|‘Wellbeing Walsh’ is a name which has been given to me over the past number of years. It is fitting as my PhD research relates to the introduction of the new Wellbeing curriculum within Physical Education in Ireland, but that is not where the name originated. It was given to me by a group of former students who I taught in St. Mary’s College, Naas. A Wellbeing committee was established in the school during my time there, and a number of teachers, students and I developed a Wellbeing programme and co-ordinated the school’s first ‘Wellbeing Week’. During this week, there was many events organised including an outdoor ceilí, skipping, walk in nature, meditation, a photo booth, painting a mural and it concluded with a neon-themed early morning disco on the Friday. It was one of the highlights of my time teaching at the school and a time where I really got to know the students and spend time with them outside of the classroom. Some of the 6th year students who were involved with the committee commented that it was one of the best weeks they had in school. It was these students which coined the nickname ‘Wellbeing Walsh’. It was extremely gratifying as I am an advocate of holistic education and the importance of teacher-student relationships.
One of the highlights of my PhD research so far has been travelling to Australia and speaking at a symposium organised by the Australian Association for Research in Education’s (AARE) Health and Physical Education Special Interest Group. The event, Wellbeing in Education Symposium: Critical Dialogues and Diverse Perspectives, was aimed at researchers and academics in education, school leaders, teachers, policy workers, and other practitioners with an interest in wellbeing and education. Given my own work on the introduction of the Wellbeing curriculum in Ireland, I was asked to participate in the symposium as an invited speaker. Whilst it was terrifying standing at the top of a room full of established academics (never mind contributing to a Q & A panel!), it was a fantastic experience both professionally and personally, and one for which I am very grateful. It was a proud moment, presenting our Irish curriculum to an international audience. The feedback regarding the curriculum was very complementary in its unique approach having a document solely for wellbeing and the ‘Wellbeing Indicators’ helping both teachers and students making the ‘invisible learning, visible’ in the classroom.
Junior Cycle Wellbeing, as an area of learning, stemmed from the new curriculum for Junior Cycle, the Junior Cycle Framework (2015). Within the Framework, it is emphasised that wellbeing is a significant area of importance. The Wellbeing Guidelines (a document which describes what wellbeing could look like in schools) are based around 6 indicators. These indicators are: (i) Active, (ii) Responsible, (iii) Connected, (iv) Resilient, (v) Respected and (vi) Aware. The indicators can help teachers enact wellbeing in the classroom making ‘the implicit explicit’, helping students recognise how their learning in different subjects can enhance their understanding of wellbeing across Junior Cycle.
Since the University of Limerick has closed its campus, I have found myself reflecting on the Wellbeing curriculum and its importance now more than ever. When life as we know has changed, how do we cope / adjust / carry on when the future is uncertain? Now, we have to seriously consider others, not only ourselves, and how this pandemic may affect them and their lives. The Wellbeing curriculum allows us to develop this perspective in our young people which could be of assistance in times such as this. Presently, we are unsure whether the State Examinations, of Junior Cycle and the Leaving Certificate, will take place in June. This has made me question, what actually is the purpose of education? Is education’s sole purpose to sit exams and recall learned knowledge? To get high grades to gain entry to further education? To get a ‘good job’? Or is it more than that? What about the holistic perspective of education, the development of life skills, relationships, values, morals and so on. This is where I believe our Wellbeing curriculum can help our younger people, and ourselves, during this time.
Recently, have found myself taking the Wellbeing Indicators and applying them to my own daily life. For example:
Many parents/guardians are doing their best ‘home-schooling’ their children at the moment. There are curricula to teach, essays to be written, projects to complete but there is so much more to education and what our young people can learn and are learning during this time. Perhaps applying the Wellbeing Indicators could be a way to break down aspects of personal development our young people (and ourselves) are cultivating. I think that we are all learning how to be more kind, compassionate, tolerant, patient and most of all, to think of others – an extremely important part of any community or society. There is no doubt that these times are difficult, for some more than others, but it could be a time for us, as a country, as a continent, and as a global entity, to pause, reflect and consider what really is important in this life.
As the American philosopher John Dewey said:
I’m sure young people and their parents/guardians in homes countrywide are experiencing this presently.
Claire Walsh is an Applied Studies Coordinator in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences. Claire is undertaking doctorate work in the area of wellbeing and can be contacted via email at Claire.Walsh@ul.ie. or on twitter @Claire8Walsh. Claire is currently involved with the NCCA in the Senior Cycle Physical Education (SCPE) pilot project.