Bígí go Breá/Be Well Programme: Teaching wellbeing explicitly and practically

Wellbeing is a broad term, meaning many different things in a personal sense to individuals. Its formal definitions are well-researched; 

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. 

(World Health Organisation, 2014) 

Many would agree on certain fundamentals of an individual’s ‘character’ or ‘sense of self’ as being major influential and constructing factors of ‘wellbeing’. The development of the individual impacts how satisfied people are with their life a whole, their sense of purpose, and how in control they feel. (Mental Health Foundation, 2015) 

We know as educators that teaching and learning operates best upon a solid foundation, which includes a safe environment, excellent classroom management and a healthy relationship among teachers and students. In short, the better the overall ‘wellbeing’ of the learners, the better the chances of highly effective teaching and learning.  

The Social, Personal and Health Education Curriculum in Ireland (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 2019) is a framework that endeavours to instil the following skills in the child during their primary school education: 

  • to promote the personal development and well-being of the child
  • to foster in the child a sense of care and respect for himself/herself and others and an appreciation of the dignity of every human being
  • to promote the health of the child and provide a foundation for healthy living in all its aspects
  • to enable the child to make informed decisions and choices about the social, personal and health dimensions of life both now and in the future
  • to develop in the child a sense of social responsibility, a commitment to active and participative citizenship and an appreciation of the democratic way of life
  • to enable the child to respect human and cultural diversity and to appreciate and understand the interdependent nature of the world.

Consider the effect that the development of those skills might have on a child’s life. Teachers use their own reasoning and expertise to implement the curriculum to the best of their ability. 

My areas of notable interest are mathematics, technology and wellbeing. I believe that wellbeing must be taught and practised as explicitly as mathematics. We know the brain has ‘plasticity’; the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life. (Medicine Net, 2017) Thus, just as we can provide opportunities for students to develop skills in linear algebra, so too can we provide opportunities to develop skills in compassion. I would like to see wellbeing considered as an area that can be engaged with in the way a mathematician would solve an equation; by acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills, applying them, making mistakes and working towards a solution. 

As teachers, we are aware that the needs of the students in front of us are increasingly demanding and that the world is becoming increasingly stressful to navigate. As a teacher myself, I know that wellbeing is important – but I also have eleven other subjects to teach. I have deadlines to meet, a class to care for, projects to engage with, work to correct, revised curricula to contend with and a life to live. On a school management level, the entire school community must be cared for, alongside keeping up with the latest expectations from the Department of Education. On a Departmental level, we are striving to be the top competitors in education worldwide. Where does this leave the individual teacher teaching S.P.H.E. explicitly and consistently once a week? 

Many teachers want to teach wellbeing explicitly and do. However, there is a great need for a variety of comprehensive, year-long programmes inclusive of the necessary resources to engage the children in abstract topics like failure, relationships, mental health, social responsibility and many more. Bígí go Breá/Be Well endeavours to provide these tools and resources for teachers to achieve their targets in S.P.H.E. It aims to reduce the time taken to create plans and resources to bring together a cohesive year of learning. My wish is to give teachers the opportunity to focus more of their time on what is most important – teaching and facilitating learning. 

Bígí go Breá/Be Well was created with the goal of embedding the learning of wellbeing within our students to better support them for all areas of learning. I wish you every success on your teaching and learning journey should you choose Bígí go Breá/Be Well for your school and classroom. I hope it brings you and your students great joy. May this learning help them to develop a deep sense of wellbeing to carry with them always.  

Úna O’Driscoll  

Director, Lasóg Learning