Educational Insight| Setting up Pupils for a Lifetime of Success

David Mackinnon

Head of Pastoral

David MacKinnon graduated from Queen’s University in Canada with an honours degree in Life Sciences.  After getting his teaching degree, David went on to earn a Master’s in Educational Technology from the University of British Columbia.

David has been teaching for the past ten years in Tianjin, China. For the past seven years he has been teaching at Wellington College International Tianjin, the last five of which he has been Housemaster of the Orange.  Over the last year and a half, he has also organized the after-school activity program at Wellington Tianjin and taken over as the lead for teaching and learning in the Senior School.

In this post, David shares his understanding of Pastoral Care with Wellington College Hangzhou community.

Pastoral care is at the core of a Wellington education because we know how important the overall well-being of our children is.  A child learns best when they are happy, healthy and safe, and while some of our children might naturally fit those criteria, everyone encounters roadblocks in their life which require support to get through.  Pastoral care not only entails help in a moment of need, but also works to develop skills to independently solve moments of crisis on their own.  While some might argue that the main role of the school is to help pupils develop intellectually, proper pastoral care ensures that growth also occurs socially, physically, emotionally and spiritually as well.

Through the Wellington Values of respect, integrity, responsibility, courage and kindness, we are setting up our pupils for success not only in school, but also life after formal education.  I have heard examples of schools helping their pupils get amazing academic results and secure desirable spots at top universities around the world, only to find out later that quite a few of those pupils dropped out early.  The missing ingredient, one might argue, is proper pastoral care throughout their younger years and a lack of this can cause a failure to develop essential skills needed for pupils to survive on their own at university or whatever other post-secondary destination they end up at.

At Wellington, pastoral care comes in many forms; the tutor, the housemaster, the class teacher, the counselor, and many more.  Michael Grove, a professor at Edith Cowen University, talks about the three Rs of pastoral care; relationships, respect and responsibility.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that two of those are also two of our values. The third (relationships) however I would argue is the most important and should be the focus when it comes to caring for our pupils.  In any of the roles mentioned above, you need to first develop relationships with pupils.  Developing trust with pupils is crucial to forming the relationships necessary to make a significant difference in their development as individuals.

Pastoral care in action can also be witnessed in many ways.  The house system is an important place to set up cross-year links to help foster leadership and peer-support systems through house activities, challenges and other house-related programs.  The tutor and/or class teacher who recognises a student in need of support can set up an intervention to ensure that pupil makes appropriate progress.  Well-being classes teach age-related topics to help pupils cope with difficulties that they might be facing at that time.  Charity and service projects are often associated with the house system and help foster a sense of responsibility for the community.

I have seen first-hand the power of a strong pastoral system.  One particular case of a pupil in year 8 who was not succeeding academically springs to mind.  The tutor picked up on his under-achievement after the interim report and he was quickly put on a tracker to closely monitor his attitude and work ethic in lessons.  After months of daily check-ins, breaktime support sessions and parental consultation, this young man completely turned things around and went from one of the least hard-working pupils in the house to not only top spot in his year group but also contending for highest average effort grade in the house.

This is just one of many examples of how a strong pastoral system can help ensure that all pupils make the progress they are capable of in all areas of their lives.  A Wellington education provides more than just an academically excellent education; it is much more holistic in nature.