Rachael Thorpe is the SENCO at Ark Elvin Academy in Wembley, London. Rachael started her career as a behaviour mentor at Ashfield School in Nottinghamshire, before completing her NQT year at Chelsea Academy in south west London in 2013. She joined Ark Elvin Academy in September 2016 as Head of Year, before taking on the role of SENCO in January 2018.
Lyn Brooks is the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) at Ark Elvin. Lyn began her career as a teaching assistant at Whitefield School in Barnet where she trained to be a teacher. She joined Ark Elvin as a Deputy Head of Year in 2015. Lyn is now an Assistant Principal in charge of Safeguarding.
This Time to Talk Day, Rachael and Lyn discuss the importance of mental health in staff and students, and offer some tips to help you implement a wellbeing programme in your school.
Wellbeing is really important to us at Ark Elvin Academy. Our mission is to support our students to leave the school confident, articulate and culturally aware, pursuing careers they are passionate about, contributing to society and, most importantly, living happy, healthy and fulfilled lives. We believe their mental health is essential to this.
This is why we’ve implemented a wellbeing programme at our school to support our students’ mental health. We’ve introduced ‘Chocolate and Chat’ sessions where students come together every Tuesday and Thursday to discuss any concerns they might have over a hot drink and a biscuit. We host assemblies on mental health and wellbeing, and teach mindfulness techniques such as breathing and mindful minutes. We have created safe space zones in our school. These contain a mindfulness box, including colouring books, stress balls, lavender and fidget tools. We’re also lucky to be working closely with Place2Be, who offer school-based counselling and mental health services.
We’ve had some successes and challenges on this journey; so here’s a few tips to help you along the way if you’re implementing a mental health and wellbeing programme in your own school.
1. Be flexible
Not every child wants to open up straight away. We’ve found that the year 7 students are excited to get involved, and are eager to participate in the sessions. But the older students can be a little more resistant. There’s still a stigma around mental health – although we’re working hard to break through that. So for their first sessions, to make them feel more comfortable, we try to meet them halfway. They can pick where they want to meet up, a space that they find non-threatening. And if they’re not ready to speak to a counsellor, our staff are able to have that initial meeting, and get them used to the idea of talking about their mental health and wellbeing.
2. Normalise it
If you want people to open up, you need to do it too. As teachers at Ark Elvin, we feel we have a responsibility to share our own experiences, and be frank and honest about our mental health.
We also talk to our students about famous people with special educational needs or disabilities. We want them to know it’s OK to be open about mental health. And we’ve really seen a difference in our students and the way in which they treat and interact with their peers. They’re a really supportive bunch and we’re really proud of that.
3. Include everyone
Our sessions aren’t just for our students. We’ve recently introduced chocolate and chat for Ark Elvin staff on Friday afternoons after school, to help them unwind. As expected, some staff were initially reluctant, but the feedback has been really positive – colleagues have commented that it’s a really nice way to end a busy week, and they go home feeling positive and rested, ready for the weekend.
On Time to Talk Day, for the first time, we’re running a wellbeing session for parents. We hope this will be the first of many.
4. Have an action plan
We have an action plan that we’re trying to stick to – it’s so easy to lose sight of what you’re trying to do with all the other pressures of working in a secondary school. But our plan allows us to stay on track. We’re aiming to expand the mental health information that we have available in the school, appoint a mental health advocate within each curriculum area, and do more to raise funds for mental health charities.
We’re really looking forward to Time to Talk Day this year. It’s a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on mental health and wellbeing, when it’s not just us talking about this stuff, but people on social media, in the local community and more. We‘ll be running sessions for students and parents throughout the day. But of course it doesn’t end there – we want every day to be a time to talk for our students, parents and staff.
Want to see more like this? Sign up to Teach – our monthly newsletter featuring practical tips, insights and ideas from Ark, our partners and our friends – visit arkonline.org/newsletter.