‘Five Ways of Wellbeing’ through Dance

Wellbeing through Dance


Clayesmore Prep is a medium-sized mixed prep school for children aged 4 -13, located in Dorset. As is true of many prep schools, we have two facets to our sporting programme: games (heavily centred on fixtures and traditional sports, i.e rugby, football, netball hockey and cricket), and physical education. 

During 2019-2020, we radically changed our games programme, moving away from a sport technique-based approach to a models-based approach encompassing metacognition, problem-solving and cooperative learning.

It was now time to focus on changing our physical education programme with its main goal to ‘instil positive habits of lifelong learning. 

Both during and in the aftermath of the pandemic, I witnessed firsthand how the wellbeing of pupils came to the forefront of education. Therefore, during the second lockdown, I decided to enrol on a  Level 4 Supporting Wellbeing through Physical Education course delivered by SLQ sports leaders and endorsed by the AFPE. 

Social and Emotional Wellbeing

The course was delivered remotely with nine set tasks revolving around social and emotional wellbeing, empowering learners to adopt healthy habits, and advocating the role of physical education to promote emotional and social wellbeing.

Course Outcomes

The outcomes of the course are set out below.

Upon completion of this qualification, you will become a specialist working to help pupils to develop positive emotional and social wellbeing by enabling them – in school and beyond – to:

  • connect to others and develop a sense of belonging;
  • be active – physically and mentally;
  • take notice of their environment and its impact on their emotions;
  • keep learning and pursue their interests;
  • give their time, energy, skills and positive attributes.

(SLQ delegate pack 2020)

Implementing practical ideas into teaching

As soon as I started this course which took place under the guidance of Steve Busby and Nick Furness, I was introduced to  practical ideas that I could implement immediately. I have undertaken many CPD courses which have been heavily biased towards theory. I have often found it challenging  to implement theory into my teaching.

What struck me about this course was its practicality, how it enabled delegates to work on set tasks that could be implemented into school life immediately. 

My main focus was to implement the key outcomes of this course, firstly in our PE curriculum, and then across the school as a whole.

I wanted these outcomes to be central to our new model. As a result, we based the learning outcomes on the ‘Five Ways of Wellbeing’ as described below.

Five Ways to Wellbeing

‘The Five Ways to Wellbeing’ are based on research conducted by the New Economics Foundation (2008). Wherever a child or young person lives, whatever their age, social or personal circumstances, research shows that there are ways to improve personal wellbeing.

Improving wellbeing has a direct link not only to feeling better, but also to functioning better. It helps with physical health, performance at school, and quality of life. By the end of this unitary model, it was our aim that pupils would not only be able to state the ‘Five Ways of Wellbeing’ but also appreciate the importance of leading a healthy life. 

Learning Outcomes

Our learning outcomes of the wellbeing model are set out below:

Connect with other peopleGood relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. They can: help build a sense of belonging and self worth; give an opportunity to share positive experiences; provide emotional support and allow you to support others.
Be physically activeBeing active is not only great for your physical health and fitness. Evidence also shows it can also improve your mental wellbeing by:raising your self esteem; helping you to set goals or challenges and achieve them; causing chemical changes in your brain which can help to positively change your mood.
Learn new skillsResearch shows that learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing by:boosting self-confidence and raising self-esteem.helping you to build a sense of purpose.helping you to connect with others.
Give to othersResearch suggests that acts of giving and kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing by: creating positive feelings and a sense of reward; giving you a feeling of purpose and self-worth; helping you connect with other people.
Pay attention to the present Paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental wellbeing. This includes your thoughts and feelings, and your body and the world around you.Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”. Mindfulness can help you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.

(Information from NHS Website)

Implementing wellbeing into an area our our curriculum

Now that we had a central learning outcome, we needed to find a way to facilitate these in our PE curriculum. After discussion, we felt that dance could be the method by which we could enable our pupils to realise these outcomes . 

Previously, pupils had participated in a dance module where the learning outcomes were based on performance and understanding specific terminology. Pupils seemed to enjoy these sessions. However, beyond this enjoyment, and with hindsight, I cannot honestly say that we added much value to pupils’ lives.  Consequently, the focus of our new unit was to  embed fully the ‘Five Ways of Wellbeing’, both in school and beyond.  

The first decision we took was to change the word ‘ways’ ‘ways’ to ‘pillars’. We felt that changing the language slightly would facilitate accessibility.

The five pillars of wellbeing

To introduce the ‘Five Pillars of Wellbeing’ into our dance curriculum specifically, we started by focusing on two pillars in each lesson, e.g. ‘connect’ and ‘giving’.  We then paired dance activities and ideas with these pillars, e.g.  connect – creating a hand jive collaboratively in pairs/groups; giving – share an idea you produced with another group to include in a motif. Each lesson finished with the ‘being present’ pillar as this complements the cool down, especially the stretching element giving pupils a mental focus, not just a physical one. An example of this is as the pupils are stretching certain muscles they focus on a certain sense, e.g.  whilst stretching the quadriceps find five things in your line of vision or whilst stretching your triceps what three things can you hear ? This ensures the pupil is completely present and focused mentally and physically. 

Owing to the nature of the pillars, they were easily implemented into the curriculum. All of the lessons naturally included  being physically active and learning new skills. 

By using these pillars as a planning tool, it took the focus away from dance performance (which many of the pupils find daunting) allowing them to explore more of their own ideas around  movement, creativity and their surroundings, whilst learning dance content. This created an enjoyable and friendly atmosphere where pupils were happy to perform, share ideas and work together, leading to more effective learning. We also found the pillars a great way to differentiate, We could give pupils more or fewer pillars to complete or focus on depending on their ability, mindset, and needs. 

Findings and results

All pupils seemed to benefit from the new structure of the lessons, both keen dancers and those previously uninterested in dance. They understood that in each session they would have a focus and it would be applied through dance, and they didn’t question their ability to achieve this.

The pillars allowed for a much broader range of dance content to be covered, not just the pupils making up dances or the teacher teaching a dance. We believe this encourages a more confident dance performer and also a more rounded learning experience with the bonus of improving wellbeing. 

Positive impact on the perception of Dance

Positive impact on the perception of Dance

I found that, often, pupils who were worried and disengaged before their first dance session were more intrigued and willing each session. We had groups and individuals, boys and girls, all keen to perform, engage and show their work, often wanting to go back to a previous session’s work to improve or continue their work – this was great! In addition, it had a positive impact on the pupils’ general view of what dance is and improved well-being through actively practising it, and not just talking about it.


It was necessary to adjust our assessment criteria to encompass this approach. Previously, our dance assessment model was based on performance and technical knowledge. We needed to move away from this completely.  Assessment outside the performance is definitely an area I need to research further. After a little research, we decided to base our model on individual learning types.  At the end of the unit, pupils were assessed against the following criteria to assess their conceptual knowledge of the ‘Five Pillars’ of Wellbeing.

Pupils’ phase of understanding the ‘5 Pillars of WellbeingStudent response 
Cautious LearnerBasic, identify, name, define 
Aspirational Learner Describe the why and how, explain the importance, positive collaboration and consideration
Masterful LearnerEvaluate effectiveness on oneself and others, reflect on the importance, justify its importance to others

Implementing the ‘5 Ways/Pillars’ in the wider school community. 

As a Head of Year, I am also heavily involved in pastoral life at Clayesmore. Therefore this gave me the opportunity to discuss implementing the ‘Five Ways/Pillars of Wellbeing’ in a wider context. Through this, we have now developed off timetable wellbeing days for all years groups based around the ‘Five Ways/Pillars’. 

These days have been a success, with many pupils highlighting how relaxed and happy they felt during these days and others asking for us to do this on a weekly basis. 

Pupil voice was another idea that I took from this course. We are now developing this across the school through regular pupil questionnaires, suggestion boxes, open assemblies, peer and subject mentors and creating a school family group system. This has increased pupil engagement, improved relationships between pupils and teachers, enabled better communication between pupils and the school, and provided more leadership opportunities for pupils. 

Furthermore, we have introduced kindness initiatives throughout the school based on pupils ‘giving to others’. an example of this is the older pupils in reading and helping out younger pupils during tutor times. Our next challenge is the process of inducing wellbeing champions (both staff and pupils) across the school.


I have taken so much from this professional course, I am extremely thankful to Nick and Steve for making this such an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. I can honestly say it has been one of the best CPD qualifications I have undertaken owing  to its instant practical nature which can help drive through change immediately. 

About the Author 

Tom Manley has over 12 years of PE teaching experience across a secondary and primary schools in both the public and private sectors. Tom is currently Head of Department in an independent preparatory school and is studying for a Master’s in Education ‘Leading Sport in Schools’ at the University of Buckingham. Tom’s main areas of interest: embedding wellbeing into the PE curriculum and beyond, a student-centered approach to PE and using different pedagogical models to engage all pupils in PE and Sport.


  • A big thank you to Steve Busby and Nick Furness for all their help and guidance throughout this course.
  • Thank you to Lottie Elsdon (one of our PE teachers) for taking this idea on and helping implement it so well into the curriculum through dance.
  • A report presented to the Foresight Project on communicating the evidence base for improving people’s well-being Written by: Jody Aked, Nic Marks, Corrina Cordon, Sam Thompson centre for well-being, nef (the new economics foundation)  2008
  • https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/five-steps-to-mental-wellbeing/

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