Well-Being in action in advance of assessments

well-being US session

Later this month, many Upper School students will be taking their AP exams and other assessments, which can be stressful times for “some” students, not necessarily ALL students. That point was made at the beginning of a recent well-being session with Upper Schoolers, by Laura Triebold, who helps teach well-being practices in her various classes on campus. Managing the emotions around stress is something that can be practiced. This year, at various times in the students’ schedule, members of our Student Support team, our Health & Wellness department, and the division heads have prepared sessions focused on various aspects of well-being. 

These wellness sessions are opportunities for students, as well as adults in the community to practice well-being. This week the Upper School met during Flex time to understand the difference between an emotion judge and an emotion scientist. Students paired up and did an exercise in silence where they tried to decipher the other’s emotion without any talking. The idea of the exercise is to recognize emotion in others as well as yourself. 

“Being an emotion scientist instead of an emotion judge allows you to uncover why the person is exhibiting the emotion, not just the emotion itself and therefore be able to have a more thoughtful, positive relationship with others,” explains Krishna Davda, Asst. Head of Upper School.

The qualities needed to be an emotion scientist are to be curious, test hypotheses, ask questions, and dig deeper to discover the context behind the emotion. 

These qualities of an emotion scientist translate to better brain health. “Brain health is knowing how to be most accurate with your emotions, so your thoughts are connected to your behaviors,” says Susan Essex, Director of Student Support. 

And by being more in touch with your emotions during test time, for example, will allow the brain to hopefully not go into stress mode where it is less effective. 

The students left their session engaging in one last practice called Happy Memory. They imagined a time when they felt happy, and noticed all the senses during that happy time, such as what did they hear? What did they smell? Recalling that happy memory when they are stressed will allow the brain to cool down, get out of stress mode, and ultimately think better.

“These practices are useful to anyone who chooses to engage with them,” explains Overlake’s Director of Health & Wellness, Dr. Samantha Hillyer (’01), who encourages the adults in our student’s lives to practice some of these wellness strategies. The year’s well-being programming for Upper School students can be found here, with the exercises and framework identified in the presentation slides.

Hillyer says by engaging our students in the planning and programming of these activities helps to achieve not only their buy-in but also increase their executive functioning and helps them become better informed members of our community. Case in point, the session ended with members of the student-led Forefront club showing their fellow students mental health relief kits they created that will be available around campus to help students manage stress during test time. 

The kits consist of a cold pack to help regulate emotions by cooling the vagus nerve in the head, hand warmers to provide comfort and blood flow, sour candy to interrupt nervous emotions, and stickers with positive messages. 

Next week, Middle School students will have the opportunity to practice some well-being skills during their Flex time. 

The work this year sets the stage to move more intentionally next school year into RULER, which stands for the five skills of emotional intelligence: Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, and Regulating emotions. This framework was designed at the Yale Center for Emotional Health. This school year Triebold, Hillyer, and Davda, along with other members of our faculty & staff community traveled to Yale to learn more about implementing RULER into Overlake’s ongoing practice to build better well-being among its community members. Next year’s sessions will use our recent HAAS survey data that the student’s provided to inform us of our on-going practice of social-emotional learning. 

Editor’s note: Overlake is fortunate to have expertise in moving our work on well-being forward for our community in very tangible ways. For example, Assistant Head of US, Krishna Davda, has spent years working with the RULER framework for well-being. In this attached article from NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools), learn how Davda and others at his former school implemented well-being throughout the student’s middle school experience utilizing RULER.