Simon Smith on the importance of wellbeing and parkruns

Simon Smith Simon Smith

Simon Smith arrived at Rydal Penrhos in January 2017 following six years at Haileybury as deputy head (Academic), where he taught History and was also a senior boarding house tutor, Year 7 tutor and refereed many football and rugby matches. Prior to Haileybury, Simon was at Worth School in Sussex for 11 years where he was head of history and the IB Diploma co-ordinator before joining the senior leadership team as director of academic administration.

Simon gained a BA (Hons) in History and Economics from the University of York and studied for his PGCE at the same university while working at Bootham School. His first teaching post was at Hurstpierpoint College in Sussex. Simon has been a Governor at two prep schools as well as at Haileybury Turnford, an academy school supported by Haileybury. Simon is also a Director of the Welsh independent Schools Council (WISC).

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The importance of wellbeing and parkruns

From an early age we were all taught by our parents of the importance of brushing your teeth at least twice per day. Why? Because dental hygiene, or to put it another way, dental health is important. We all take our physical health and wellbeing seriously but do we give as much attention to our mental health and wellbeing? If wellbeing is about feeling good and functioning well isn’t it important that schools and teachers give just as much due regard for our pupils’ mental fitness as their physical fitness?

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Just as important is to give due regard for our own wellbeing; we need to have  teachers feeling good and performing well in the classroom if our pupils are to get the very best education they can. Stress and anxiety are words I hear all too often and we must do everything we can to limit the causes and effects. However, on the subject of stress I completely agree with Sean Fenton, Head of Reigate Grammar School, Surrey who notes in today’s Sunday Timesthat the right kind of stress can be a positive “some of the best moments of being a teenager are first-night nerves, pre-match butterflies when you’re playing a local derby. Those are those stressful moments that give life its texture, its purpose, its real value.” However when stress and anxiety become too much debilitating then we must take action but be pro-active as well as reactive..

At Rydal Penrhos, we have spent a good deal of time considering this important issue. “Living” is one of our 5Ls – the others being Learning, Leading, Listening and Location. However, it’s only recently that we’ve started to address it more explicitly. Following a recent Staff Training Day we are integrating the 5 Ways to Wellbeing philosophy into our day-to-day routines. The 5 ways, similar to the 5 a day dietary advice are:

Give– your time, your words, your presence

Take notice– remember the simple things that give you joy

Be active– do what you can, enjoy what you do, move your mood

Connect – talk and listen, be there, feel connected

Keep learning– embrace new experiences, see opportunities, surprise yourself

Of course our staff and pupils were already doing much of this but we are now trying to get our pupils (and Staff) to consider all of this all the time and be mindful of the benefits. Our weekly Staff Briefing now begins with 5 members of staff saying something about each of the “Ways” and the comments have been incredibly uplifting. They have spoken about: “noticing” our stunning grounds more often, “connecting” with other members of staff who they knew less well, about their experiences of “learning” something knew from a course, reading or a personal hobby. We start Chapels and assemblies in a similar fashion.

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All 5 are extremely important and I will say more about each in future blogs but I want to say something about the importance of being active. Being active is very much part of the Rydal Penrhos way. My pupils are typically engaged in sport over 5 hours per week.

The New York Time reported “children who are more active are better able to focus their attention, are quicker to perform simple tasks, and have better working memories and problem solving skills than less-active children. They also perform better on standardized academic tests”.  In findings published last week 89% of the 8,157 surveyed by Glasgow Caledonian University said “running regularly has made them happier and has had a positive impact on their mental health.”

It was with such evidence in mind that last term I went with 14 of my pupils to our first Conwy parkrun and, despite the cold wind blowing off the water, it was one of the most uplifting and positive experiences of my recent life. For those who aren’t familiar with parkruns they are organised (by enthusiastic volunteers) 5 Km timed runs in safe, often beautiful, parts of the country and perhaps best of all are completely free.

The Conwy parkrun is probably one of the most stunning of all the UK parkruns. It starts by the RSPB  Nature Reserve, off the A55, from there you run towards Conwy Castle then back towards the Quay Hotel and then back to the start all along the banks of the river Conwy. It’s relatively flat and pushchair and wheelchair friendly. More importantly it’s just friendly!

Around 300 runners joined us on that first outing – a mix of ages (our head of sixth form brought his young daughter) a mix of, dare I say body shape, and a mix of fitness levels plus the odd dog but all incredibly supportive of each other. Fancy dress outfits are not unusual and nor are complementary encouraging comments as you work your way around the course from the volunteer marshals to the participants (not competitors). At the end of the run you can have your time officially recorded with a view to perhaps improving it next time; I’m determined to beat my director of sport.

All our pupils finish, in progressively quicker times, and everywhere I look I also see other members of staff from the School or other familiar members of the community. It is for an early start on a Saturday morning, an utterly joyful experience and not just because I happen to be a keen runner but because it restores my faith in community and peoples’ commitment to improvement in addition to the pupils’ sense of achievement.

The Chester parkrun is in the Countess of Chester Country Park but I would encourage anyone reading this Blog to try the Conwy parkrun just once and take your children too; it won’t be your last! At a time when I have to worry about my pupils and all teenagers’ health, both physical and mental, such organisations and events give me hope and restore my faith in the human spirit.

The Saturday parkrun certainly ticks all the 5 ways to wellbeing but it’s just one part of a much bigger strategy we are constructing here at Rydal Penrhos  to become an even happier community who live, learn and laugh together. Perhaps laughter should be our 6th“L”

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