This is Lola. And she’s a frontline wellbeing worker.
Those in the know will spot that Lola is a Shihtzu. This was no random choice by the school that recruited her as part of its whole-school approach to wellbeing.
The breed is noted for its good natured temperament and the fact it doesn’t shed much fur. Both are useful in her job, where getting along with children is a must and not provoking allergic reactions a definite bonus.
And Lola isn’t alone. Two other pups from the same litter were also purchased by the school just in case Lola and her owner – one of the teachers at the school – moved on to pastures new. Another Lola could immediately be substituted with little disruption to the pupils who know and love her.
The level of consideration that went into Lola’s selection speaks volumes about how seriously the her school takes the wellbeing of its pupils.
Lessness Heath Primary School in south east London responded to being placed in special measures by placing the whole-school’s wellbeing at the heart of its strategy to drive improvement. Three years on and the school is now rated good (and outstanding in many areas) by Ofsted and was among the first to receive the Wellbeing Award for Schools from the National Children’s Bureau and Optimus Education.
The school put in place a bold whole-school approach to wellbeing. It prioritised its limited resources to employ a full-time, fully trained counsellor to lead the wellbeing programme. This staff member focused solely on pupils’ wellbeing with no other teaching responsibilities.
Pupils learn the importance of core values like bravery, respect and responsibility, and are encouraged to express feelings and moods in a constructive and reflective way. They learn self-management techniques like mindfulness and support each other by electing ‘wellbeing ambassadors’ in every class. The voices of pupils are central to the wellbeing strategy.
Within the wider school community, the school responded to staff concerns about workloads by removing requirements to mark books outside school time; a move reflected in a renewed enthusiasm for the core business of teaching.
The approach has rebuilt trust with parents who are actively involved in the wellbeing strategy and who benefit from regular parenting classes and peer support meetings, generating a powerful sense of shared purpose between school and home.
And into this potent mix bounds the enthusiastic Lola. The puppy is unapologetically enjoying her army of fans and is showered with affection by both pupils and staff wherever she scampers. And in a playful way that children get, she underlines the fact that the school is about caring and warmth and respect.
As schools wake up to the importance of placing mental health and wellbeing at the core of their school’s approach, pooches like Lola are cropping up in school’s the length and breadth of the country.
But more importantly, schools are responding to the needs of children, and making emotional wellbeing the business of every member of the school community.
Lola is just part of a bigger movement.