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Happiness, well-being and our mindset

Gemma recently mentioned on our social media links that she'd taken to reading Adrian Bethune's book 'Well-being in the Primary Classroom,' she wanted to investigate and see what the link (if any) there was to well-being and mindset.

Now she's finished it's time to hear her findings!

As one of the reason why Liz and I are so passionate about mindsets, is the link with mental health, I was immediately drawn to this book by Adrian Bethune to find out more and back up what we see as being fundamentally important in primary schools today.

What I've often seen is the focus on secondary well-being, but with our research into mindsets, we began to realise that the sooner we educate our children about things, the more effective it is as it can also be used as a preventative measure, rather than a reaction to the symptoms that swamp so many classrooms today. That being, this was going to be the perfect summer holiday research read.

So, what I'd thought I'd do is have a look at the many highlights in the book and reflect how they compliment the theory of growth mindset.


What struck me here was a how Adrian could see the education system for what it is, he's also a realist explaining that some of his ideas won't suit or work for everyone. This is the same when developing mindsets. We often get asked about 'How' to do it, but the fact is, although there are some specific don'ts, there are so many rights and they have to fit with your school vision, the people who work there, the children who learn there and the community that thrives around it. The main point I took away though was his comment, 'If you don't, nothing changes and we are still left with the broken system we had before.'

Developing well-being and mindsets, takes a change in direction and a whole new way of looking at things for some. This can be daunting, it can seem like a chore, but if we don't take action, everything remains how it was.


In this section, I just had to contact Adrian directly. Everything I was reading was so closely linked, it was incredible. It was as if he had reached inside the brains of Liz and I and listened to our thoughts! Highlighter, post note and page scribbles were ahoy (I know some will spit feathers at the idea of page scribbles)!

Adrian's philosophy to creating happiness is exactly the same as what we try and encourage in our training sessions. This is NOT A TICK BOX EXERCISE! Even a few days ago, I was reading a Twitter response saying that they did growth mindset last year! What?!

As Adrian so puts it, 'It's not a destination to arrive at and that's it.'

Happiness and mindsets is something to be continually worked at, a journey through life, reflecting, evaluating and changing where necessary, not a 12 month project and 'TaaDaaaah!' Along this journey we will find that that things that did make us happy, now suddenly don't, things that we did enjoy, we find bore us and challenges that we used to find difficult are now easier and easier - so this is a never ending cycle, one for the long haul, most definitely.

Another of Adrian's points, is the impact on attainment. Although academic performance and league tables go against our grain, unfortunately they are something a school is measured on. Schools spend thousands of pounds each year trying to raise standards in English and Maths by buying in resources, schemes of work, equipment and trainers in that field. We have always said that unless a child's mindset is working at it's best, then these exercises are fruitless. If we empower children with an understanding of how they learn and how they can get the most from it, the results and more importantly, the progress, will follow. Adrian agrees and the evidence is clear. As he mentions in his book, 'pupils with higher well-being generally perform better at school academically (Gutman and Vorhaus 2012).' and he goes on further to explain that schools who do invest in interventions that improve social and emotional skills see a rise as much as 11% in attainment.

Teachers we speak to are always frustrated by children's lack of perseverance, their ability to think independently and difficulty in social interactions. The evidence is clear, that the more we invest in time and money of interventions such as developing mindsets, the higher chance we have of succeeding in creating a hub of children who love learning, look after themselves and others and overcome obstacles easier.

Chapter 1 - The Tribal Classroom

Back in 2017, whilst we were still full-time teachers - Liz and I made a cringe worthy film about our philosophy on mindsets.

Although our narration is a little robotic, the messages are still at the heart of what we believe to be true. In Adrian's first chapter he talks about a 'Tribal Classroom.' A class where the people in it work together successfully as a team, learn from each other and support one another throughout their year together. The reason being that the most successful people are those who go back to their tribal roots, where survival as a team was crucial. We've always advocated developing a 'safe' place for children to learn, not one where children laugh at their peers when they answer a question wrong, not one where children constantly compete and put themselves in a hierarchy of intelligence and not one where we discriminate against achievement.

Both Liz and I worked hard on building class relationships with any year group we taught - if the classroom is safe, children learn better, from each other and make progress as well as feeling happier.

Chapter 2 - Mindfullness

We know of many schools who are 'trying' mindfullness, but again for some it is a tick box exercise, rather than a real focus. In our training, we talk about our Learning and Performance zones and this is where the link comes. Our Performance zone is where we drive to work or school one day and don't remember how we got there or if we've even locked the front door! Our mind wanders, thinks of other things and we don't really focus on what is going on in the here and now. Adrian talks about how this 'mind wandering actually depletes us and effects our well-being and happiness.'

Really focusing our mind, helps us improve our well-being and our attention.

Adrian also spends a great deal of this chapter talking about our 'fight or flight' response, the chemicals that our body produces and how, this can affect our overall happiness.

Again, in our training we look at our comfort zone and what happens when we step out of it. The fear and stresses that we feel are completely normal and our brains defence mechanism at keeping us safe, but it's here where we can actually step into what we call, 'The Learning Zone', building new neural pathways. The Learning zone can be a daunting place, it can be stressful, lots of effort needs to put in and our body can react with nervousness and increased heart rate. However, once our body gets used to it, these reactions disappear. Some of us choose to remain or step back into our comfort zones, whilst others choose to grab the opportunity and for some, they allow their thoughts and emotions to take over so much that the fear of whatever it is becomes greater. For us, we advocate that we try and step out of comfort zone when we can, in order to stretch it. If we remain in it, it goes back to the previous point, we can feel depleted.

Chapter 3 - What went well?

In this chapter it gives us that nugget of knowledge that informs people how their brain automatically focuses on the negative. It's true! I remember distinctly after every conversation at parent's evening or SLT observation that my mind was geared towards recalling only the negative points. Even though, there were so many positive ones! We always gets nods of agreement when we mention this with staff in schools. Our brain again, going into overdrive to protect us from harm and tries to and make sense of the negative feedback or thoughts. This is what we like to call 'Flip the script.'

In our Mindset Motivation workshops with children, we spend a number of sessions, looking at our own negative self talk and the negativity we get from external sources. We encourage them to 'Flip the script' and change those negatives to positives. My daughter, who is 13, and finding her teenage years a little difficult, has also taken up this approach and found it to be useful. Each night, before bed, she records a moment in the day that was positive, made her smile and puts it in a little jar. She then uses them regularly to remind herself of all the wonderful moments she has had rather than focusing on those more darker and negative times.

If we focus positively more, although a challenge at first, the process becomes easier. We hear, see or feel the negative, notice it, don't dismiss it (S.O.S - Stop, Observe, Shift), but then make a conscious choice to 'Flip the script.'

Chapter 4 - Neuroplasticity

And here it is, the chapter that confirms that an understanding of Growth Mindset, significantly increases happiness and well-being!

In this chapter, Adrian talks about the brains fascinating ability to build neural pathways when learning, how the hippocampus changes size for London cab drivers and all the hormones that our brain produces.

We always find that this session in our Mindset Motivation workshops, is a real game changer with the children, they are fascinated by what their brain can do and how it works, which shows the children that learning is scientific, not a built in characteristic.

We often get asked, 'Once growth mindset has been taught, what next?'

The answer is simple, there are no need for Growth Mindset sessions, it's now living and breathing it through the language you use and the behaviour you display. In fact, you don't even have to mention growth mindset to become more growth orientated.

Chapter 5 - The stretch zone

This chapter replicates a little of what was mentioned in Chapter 3, that movement between zones. Adrian calls his 'Learning Zone', the 'Stretch Zone,' but the idea behind them is totally the same.

He also mentions struggle. Again, something that since joining the mindset journey, Liz and I have become more aware of and allow it to happen more, not only as teachers, but as parents too. If we allow children to struggle, we are not subjecting them to pain, but we are strengthening their minds to understand how to cope with challenges and that also effort is really important. Of course, as teachers and parents, we are there to guide and support, but sometimes when they find their own solution, it can be better than our own.

Chapter 6 - Flow and strengths

For me, this chapter shows and explain the characteristics of a growth orientated person. We talk Habits of Mind in our training session, a theory coined by University professor, Arthur Costa. There are 16 'habits' or character traits and we work with children explaining what they mean and what they look, sound and feel like.

Adrian talks about 'Character Strengths', an initial 6, which are then broken down into smaller chunks to create a set of 24. Our connection here lies within what happens, when these 'habits' are developed in children, 'Schoolwork no longer becomes a chore or tiresome, it becomes a joy - a source of both pleasure and purpose.'

Obviously, these habits are life long skills that take our children out into the big wide world, to be used throughout their lives.

I'm a true believer that these skills can developed and practised. You are not born with them. You gain some from your experiences in life, from your role models, but some need to be worked at. Some of the skills depend on our mindset at any given time or if we're tired etc. We can talk about people in terms of characteristics, but it is worthwhile remembering that these can change if we want them to.

Chapter 7 - It's cool to be kind

This chapter is as the title suggests. Although this doesn't show a hard link to growth mindset, we can find similarities.

I have run a number of sessions on kindness to strengthen, what was mentioned earlier, 'The Tribal Classroom.' I really think kindness comes in developing that 'In this together' approach from Chapter 1 and it is even more powerful if we role model it too! It doesn't take much to be kind and the benefits to us are huge. Chemicals are released into our bodies that allow us feel happy, worthwhile and calm.

The more growth orientated I have become, the more I can empathise with others, take into consideration that their behaviour or language is a product of something that has happened to them and respond in a much more positive way. Liz has noticed this too. In short, I think we've become better people!

Chapter 8 - How our thoughts shape our world

The eighth chapter in this book again flits back to the power of positivity, rather than the negative thinking that we so often fall victim to. However, what it does stress is also being a realist. This is where I think many have seen growth mindset as a bit of nambi pambi, mumbo jumbo. A fad that will disappear because it's too soft. A real misunderstanding. We are not trying to create a society of blind optimists, it's about having, as Adrian puts it, 'A contingency plan for the worst...where you don't filter out risks, but filter out negative thoughts.'

It repeats our theory of S.O.S - Stop and notice the negative, Observe how it makes you feel and Shift it to become more helpful.

In our training, we spend a long time thinking about the impact of our language. Our words are powerful and even that old saying, 'Sticks and stones' as the advert suggests, really doesn't cut it anymore. What we say, how we say it and also what we hear, has a huge impact on our own mindset and the mindset of others. It's important that if we hear negative thoughts, that we tackle them and work at reframing them. Although Adrian, talks mainly about the children, we must also focus on ourselves and how we use language in the classroom, but also with our colleagues.

Chapter 9 - Exercise makes me happy

Now we all know that the much of the current population in UK, especially our children, are being classed as clinically obese. The government have ploughed money into schools through Sports Premium funding to try and tackle this issue and get UK kids fitter.

Whilst teaching full time, I too noticed the decline in children's fitness. They would tired easily, sweating and out of breath, usually after a warm-up! Now although exercise is the focus of Adrian's chapter, more and more schools are realising that physical well-being and mental well-being go hand in hand, with a desperate need to tackle mental well-being over the physical.

1 in 10 children 5-16 years, or 3 in every classroom, experiences mental health problems, which has doubled between the 1980s and mid 2000s ( This was certainly true in the later years of my teaching career, with a third of my class requiring extra support for this very reason.

The evidence is clear when if comes to physical fitness and well-being, which is what the government have noticed. Now it's time to have equal weighting on mental well-being, starting in primary through to secondary and as I said before, seeing these interventions as a prevention of later life illness.

Chapter 10 - Teacher well-being

I think the most important chapter in the book. Liz and I have said, time and time again that no initiative works in your classroom or school unless you live and breathe it yourself. No teacher can possibly deliver a growth orientated classroom or increase happiness, if they are constantly fixed with their own mindsets and not investing in their own well-being and happiness.

Teaching is such a rewarding and joyful profession, but also has it's dark moments, with most teachers now leaving the profession within the first 5 years of them qualifying and record numbers of teachers seeking medical help for stress and anxiety in the workplace.

As a teacher, I too felt the pressure. Of course, the paperwork, the meetings, the planning and searching for resources was endless and a 'to do' list that was never completed. The late nights, missing quality time with my children and feeling tired and ratty because I'd had a 'bad day', did nothing for my mental well-being or my family's. Looking back, it's easy to see how it affected me, my family and also at times, the children in my class, all because I was aiming for perfectionism. This is where Adrian explains why so many teachers burn out. Sight has been lost of what teaching actually is! 'Teaching well is about making mistakes and continually learning, developing and honing their craft. Nor do they constantly seek approval from others....stripping away layers of unnecessary stresses and pressures that get in the way of the innate pleasure and purpose of teaching.'

That was the opposite of what I was trying to do. Many of the things were for SLT, not the children, trying to keep them happy and impress them. If I made a mistake, it was held against me and any learning I did was off my own back, not supported by the school.

This is why well-being and growth mindset initiatives cannot be an individual's responsibility. The whole school community has to be included with drive and passion from the headteacher and governors, not to please Ofsted. There has to be a firm plan in place that has been discussed and created with the whole staff, opinions noted, ideas discussed, without the fear of being judged or criticised. Not only do we need a 'Tribal Classroom' but, a 'Tribal School Community!'

It is more important than ever to value our teachers and educate our children about mindsets in order to increase well-being and say 'Bye bye,' to the mental illness crisis.

In summary, Adrian Bethune's book has shown me the strong connections between developing a growth mindset culture and well-being in a school. The importance of being happy, it's role in education and how it can be achieved. If I'd written a book, this is exactly the angle I would've come in from. Now, there's a thought..........

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