Use technology to help, rather than hinder, positive mental health

Helen Keevil

Deputy Head (Pastoral) and Designated Safeguarding Lead, Abingdon School

Read the blog

Twenty three years ago when The Mental Health Foundation set up the whole concept of an awareness week, I don’t think we realised how its importance would grow.  Today, in our technology heavy world, there has never been a more important time to come together and focus on getting good mental health.

Helping others has been proven to boost one’s mental health.  The feeling of fulfilment in knowing you’ve hopefully made a difference to someone else’s life stays with one forever.  In fact, that is why I chose to work in education. I have fond memories of jogging the final kilometre in a school cross country with a student desperate to make it over the finish line.  Similarly, during lockdown when I was charged with overseeing the provision of pastoral care for the children of key workers, we spent every afternoon actively strolling around the school grounds with Luna – my wellbeing dog – picking up débris, removing weeds from flower beds and shaking off the inertia of multiple online lessons in front of a screen.

Whilst a period of stillness and quiet reflection has its benefits, I simply love the movement that a school day provides.  I’ve spent over half my life working in education and movement has featured every step of the way. It keeps you on your toes, keeps you active and keeps your brain ticking.

Our students, here at Abingdon, cover multiple steps around the site, all logged on various smartphones and watches. They discuss the statistics such as heart rate, beats per minute during a French vocabulary test or how much energy they consumed whilst jogging to the boathouse as their warm up before hitting the river for their rowing session. That sense of community, camaraderie and healthy competition can lift your mood for sure.

My Strava account has branched out from the Surrey Hills to the Thames riverbank in Oxfordshire over the last year. Cycling, walking and running contribute to my positive mood and ability to do my job as a senior leader. I manage to feel energised, stress-free and grateful both in my professional and personal life. My mental health and self-esteem remains high, hence I encourage you all to focus on mindful movement, ranging from a calm lunchtime yoga session as offered at my school by a fellow teacher or a frenetic fencing session with one of our sixth form team GB hopefuls.

At Abingdon we have encouraged the students to have a positive relationship with their tech, aiming to find a balance in which they use technology to enhance, rather than take over, their lives. This has led to a phone free environment during the school day where students have been enjoying the recent glorious weather, playing football, volleyball, basketball, cricket and tennis outdoors. The rowers have made the most of the perfect river conditions training hard last week, leading to victories v Bedford and Radley last weekend. Chatting to those representing the school in various fixtures, they appreciate the benefits of their fitness apps or cox comms in the boat, as well as the wireless technology of bowling machines in the cricket nets. Our strength and conditioning coach also uses data gathered from the players’ training schedules to enhance their future performance and nutrition.

To ensure we are tracking the quality of delivery in PSHCE lessons as well as the levels of learning from our students, we roll out regular google quizzes after each topic. This enables us to listen to feedback, review the content, reflect on any gaps or misunderstanding and return to areas of development. Similarly, each term we conduct an in-depth wellbeing survey for every student alongside report writing, where students answer a self-reflection section and a series of self-awareness questions to rate their levels of wellbeing across various areas of school life. This then prompts the evidence-based coaching conversation between tutor and tutee, always putting the student’s wishes and needs at the heart of decision-making and ensuring our educational experience is so much more than just exam grades. Our students find it empowering to take ownership over their learning and self-development and can bench mark their progress term by term; and feedback from our parents suggests they greatly appreciate the time and care we take to check the emotional temperature of our children.

In terms of recent innovations, we are currently trialling the teenage mental health app TellMi with our Year 10 class.  This encourages students to share their problems, whilst also offering help and support for their peers. They already love the feeling of helping someone else anonymously. It lifts their mood knowing they’ve offered advice to a fellow person.  If successful, we will look to roll out more widely. We are also proud to have such a strong Peer Support Lead programme where we train up our 6th formers to mentor, offering academic, wellbeing and organisational advice for younger students. The sheer popularity of this scheme is evident by the fact that over 50 students applied this term for only 16 places – a four-fold increase since the initiative started six years ago. Reading the applications is humbling, as many quote the inspirational leadership of former students who helped them find their feet in their early days of settling into life at Abingdon. This practice has benefited the younger students enormously providing reassurance for them, and a sense of relaxation for their parents, to know they are in safe hands.


14 May 2024