Educating the Heart – a wellbeing and resilience approach

In investigating their lived experiences, young people from primary school Scoil Eoghan in Donegal worked with educators Donna McFeely and Grainne O’Neill to prepare for the transition to secondary school by to explore the importance of resilience and wellbeing for participating in the world as a global citizen.

Who we are

Students from Scoil Eoghan, Donegal, Grainne O’Neill, Global Educator and Donna McFeely, Children in Crossfire.

What we did

We worked with Year 7 pupils from Scoil Eoghan, Moville, through a five-week programme to support them to build resilience and wellbeing for transitioning to post-primary school. Through exploring their lived experiences, we helped the pupils understand the importance of resilience and wellbeing for participating in the world as a global citizen, and how we are all responsible for transitioning the world towards a more just and fair place for everyone.

Why we did it

Early in 2018, Scoil Eoghan teachers participated in Children in Crossfire’s accredited CPD Educating the Heart programme. ‘Educating the Heart’ offers a holistic approach to education for global citizenship. It is rooted in ‘compassion ethics’ and merges aspects of ‘social and emotional learning (SEL)’ with ‘critical pedagogical approaches’. Educating the Heart aims to facilitate the cultivation of the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes and values for participating in the world as a compassionate global citizen.  The ‘Compassion Compass’ (see below) outlines the essential components of compassion.

Pupil voice and participation is at the core of this programme, and the overall approach seeks to develop the ‘whole’ pupil through methods which engage the heart, head and body. 

To assist teachers to implement the programme in class, they are provided with a Pupil Programme which includes 12 lesson plans. The lesson plans are designed for use by primary and post-primary teachers in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and aligned to meet curriculum requirements.  Each lesson is based on using active teaching and learning methods, and includes up to three 20 to 30-minute activities and pupil resources.  Teachers can adapt the lessons to suit the needs of their pupils.

As the teachers from Scoil Eoghan implemented the Pupil Programme, they recognised a need to offer a bespoke approach to students who were preparing for the transition to post-primary school. A need emerged from the pupils to focus more closely on Deepening Resilience and Building Personal and Social Wellbeing (see Compassion Compass), and to explore how the individual and collective experiences of transition has resonance with the transitions and resilience we need to navigate the local and global challenges in our world.

This involved designing a ‘transition’ programme that linked the lived experiences of the pupils with the wider resilience and wellbeing required for global citizenship was a fluid and intuitive next step for the wider ‘Educating the Heart’ work of Scoil Eoghan.

How we did it

We worked with the pupils for one hour per week over five weeks. We developed workshop activities which focused on the elements:

  1. The Earth (representing grounding energy and the environment)
  2. Fire (representing transition and opportunities for creativity and active change-making)
  3. Air (representing mind, critical thinking and knowledge)
  4. Water (representing movement of emotions, changes in our world, and taking positive action)
  5. Aether (representing resilience, interconnection and collective action)

Practical activities were implemented in line with the above five elements.  In each activity, pupils had the opportunity to explore their own personal transition journey to post-primary, whilst linking the themes and content to wider global issues.

Did we succeed?

The pupils participated fully in the programme, and each of them kept a reflective journal. Facilitators reported that the pupils ‘loved writing in their journals’, and ‘they were fully engaged throughout each session’. The pupils expressed that the overall programme helped them have an effective closure from the primary school experience, and that they learned good skills and strategies for life. 

One key outcome for those of us involved in the project relates to the pupils directly and their contributions to the development of a new resource – Cultivating Courage for Transitioning to Post-Primary School: Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Transitioning through the World, which is set for publication by Children in Crossfire during 2019 and widens the reach, engagement and potential learning lessons for others.

Donna McFeely is Development Education Project Worker with Children in Crossfire.