John Stainer's Action for Happiness

Happy land! happy land! Thy fame resounds shore to shore
Happy land! where 'tis a crime, they tell us, to be poor.
If you shelter cannot find, of you they'll soon take care:
Most likely send you to grind wind - For sleeping in the air.
- Ultramarine

Adrian Bethune is breeding a race of super-children at John Stainer Primary School. He writes:

I am a teacher at John Stainer School on Mantle Road. I am also the Healthy Body and Mind Leader at the school.

I wondred if you could post a feed/advert on your Brockley blog about an event we are hosting on  Thursday 15th Nov 6.30pm-8.00pm

We are screening an award winning documentary called 'Happy' at our school to celebrate us becoming a champion school for Action For Happiness and their Schools for Wellbeing Scheme. We are inviting the local community to come and watch the film at our school, meet other parents and teachers and learn more about the project. 

We have signed up to the scheme because we have been trialing some new initiatives in our school and want to continue to develop and hone what we do and Action For Happiness have a great deal of contacts, research and resources that we can benefit from. 

Schools that purely focus on results and attainment, in my opinion, don't always produce happy, well-rounded pupils. England has the most tested primary school pupils than anywhere else in the world. In contrast, at John Stainer, we believe that if you focus on the children's happiness and sense of wellbeing, good results and achievements naturally follow. 

This does not mean that we have lowered our expectations in terms of what we want our pupils to achieve. To be clear, John Stainer School has very high expectations of its pupils. We want pupils to do their best and achieve their full potential - which is why teaching them about resilience and perseverance is part of our wellbeing strategy. 

In practice, some of the things we have been doing in our school to help promote our pupils' happiness and wellbeing are:

Fostering a Growth Mindset - using the research and ideas of Carol Dweck, we are doing more in our classes to move pupils' mindsets from fixed ones (where they believe their talents and abilities are fixed no matter what they do e.g. "I'm rubbish at maths"), to growth mindsets (where they realise that with enough effort, they can improve at something.  

Teaching our children about brain plasticity - we have been teaching mini neuroscience lessons to classes, showing them how their brain works. Most pupils now can tell you about their neurons connecting up when we learn something new and how, if we find something hard, it's because our neurons haven't connected up and we need more practice at it. 

Meditation - I guide my class through a 3-min meditation every morning before we do any work. There is masses of clinical study research on the benefits of meditation on mental wellbeing, health and learning/memory. 

Perseverance and Resilience - we try and teach our children that they will inevitably face challenges, setbacks and disappointments. Indeed, teaching about happiness and wellbeing is NOT about our children feeling happy all the time (trying to achieve this leads to unhappiness as it's impossible!). We also stumbled across this clip in my class and now the phrase 'be like the penguin' has become a bit of a motto as the penguin's fight really seemed to resonate with the children at John Stainer 


Bridget McKenzie said...

It's great to read this on a day that Michael Gove is reported to say that children get happiness from tough exams, which is entirely unevidenced. We know from evidence that people are happy (in flow) when they are challenged to develop capacities that relate to their context, which are meaningful to them, but which also allow them to create new ideas and patterns. John Stainer school seems to be going in the right direction and long may it be able to try these approaches.

Anonymous said...

The phrase "fostering a growth mindset" suggests to me that the language of the Bullshit Sector (i.e. consultancy & PR) is entering education...

Adrian Bethune said...

Hi Adrian Bethune from John Stainer School here.

To Anon, "fostering a growth mindset" is actually the words of a psychologist, Carol Dweck, who has done lots of research into how our brains grow and develop.

I invite you to come to our evening tomorrow, hear what we have to say, watch the film which talks about the science behind happiness and then judge for yourself.

Please don't write this off just because you don't like the tone of some of the language used.

Anonymous said...

hi Adrian. when i read this piece my first thought was 'how can i enrol my as yet unborn (and unconceived) child in your school'. dont worry about the trolls, someone has to hate everything on here. it sounds to me like you're doing a great job.

Adrian Bethune said...

Thanks for the two positive comments! I'm glad what we are trying to do at John Stainer chimes a chord with people.

I actually think scepticism is healthy for projects like ours and I welcome the doubters' comments.

This is what we want at tomorrow's event at our school - to open up a healthy dialogue about what we can do as a community to make life better for one another.

Hopefully see lots of you then!

kolp said...

Adrian this is great that the school is trying a holistic approach in educating the kids and it appears by opening the invitation to the wider community that you implicitly realise that it via the parents that much will be achieved.

Well done said...

Well done John Stainer School (Adrian) for looking at new approaches to the wellbeing of students.

AAA said...

@Adrian - Keep up the good work. I like the sound of both your approach and your methods.

Curious said...

Hi Adrian,

Firstly, I think this sounds great.

Can I ask a question, though? Is this package something that you've put together internally - or have you been advised by someone external? (Can explain more about why I ask that if needed; don't mean to pick gratuitously; from what you say, would be happy for my children to attend your school)

Adrian Bethune said...


Good question! What we are trying to do at John Stainer is not an off the shelf package. It is something that has grown organically from within the school.

A good few of the ideas were garnered from a course I did run by the ICEP called Teaching Happiness, many ideas are from Ian Morris' great book called 'Learning How To Ride Elephants - Teaching Happiness and Wellbeing', some are from Action For Happiness, others from mindfulness courses - a real mix.

But all the sources have one key theme - their aim is to develop people's sense of wellbeing.

Lionel Ketchian said...

Hi Adrian,

Congratulations for doing a job that is much needed. I wish we could be doing this here in the USA. You are leading the world in your positive efforts. As a person who was one of the first to teach happiness in a university before 2000 I wish we could be doing more of this here in the USA. Maybe you can start a Happiness Club at school as well. We have over 100 of them around the world. Thank you for the important contribution you are making to our youth and the world.

Adrian Bethune said...

Hi Lionel,

Thanks for your support! I agree that this movement should be more widespread but 'from the humble acorn, the mighty oak doth grow' (no idea who said that but I like it!!).

It will take time but I think a greater emphasis on happiness and wellbeing in education (and health care, and government and finance, etc) is a natural progression. Good on you for pushing ahead in the States!!

Adrian Bethune said...

Tonight was a success!! A very respectable turn out of parents, staff and local residents. It's really reassuring to know that people are behind this. thanks to those who turned up, who commented on this blog and to everyone who will support John Stainer School in the future.


Curious said...

Hi Adrian,

Glad things went well for you. I wish we were in your catchment area! Perhaps you could share your ideas with some of the other local schools...?! I would love mine to go somewhere that took this side of things seriously...

Tamsin said...

I just get a still on the penguin link - is there a "button" to press that I am missing or do I need to sign into the website or something?

Adrian Bethune said...

Hi Curious, I would love to share these ideas with local schools and I am working with a school in Greenwich on such a project. I will speak to my Head Teacher and see if we could put on an Inset about this for local schools to attend.

Tamsin, if you google " penguin escapes from sealion" you should find a 2min clip from BBC's Frozen Planet.

interested said...

Hi Adrian - the well being work that you are doing at your school sounds great! Do you have any plans to hold any other events for those of us who missed the event in November?

Nigel Rayment said...

"at John Stainer, we believe that if you focus on the
children's happiness and sense of wellbeing, good results and
achievements naturally follow." I'm sorry to say that does not accord entirely with my impression.

Adrian Bethune said...

Hi interested,

I will definitely be organising another wellbeing event but probably at the start of the new academic year (Sept 2013 onwards). Keep your eyes peeled for information about it either on here, or on our school website!

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