Lesson in connecting and giving.

Erica Denton, 5, helping sell Comic Relief merchandise outside Oxfam in Saffron Walden.

Erica Denton, 5, helping sell Comic Relief merchandise outside Oxfam in Saffron Walden.

Comic Relief raised a record breaking £75 million on the 25th Red Nose Day when an assortment of celebrities and the great British public did something funny for money. At one stage during the evening 10,000 volunteers at BT were taking 200 calls per second and, over the course of the evening, nearly half a million calls were answered. This at a time when the economy is sluggish and belts are being tightened.

Events such as this provide us with an opportunity to hold a mirror up to our nation. Just as the Olympics and Paralympics beamed back at us and made us feel huge levels of collective pride, Comic Relief warms our hearts as we rejoice in levels of compassion which are staggering.

So why are occasions like Red Nose Day successful in connecting with so many of us? To understand this it is important to reflect on what motivates individuals. In this context, I was reminded of the presentation on Mindfulness given by Professor Felicia Huppert at our recent “What is learning for?” conference. There is a growing body of science espoused by Professor Huppert, among others, which essentially focuses on the importance of positivity in promoting wellbeing, an integral factor in our mental health. Two key elements in the path to wellbeing are ‘connecting with those around you’ and ‘giving to others’. Comic Relief absolutely captures both of these elements.

So what happens in our daily lives to promote positivity? This is clearly an important consideration in the life of a school community where young people are developing emotionally. Gone are the days when Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” resonates as real life experience. Schools’ pastoral investment in young people today is huge. Those of us lucky enough to watch “Educating Essex”, a series about students and teachers at the Passmore Academy, witnessed the level of care and dedication of staff supporting their charges during really challenging times.

Yet, according to the theory behind wellbeing, the emphasis should be on the individual adopting a positive approach. Building on connection with others and the act of giving, a school community is well placed to foster positivity. Many schools, ours included, pride themselves on their sense of social responsibility. We view ourselves as part of the community in Cambridge and are keen for our students to play an active role in our city. Illustrative of this for us is the success of our outreach programme this year. What has been particularly striking to me is the value our students place on this engagement with the lives of others. A recent assembly presented by sixth formers involved in this year’s Shine project (part of our outreach programme), was a heart-warming account of the relationships established with the 10 year olds involved in the project from other schools. The learning outcome of the project was as much the trust created between sixth formers and their young charges, as the creative arts project which had united them at the beginning.

Positivity therefore is a mind-set which can be nurtured. A sense of service and making a difference is not pure altruism; to encourage and facilitate constructive interaction with others for no material reward is arguably the most important activity for an individual’s wellbeing. Just ask the hundreds of thousands of people who did something funny for money on Red Nose Day.

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