we do things and the choices we have made of how we do things have led to what our school looks and feels like. Subtle choices about the structure of the day and what we call things are nuances of our values based culture.

Our Choices and Intentions that have become our DNA and our USP at Aureus:

  1. We do not need bells, we line up for lesson start.
  2. We start every day with mindfulness.
  3. We do not set, we believe in mixed ability.
  4. We have coaching groups, curriculum groups and global citizenship groups.
  5. We do not allow mobile phones on site, we do not have white noise from radios.
  6. We do not allow packed lunches on site, we have a family dining experience.
  7. We have mixed year group coaching groups and all belong to a faculty.
  8. We have coaching  time not tutor time.
  9. We do not set homework, we have optional extended learning.
  10. We have personal development time, not enrichment time.
  11. We do not do detentions, we use restorative practice.
  12. We have created safe spaces for students and for staff.
  13. We have invested in the staffing and infrastructure of our Nurture, Thrive and Student Welfare Team.
  14. We have all had training from CAMHS and we have staff becoming experts in Thrive, mindfulness, MHFA and counselling.
  15. We underpin our schools’ culture and ethos with our values.
  16. We are a STEAM school and we celebrate the Arts.

Each choice comes together to develop our approach in creating a happy, healthy school where we ‘nurture hearts and minds’ that our community may ‘grow, learn and flourish’.

Check us out on BBC Oxford Radio from 7am on 5/2/19 and BBC South News from 6.25pm/ 10.30pm news!


Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • Here are some quick links to articles I have read this week:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Julie for her vision and tenacity in making it come to reality
  • Liz for her coaching and support for achieving Gold
  • Bogusia  for being  a chair of governors who has invested a lot of time in investing in additional reading
  • Lucinda for leading the Oxfordshire MH & WB Network
  • Our Aureus team who are passionate about mental health and wellbeing

#Oneword2019: Joy

My #OneWord2019 is Joy. Shortlisted were also Wonder & Awe.

I chose Joy because I want more Wow moments this year. More moments when my heart pounds, my skin tingles & my eyes fill.

I want 2019 to be  a year full of joyful memories.

I want more memories that are Joyful & Joyous, fewer moments that are Joyless.

Joie De Vivre is my commitment to 2019:

  • Joy of Teaching.
  • Joy of Learning.
  • Joy of Leading.
  • Joy of Living.


So I saw the New Year in feeling the Joy of being on the beach in a beautiful part of the country.

I breathed in the fresh air and space of 2019, I exhaled all of my stresses and pains from 2018.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Celebrating a positive start to the year.
  • Ensuring that my glass remains half full.
  • Finding problems to solutions as they arise.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I am still on ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama.
  • Becoming… lighter… becoming…joyful.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • My friends and family  who I have caught up with over the break.
  • My acupuncturist who releases any tensions I have in my body.




Supporting Twice Exceptional Students: Closing the Gaps in Our Own Learning

Dual Exceptionality or Twice Exceptional  (2e for short) students was a learning difference, a learner’s identity, a learning label I became aware of, and interested in, when I was the G&T Lead for our school and then our MAT nearly a decade ago.

“Twice exceptional or 2e is a term used to describe students who are both intellectually gifted (as determined by an accepted standardized assessment) and learning disabled, which includes students with dyslexia”.

“Twice exceptional (or 2E students) are sometimes also referred to as double labelled, or having dual exceptionality. These are gifted students whose performance is impaired, or high potential is masked, by a specific learning disability, physical impairment, disorder, or condition. They may experience extreme difficulty in developing their giftedness into talent”.

I cannot remember receiving much training on SEND in my PGCE. My understanding of inclusion has evolved through self-directed learning and reading over the years. When I did a key note for Driver Youth Trust last year I reflected on the fact that as an English teacher: why I have never received any training on phonics?

Moreover, at the inaugural Chartered College of Teaching event last year, Professor Tanya Byron gave us a whistle stop session on Clinical Psychology – neuro development is another gap in my training as an educator and a school leader.

So this is a disclaimer  – this blog is my musings, my reflections, my processing of information to make sense of my school leadership. I am “a Jill of all trades and a mistress of none!”


My ‘Why’ for finding out more and for understanding 2e?

When I was a Middle Leader, many years ago, we had a student, Student X, who was extremely bright. He aced every subject in Key Stage 3, and was listed as Gifted across the board. Student X was a model student, if a little aloof as he found it hard to socially connect with his peers. At the end of Year 9 Student X was withdrawn by his parents to attend a private school on a scholarship.  We were meeting his needs, he was making excellent progress, but he was an aspiring musician and the school had an enrichment offer we could not compete with.  Student X achieved well at GCSE and A Level, he went on to start at Cambridge. However, the academic and social pressures became too much. I am sad to say that Student X’s mental health deteriorated and  he became a victim of male suicide. Our school community were understandably shocked when we found out the news, 5 years after he had left us at the end of KS3.


8 years later I find myself supporting a student with similar characteristics. Student Y is a highly articulate young man who is bright, but unlike Student X, behaviour of Student Y is not always of the model student.  Student Y has the capacity to be the role model we know he has the potential to be. Student Y  is a brilliant leader, when he chooses to be, but he finds that he compromises himself a lot as he has an impulsive side to his personality. Student Y was  not diagnosed by his primary school as having SEND. Student Y has had mental ill health concerns at primary and was supported by P-CAMHs. Student Y is a Shepherd, and we have discussed the responsibility he has as a natural leader, to guide his flock of followers to safety, not to danger.  I am concerned about Student Y, I am working closely with him, his Mum and his Dad. I see the confusion on his face, the stress in his hands as he tries to make sense of who he is, as he tries to process his neuro divergent thoughts. At the same time, I have Student X sat on my shoulder, reminding me what happens when the system fails you as a bright young man with complex learning needs.


I am not saying that all twice exceptional students have mental health issues, but I am making connections between the handful of students I have taught who are sat at the middle of the Venn Diagram intersections within the Reuleaux triangle, who have a complex overlap of different labels to navigate. I want to add a 3rd circle to this diagram for mental (ill) health and learn more about the intersections of each.

2e 4


So ‘What’ are the characteristics of 2e students?

  • Superior oral vocabulary
  • Advanced ideas and opinions
  • High levels of creativity and problem-solving ability
  • Extremely curious, imaginative, and questioning
  • Discrepant verbal and performance skills
  • Clear peaks and valleys in cognitive test profile
  • Wide range of interests not related to school
  • Specific talent or consuming interest area
  • Sophisticated sense of humor



And ‘how’ do we identify, instruct, differentiate for and nurture 2e students? 

Below I have shared 4 articles that Vargini shared with me from the Imperial College 2e in STEM research project. I have lifted the key message that resonated with me from each:

Identifying 2e Students

  1. Students first identified as gifted who later show indicators of a specific disability area.
  2. Students identified as having a specific learning disability and who also show  outstanding talent in one or more areas.
  3. Students who may appear average or underachieving because the disability area masks any manifestation of giftedness.

Instructing 2e students

“Students who have both gifts and learning disabilities require a “dually differentiated program”: one that nurtures gifts and talents while providing appropriate instruction, accommodations, and other services for treating learning weaknesses. Unfortunately, research- based, well-defined, and prescribed practices for the 2e student with dyslexia are hard to find, and current practices vary widely.

Instruction for 2e students should be designed to develop higher-level cognitive functioning, or for their challenges–to develop basic skills (e.g. handwriting, reading, spelling, written expression, math computation). Otherwise, these students may be labeled average students or underachievers who simply need “to try harder.”

Supporting 2e Students

“Twice exceptional children don’t fully fit into either the traditional special needs or traditional gifted categories, so schools and teachers often do not know what to do with them, even assuming the child has been identified. This puts them at high risk of slipping between the cracks, and, purely due to poor fit, being unintentionally excluded from the school system”.

Nurturing 2e Students

“Even with a strong program which provides for both exceptionalities, these students will still encounter negative emotions and setbacks. They need an active support system to access during these times, to talk openly about their feelings, and to problem solve about getting beyond the emotions in a given situation. This support can take place in informal discussions with teachers, parents, or peers; or it may demand more formal situations such as individual counseling for mild issues and, perhaps, therapy for deeper or high impact issues”.

I am also going to add this article link from Dr Adam Boddison CEO NASEN:

Flashes of Brilliance

“It is not always easy to identify children with DME because their abilities can mask their needs just as their needs mask their abilities, so they can appear to be ‘average with flashes of brilliance’. In many classrooms these children may appear to be an average child, but the reality is that their needs are not being met and their potential is not being realised”.

Plus a Youtube link to Dr Stephen Hawkins talking about DME here.

My reading around neurodiversity is clearly in its infancy. I will be working with our Inclusion Leader Amjad, our More Able lead Bennie, our Mental Health lead Julie and the student/ his parents this term. We will work in partnership to support the learning needs of Student Y to ensure that he gets the assessments and interventions that he needs to support his neurodivergent thinking. Hopefully a coordinated approach by all of us will ensure that both the disability and the ability are addressed, whilst supporting his mental health.


Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Understanding more about how to support our students
  • The research that Imperial College are doing around 2e students in STEM subjects

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Vargini Ledchumykanthan  – thank you so much for your help via twitter and email for the links on the reading and research into 2e students

The Stranger on the Bridge: Male Mental Health

On Friday we held our 2nd Mental Health Awareness conference for Vulnerable Learners. We are leading the regional grant from the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust to raise awareness of how schools can support our students through their STELLA Project.

Event 1 was a full day conference for 150 people in November with Dick Moore as our Keynote Speaker sharing his journey as a father of a boy who committed suicide. His story of ‘Dancing or Drowning in the Rain’ is rousing. I blogged about it here.

dick moore

Event 2 was a half-day conference for 75 in March for the teachers, leaders, professionals and organisations to come back together, to connect their ideas and experiences to forge collaborations. Our Keynote Speakers were Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn.


Event 3 is in June and is a #MHWBTeachmeet, we have Natasha Devon as our Keynote Speaker and you can book to join us here.

In between these training days we hold a half-termly MH & WB network meet up to develop working relationships and share resources / best practice across our partnerships. Our next opportunity is on April 23rd and you can book to attend here. To find our more please connect with Lucinda Powell is co-leading the network with me.

We are also using some of the funding to run a Bridging Project pilot supporting Year 6 students through the anxiety of SATs and transitioning to secondary school by training 2 adults in each school to use mindfulness techniques and yoga to help them manage their emotions and reduce stress. More to follow on this one!

For those of you who do not know Jonny’s story, this was the second time I had heard him share it but the first time I had met Neil and heard his story that intertwines.  Jonny shares his journey from despair to hope and recovery. A mental diagnosis at primary when he started hearing voices in his head, a personality disorder diagnosis in his teens, exasperated by  his religion (brought up a Jew) and his sexuality Jonny has struggled with mental ill health for most of his life.

He sets the scenes and takes us to the point when he went to a bridge in London and prepared to commit suicide.

jonny 1

Enter Neil, not Mike. A commuter on his morning route to work. Their story is the power of human connectivity. Two  strangers on a bridge who in a sliding doors moment may not have crossed paths. A commuter who stopped to help a man in distress. Neil reached out to a stranger in an altruistic act of kindness. He saw him. He emotionally reached out to him by starting a conversation. He held the space for him to feel safe. To feel like there was a reason to live.

Jonny didn’t jump. The police arrived (how he was treated by them is another story). Neil went to work and continued on with his life. A parallel life to Jonny who was on a journey of recovery. A random act of kindness that saved a man’s life.


The story could have ended there but it didn’t on this occasion. Jonny’s profile in raising awareness about  mental ill health led to a documentary being made and a hunt to #FindMike (he had forgotten Neil’s name!) A viral campaign started and Neil’s girlfriend saw the media call for the Stranger on the Bridge to come forward.

The really sad and scary part of this story. At least 35 men came forward to say that they had also stopped someone from taking their live on a bridge in London on that same date. 35 strangers intervening to prevent the loss of life. 35 humans in crisis, so desperate that suicide was the only option for them.

JONNY 4 Jonny and Neil were reunited and a bromance began. The two of them have a fantastic friendship and have travelled the world sharing their story to help others. The story filled us all with hope. Hope in the human spirit.

It left me reflecting on so many aspects of my life, my family and our school community.  A local secondary school has lost 4 students to suicide in the last few years. I interviewed for a headship where 3 young people had taken their lives in a short period of time. One of the most gifted students I taught in South London, took his life in his undergraduate year. My aunt has tried to overdose on a few occasions.

Human beings are in crisis everywhere around us – relationships and communication are at the forefront of the solution to the problem we see ourselves faced with.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Random Acts of Kindness.
  • The power of human connectivity.

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for: 

  • Charlie Waller Memorial Trust for funding the MH conference and MHWB network via the STELLA project.
  • Jonny and Neil for joining us to share their journey.
  • Lucinda for volunteering so much of her time to help the regional MH & WB network grow.
  • All of the contributors, the speakers/ exhibitors who all shared their time, experience and expertise for free.
  • My brilliant PA Zoe who helps me keep lots of balls in the air, each and every day!


My #Teacher5aday Pledge: 2018

With #wellbeing as a value in our new school I was keen to embed the #teacher5aday principles in the fabric of Aureus School from day 1.

wellbeing teacher5aday 2-18

Charlotte, our Staff Wellbeing lead works, alongside Julie, our Culture and Wellbeing lead, to create the strategy of our provision.

Our mission: to create a healthy happy school.

Our vision: to ensure that the staff’s wellbeing is prioritised as well as the students’ as often it is at the expense of.

Our provision: we have a #wellbeing room, with #wellbeing pledges and a #wellbeing champion. We have had half-termly #wellbeing Wednesdays and have had staff Mindfulness sessions. But, we are only scratching the service at the moment of balancing our workload with our #wellbeing.

We have had an intense 14 weeks since we opened – we have had an increased workload to manager as we are a start-up school. We are all hoping term 2 will settle and be a bit easier!

Aureus Values Wheel V2

I am committed to see our staff and our students ‘thrive’ and ‘flourish’ by creating the conditions  needed to nurture a #wellbeing culture.

I will continue to strive to model that we can be teachers and leaders but also establish balance in our pursuit of ‘work life harmony’.

This takes time – we do not have a magic wand, we do not have a life belt, but we do have the passion and purpose to work together on How to Thrive as Teachers as opposed to How to Survive as Teachers.

As the headteacher I need to work harder at modelling this and not being the human sponge.  I equally need to ring fence my own #wellbeing and not allow myself to fall into the trap of looking after everyone else at my own expense.


My pledge:


  • I need to work harder at maintaining my relationships with my friends and former colleagues in London. Since moving my first 9 months have been busy, but I now need to make sure I invest in sustaining these friendships.
  • I need to continue to get myself out and about in my new area to meet new people – at the moment they have all been through education – but I am trying.
  • I will meet a new tribe and build new friendships this year as I am travelling to Mozambique for the summer.


  • I need to find another yoga class as my teacher has moved on.
  • I need to ride my bike more.
  • I need to find a dance class to resume.


  • I need to explore the benefits of mindfulness more regularly.
  • I need to go on more walks to explore my new area.
  • I am considering buying a SLR as I used to do a lot of black and white photography which makes you stop, pause and look at the details of your surroundings.


  • I will continue reading, reflecting on and publishing the #TalkingHeadsblog
  • I will continue reading professional books by teachers and leaders – my aim is one per month – I have a stack that have been sent to me to get through!
  • I will complete my Electric Woman coaching programme with Nikki Armytage-Foy.
  • I will continue to go to choir once a week with Sarah Louise Chitty and Vocalize.


teacher5aday 2018

Happy 2018 everyone! May you THRIVE this year as I intend to.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Consolidating the life choices and lifestyle changes I initiated last year and making further changes this year.

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

Mental Health: Supporting Vulnerable Learners

On Friday, we hosted the #VulnerableLearners conference for the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, funded by the STELLA project to support Mental Health provision in schools. This event totally supports our vision and values at Aureus School  – we have made wellbeing one of our 12 values and have spent a lot of time talking to our staff and students about staying healthy and happy, but equally what to do when we do experience negative emotions and difficult times. Our school’s vision is to ‘Nurture Hearts & Minds’ by holistically educating the whole child. Our trust’s vision is to enable all learners to grow, learn & flourish. We are committed to creating the conditions for thriving not just surviving!


The funding from this amazing charity and the support from the charity’s team enabled us to bring together 150+ teachers, leaders, governors, researchers, professionals and organisations who want to connect and collaborate on a strategic approach to mental health in schools. The expertise & experience in the room blew me away.

Mindful Mornings  – we started the day by offering a tour of our flipped day. Charlotte James, our PE LPD/staff wellbeing lead, and I showed 20 guests around to see: Mindful Art, Mindful Movement, Mindful Strategies and Mindful Reading. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive about what our guests saw and the impact it is already having on our culture and ethos at Aureus. The verbal validation of the palpable values being embodied in our bold choices at Aureus make me really proud.

Professor Sonia Blandford:

Our 1st opening keynote shared her research on deprivation, disadvantage and social mobility. Taking us through the steps of  I can, I do, I have, I am she encouraged us to not just identify but to remove the barriers holding our vulnerable learners back. She framed her data with core strength and mindset being integral to elevating independent learning and personal success.

Nina Jackson:

Our 2nd opening keynote shared her story. A story of a harrowing childhood, where she was abandoned and unloved, where school via music became her haven. Nina always makes me cry, but smile through my tears, as she is so authentic and raw. She is a true survivor and her story is powerful about the emotional  baggage she still carries from her childhood and family experience. She reminds us why we do what we do.

Clare Erasmus:

Our 1st case study was from the indefatigable MH Director from the Magna Carta School who is many years in to establishing a MHWB provision that is now embedded in the fabric of the school. She made us think and challenged us about the vulnerable learners we care for during termtime and what they need from us out of school hours.

Liz Robson Kelly:

I have met Liz a few times through #womened events and she has worked closely with some schools I know in the Midlands.   Her positive psychology research around resilience and the programmes she offers around self-worth are high impact and I am hoping we can launch some of her projects from Aureus to develop these skills in our learners. We need our young people to be resilient, to have bounce back & to have self-worth (she doesn’t call it self-esteem).

Julie Hunter:

Our DHT shared our why for our culture and ethos at Aureus, our how for what we have embedded in our 1st 100 days, and visualised what it will look like as we grow and establish. We owe Julie a lot of thanks at Aureus for the amazing provision she has curated. It is her brainchild and she enthuses our mindful mornings and coaching/ global citizenship afternoons.

Mental Health Teachmeet:

Opened by 2 of our Year 7 students, my heart burst with pride as Oli and Maddie reflected on what mindfulness means to them and shared what we have been doing to raise awareness of MHWB since we opened.  They were followed by Alice a teacher, Caro a house mistress, Charlotte a staff wellbeing lead, Dan from EduKit, John from Resilience Doughtnut and Lisa from Clear Sky. Each micro presentation added to the wider conversations about schools needing to have a  strategic vision for their MHWB provision, focused on preemptive, proactive and preventative activity for all rather than reactive intervention for some.



20 different workshops took part in the break out rooms after lunch – ranging from values to self-compassion, from play therapy to adaptive sports. Thank you to everyone who delivered a session, developed the dialogue and initiated further thinking.

Dick Moore:

A father who lost one of his four sons to suicide and a former Headteacher, Dick’s story speaks to your heart about the impact on a family when someone takes their life. He also reminded the room that our own children are as important as the vulnerable learners we look out for. I am glad that we had AV issues as if he had played the 12 songs that Barney had left on his I-Pod for this funeral I think I would have dissolved into bits! Dick is pragmatic about life and death, he shared his painful journey and the purpose it has now given him to raise awareness about mental health, depression & suicide.


A big thank you to all of the organisations and partnerships who attended the event to connect and network in this important space and the growing community of professionals committed to improving mental health provision in schools to support out vulnerable learners.


  • We need to learn how to Dance in the Rain and teach our students to do it too
  • We need to work with our parents and carers more so that the dialogue continues at home
  • We need to support one another in our commitment to the cause and check in on our own mental health too


My Pledge:

  • With the STELLA project funding we have already launched a MH & WB network so my first pledge is to sustain momentum through these half-termly meet ups.
  • A half-day follow up from this event is planned for March and I am keen to get some of the delegates to come back and share the impact of our first event so I pledge to stay connected with the wider network.
  • We discussed yesterday how to work closer with parents, carers and the wider community so I have pledged to curate some Mental Health Masterclasses on our Wellbeing Wednesdays to help raise awareness.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The 150 people who came to this event and the 25 who came to our MHWB network launch – a passionate and purposeful group of people who to connect and collaborate with.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • The talks that hit a nerve with me yesterday were the ones on suicide ideation and self-harm, I need to do some more reading and thinking around these safeguarding topics.

Currently feeling grateful for: 

  • Charlie Waller Memorial Trust for funding the MH conference and MHWB network via the STELLA project.
  • Nina, Alice and Dick for sharing their very  personal stories about mental health, self-harm and suicide.
  • All of the contributors, the speakers/ exhibitors who all shared their time, experience and expertise for free.
  • My amazing team for enabling the event to take place, they were running around behind the scenes all day ensuring operations were smooth.
  • Julie, Charlotte, Maddie & Oli, our Aureus Ambassadors, for truly emobodying everything we stand for at Aureus.


Planting Seeds: How Would You Grow a Culture of Wellbeing?

Last May I attended the Mental Health and Wellbeing #teachmeet at Magna Carta School, an inspiring event where I met Clare Erasmus for the first time. We stayed in touch and have become friends. Through our conversations, through tweets and blogs,  via events we have both been at like the CWMT Mental Health Conference I hosted in November, I have learnt a lot. She is a trail blazer and is paving the way for the emerging role of MH&WB leaders in our schools, around the country. Visiting her provision and experiencing  her vision in situ really helped me with my strategic vision of  #wellbeing.

A year on, I have secured a Headship. A year on, I returned to facilitate a session. A year on, I am working on bringing my vision to reality. My session was  intended as a crowd sourcing exercise, but ended up being me sharing my ideas and receiving verification I was on the right track and challenge for some of the ideas that needed developing, and/or thinking through for sustainability.

Here are the questions I asked the room and used to facilitate the discussion:

Q1. With a blank piece of paper where would you start in nurturing a school wellbeing culture where everyone can #growlearnflourish?

I know my team and I have the luxury of being able to create things from scratch and do things differently, rather than lead change, the whole staff body and the majority of the parent body are fully behind co-creating a wellbeing culture.  A clean slate is exciting and means we can create new systems from day one.

Q2. How would you define a “Wellbeing Culture”?

I was asked this recently in a group coaching session. I was challenged on using my conditioned vision of wellbeing as the frame for my current wellbeing needs. I had not considered this before – that my parents had brought me up with their wellbeing vision and that my lifestyle is very different so I need to redefine my own interpretation. Growing up in Devon, my parents semi-retired to a farm and live the ‘goodlife’. I love walks on the beach but don’t really do mud! I would rather go to a spa for a weekend and have a massage to nourish my soul – ultimately I shouldn’t feel guilty about this. Equally leading a wellbeing vision and creating a wellbeing provision is about ensuring that  a range of diverse opportunities are offered to cater for all staff needs .e.g staff sports or mindfulness are not for everyone!


Q3. What does ‘Growing, Learning and Flourishing, Together’ mean to you?

I asked everyone to complete these 3 sentences:

  • Human beings grow best when… they have the right conditions including space and freedom.
  • Human beings learn best when… they have some ownership over their direction and the time/energy to commit to it.
  • Human beings flourish best when… they are loved, nurtured and trusted.

Q4. Does our system focus on student wellbeing at the expense of staff wellbeing?

I think this is true. My pledge is that if we look after our staff better, then our staff will look after our students. Not that they are not striving to do this already, but teachers are barely able to look after their own MH&WB with the pressures of our profession. Our staffing crisis, both recruitment and retention, is exasperated by the negative press about our profession. But there is no smoke without fire. Yes we need to talk up our profession, but we need get to the root cause and fix our system, rather than icing over the cracks.

Q5. How can we create a wellbeing culture where everyone can thrive and flourish?

For me we need to shift our focus. We need to focus on whole human beings, both staff and students, and not reduce them to statistics. We need focus on preventative strategies rather than reactive interventions.

Q6. What strategies would be on the  Action Plan for creating a Wellbeing Culture? What would you establish as your short, medium, long term goals? What would you prioritise?

  • How can we create it? We need to ensure it is embedded in our culture, vision and strategy from day 1.
  • How can we model it? We need to ensure that all of our staff live our values.
  • How can we nurture it? We need to ensure that all of our community are supported.
  • How can we sustain it? We need to review it and regularly take staff voice.
  • How can we audit it? We need to engage all stakeholders.

Q7. Reflections: How can we take our  vision and create a #wellbeing provision?  

Committed to ‘nurturing hearts and minds’  we are developing our holistic offer to include:

  • Mindfulness programme – every morning
  • Art Therapy room – in 8 week blocks
  • Thrive Room – to nurture our vulnerable students through transition
  • Sensory Room – to support our ASD students
  • Martial Arts Academy – for all of our Year 7s
  • Wellbeing Room – for all of our staff
  • Coaching Culture – for all of our staff
  • Family Dining Experience – for all of our community
  • Community Reflection – for our students each night
  • Half-day on Fridays – for our whole community

Golden Circle wellbeing

This is all a work in progress of course and I can’t wait to have the team started to drive this forward. Ask me a year how we are getting on!

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Changing the language from #teachmeet to #edumeet to be more inclusive of the educators working outside of our classroom.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • Kay Price gave us a MH&WB toolkit of books to read that have shaped her wellbeing provision.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Everyone who attended, facilitated and contributed to the discussions at the #MagnaMHTM17.




School Leadership: Growing, Learning and Flourishing

Viv Grant is doing a school leaders’ blog series on how we can flourish. Below are my reflections to the questions that she posed about wellbeing, thriving and flourishing as educators, school leaders and schools.


I was appointed as a Headteacher Designate in June and started in January but am not yet in the full role as I have no staff, students or parents but I do now have a site and an office. It has been an interesting transition into my 1st Headship.

I joined GLF as the visions and the values of the trust were strong: ‘to grow, to learn, to flourish’. As a values-led leader, designing a values-based education this resonated with me. Our mission at Aureus is to educate the whole child and to ‘nurture hearts and minds’.

I relocated for the role, I now live in Oxfordshire after 12 years in London. This was part of my wellbeing commitment to myself, I wanted a change in pace, a new lifestyle and a new environment. The atmosphere in my school is calm because of the large windows framing stunning views. Seeing blue skies and green fields is very calming and I took this for granted when I grew up in Devon.

I am committed to ensuring that my staff and students grow, learn and flourish, but I also need to ensure that I have this pledge for myself as a school leader: I need to practice what I preach!


Have you ever struggled with the reality of school leadership? If so, when and how did it affect you?

I have a strong ethical and moral code. I lead and behave based on my values. I have seen several leaders lose themselves in their role and behave in ways I do not respect.
I always strive to maintain my professional integrity and have had to fight my corner when I have been asked to do things I do not think are ethical. I have whistleblown when I feel my values are being compromised. The increasing pressures from the system need leaders to be strong, resilient and tenacious to stay true to who they are, what they believe and what they stand for.

In what ways does the role sometimes fail to support the flourishing and wellbeing of its leaders?

Teaching and leading in education can become all-consuming. I believe that a lot of the profession are struggling to survive and keep their head above the water line. Hence why we have a recruitment and retention crisis for school staffing.

We have a lot of systems in our schools which are not time nor energy efficient which need reviewing. We also have traditional practices and paperwork for paperwork’s sake which could be changed.

Our profession has a renewed focus on wellbeing, but quite often it is focused on student wellbeing at the expense of student wellbeing. We need to focus on positive mental health and wellbeing for everyone in our school community. I have appointed a brilliant Deputy Headteacher, Julie Hunter, who has done the .B mindfulness course and the MHFA accreditation. She will be leading our wellbeing strategy.

What changes have you made to your own ways of being and leading that have served you better in Headship?

I am only a term in and do not yet have a team as I am the founding Headteacher of a brand new school site and community. This has it pros and cons.

The pros are that I have had a term lead in to think about and plan how to do things differently. I have recruited a dynamic team are all aligned with my vision and values for the school. The cons are that I am the only team member and the job feels like it is 24/7. I have especially felt the impact of this with communications as I have no one to streamline the flow and interface with all of the stakeholders who want to talk to me/ meet me.

With no team to delegate to, I am accountable for everything and everything is medium to high priority. I am employed a virtual PA to support me as I could not keep all of the balls in the air at one time! From September I will have a personal plan as well as a professional plan for 2017-18 goals. I will get into more a routine once the school is opening and ring fence more time for me. With our holistic offer including yoga, mindfulness and martial arts I will build this into my working week.


What advice would you give to those struggling with the role?

I have a very strong support network who have kept me sane – I have a professional mentor and a personal coach who I can contact to seek support and advice from. I live the #10%braver mantra of #womened – I found my voice a while back and use it. If I am overwhelmed, stressed, unhappy I articulate it.

I have recently been involved in a group coaching programme curated by Annemarie Williams and we had a session with Harriet Minter who challenged me to challenge myself about how I ensure that self-care and self-compassion are part of my professional identity. I am realistic about the fact I am a one woman band and cannot do it all, so I do what I can, when I can and do not beat myself up when I miss deadlines or make mistakes – we are humans and things go wrong, when they do I apologise and make amends.

For me, it is all about fit. I have found myself in the wrong role, at the wrong school, in the wrong culture and I had to walk away. We are responsible for the culture of our schools and the behaviours of our teams, but we are also responsible for our own wellbeing. If we are not healthy, happy and well, then how can we look after the wellbeing of others?


On a wider level, what needs to happen?

• To make school leadership more sustainable we need to invest in wellbeing and resilience build in activity such as coaching and mentoring.
• To support the well-being of school leaders we need to review the workload challenge and create a space and a range of opportunities in schools for staff to breath.
• To help school leaders to flourish we need to invest in the development of their leadership capacity.
• To create a happy & healthy school we need to focus on the whole person and offer holistic activities to develop the mind, the body and the soul.
• To recapture the soul and put the humanity back into education we need to remember and focus on the ‘names, not the numbers’ for our children and the ‘souls, not the roles’ for our staff.

We also need to spend more time on our values as individuals and as communities, ensuring that our values are ‘lived, not laminated’.


Final Thoughts:

I am presenting at the Mental Health and Wellbeing TeachMeet at Magna Carta School this week, sponsored by the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust. My workshop is on MH & WB Policy and Vision: With a blank piece of paper where would you start in nurturing a school culture where everyone can #growlearnflourish?

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The Holistic offer we have at Aureus to develop the Whole Child, I now want to focus on ensuring we have an offer for the Whole Educator too!

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I am looking into how we can establish, develop and nurture our Mental Health and Wellbeing programme at Aureus School.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • My #wellbeing contacts who I will see at the MHWB teachmeet this week – Clare Erasmus, Kathryn Lovewell, Sue Webb and Viv Grant inspire me.


Leading Wellbeing and Mental Health: On Visiting MCS

Wellbeing and Mental Health have been a high priority in education for a while. Both have generated a lot of headlines about the state of the UK education system. There are wellbeing and mental health concerns for the children, as emphasised by the NSPCC’s published report today:

  • 50,000 children rang childline last year
  • on average they received a crisis call every 11 minutes
  • this is an 8% increase on last year

Statistics like this really worry me and make me question the status quo:

  • What is going wrong in our schools?
  • How are we addressing these issues with our young people?
  • Why is our school system exasperating wellbeing and mental health issues?

A lot of schools now have reactive interventions to support those who are vulnerable. But, more importantly, how can we be preventative in out strategies?

The beauty of social media is that through #wellbeing #mentalhealth #teacher5aday tweets and blogs I have connected with a community of educators who  not only care, but are being proactive in crowd-sourcing/ cascading strategies and initiatives they are embedding in their schools. This is how I stumbled across Clare Erasmus. In May 2016, I saw a tweet about a #MHteachmeet at Magna Carta School, Staines. I shared it with a few friends and a group of us went down. I was intrigued as I had not seen a #teachmeet with a pastoral focus before.


The event was brilliant. It blew me away in fact. Nina Jackson was the key note and there followed a series of presentations on mindfulness, yoga, peer mentoring, family outreach, a mental health app designed by the students which showcased the #wellbeing ethos of the MCS. Clare had recently been promoted to Director of Mental Health and Wellbeing; she and her team had created a Wellbeing Zone with a provision of physical and virtual resources to support the community.

Clare and I have stayed in touch since the spring, and I have followed her as she has tweeted and blogged about their journey. She has presented on her research-led strategies  at numerous events including the Mental Health Conference that we hosted at Harris Crystal Palace, funded by the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust and curated by Dr Pooky Knightsmith. Today I visited her, with some Wellbeing colleagues and our HR team from GLF schools to see the  provision in situ.

mcs wellbeing 1.jpg

What I took away from my visit:

  • Collate the data – the student and staff voice focus is strong and underpins decision making but also gives leverage to get buy in
  • Create the space – MCS is well-provisioned with a suite  of rooms and offices
  • Invest in the training – the staff team have been trained to do yoga instruction, mindfulness, counselling – great CPD for them and brings value to the community
  • Identify role models – the young people have been trained to be Anti-Bullying Ambassadors, Wellbeing Ambassadors and Peer Mentors
  • Use the technology – an app designed by the students and a provision mapping tool have saved time and energy, whilst also breaking down barriers/ stigmas
  • Embed in culture – the different themed days, national awareness weeks, PSHE lessons and competitions include art and film artefacts displayed around the school

MCS 4.jpg

So keep Thursday 25th free as Clare and the team are planning the 2nd #MHTeachmeet t build on the success of last year.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Creating a values based education at Aureus School, with #wellbeing at its core

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • The Magna Carta School #wellbeing research which has informed their strategic direction and decision making re preemptive initiatives

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Clare Erasmus – a visionary when it comes to the strategic leadership of Mental Health and Wellbeing
  • Nicola Lainsbury – what a team these 2 make – great operational insight in to the day to day management of the space, the policies and the student ambassadors
  • Sue Webb – looking forward to working with Sue on embedding a VBE at Aureus School with #Wellbeing at the heart of our values
  • GLF Schools HR team – looking forward to collaborating on a MAT/ TSA wide strategy on how to ensure all of our stakeholders are well