Student mental health and wellbeing are the number one priorities for Scotland's independent schools.
Year-round, but especially as exam results season approaches, it's vital that pupils are equipped with the tools and support to ensure they succeed and flourish at school and at home.
In this blog, Merchiston's Deputy Head of Wellbeing, Danny Rowlands, explains what they do to cultivate a positive working environment at school and the importance they place on student wellbeing.
Can you describe your role as Deputy Head of Wellbeing?
It’s a very broad and varied role, and as a result, it is highly rewarding. The key part of the role is ensuring that the school has the right systems in place to best support our students.
It is about managing concerns when they arise for any individual in our care, but, just as importantly, it is about consistently promoting wellbeing and good mental health. Success is built upon happiness and establishing an environment that is conducive to happiness is at the heart of my role.
The positive relationship students have with their teachers helps them to deal with the lead up to exam results. In what ways do teachers support the students?
The beauty of a close-knit community like ours is that staff and students encounter each other in a whole range of different environments - not just the classroom. It may be on the sports field, on the stage, on a CCF exercise, on a trip or simply in the boarding house. This allows for a fuller understanding of each and every student: what makes them smile and what makes them anxious.
Armed with this understanding, staff can offset any worries by focusing on strengths and interests and channelling each boys’ energy in a productive fashion.
How does Merchiston encourage students to practice focusing on their own achievements rather than comparing themselves to others?
We encourage our boys and young men to strive to be the very best version of themselves. This doesn’t involve avoiding all comparison: after all, a degree of competition, managed in the right way and at the right time, can be very healthy. It is about teaching our students to recognise what is healthy and what is unhealthy; when comparison can be a motivator and when it can be a demotivator.
Students are encouraged to celebrate their progress throughout the year and not just exam success. Can you give us some examples of how they celebrate?
Celebration of success should not simply be summative; it should be formative. This celebration should inspire individuals to even greater success, and for this system to work, such celebration needs to be regular. We have a whole school assembly each week which serves as an opportunity to highlight notable achievements across all areas of school life.
We also have sectional assemblies which provide a similar platform. Houses run internal competitions and give frequent recognition to those who have stood out for their achievements and effort and personal tutors encourage and reward the progress of their tutees.
Feeling part of the Merchiston community helps students to mentally prepare for exam results. How does the school instil this?
We believe very strongly in our school values: building strong foundations, committing to our community, readying for life, and seizing opportunities. These values are displayed around the school and talked about in a range of forums.
House staff and tutors are instrumental in helping to instil these values in our young men and that sense of belonging creates a crucial level of resilience. Loneliness is one of the most corrosive of feelings. Community, on the other hand, reaffirms that you are part of a wider body, with common values and shared experiences, and, crucially, people to look out for you. Whatever happens, our students know that they will be supported.
What would you say to someone considering Merchiston?
I would say ‘come and see us’! Websites, brochures and virtual tours can only tell you so much. To really get a feel for this special place, you need to experience it and even a brief visit will tell you all you need to know. We want you to feel how different Merchiston is as soon as you step on campus.
Anything else you’d like to add about the benefits of building resilience ahead of exam results at Merchiston?
Resilience is a life skill. And even the assertion that it is a skill runs counter to some narratives which depict it as an innate quality which you either have or do not have: the claim that some people are simply more resilient than others.
This is not true. Resilience can be taught and learned. It can be practised and it can be built. It is important around results time, but it is also important throughout our lives.