Wake and Shake – The Rhythm of Wellbeing

Jamie O'Dowd

Assistant Head of Senior School, St Christopher's School Bahrain

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At St Christopher’s School, we first began to harness the power of music and movement as a wellbeing tool in the Covid years when regulations in Bahrain meant students could not mix or play outside. Confined to the classroom, we organised morning ‘Wake and Shake’ sessions to get students out of their chairs and moving around to music. These proved so popular that, once Covid restrictions were eased, we moved outside of the classrooms and our PE and Drama staff led whole school ‘Wake and Shake’ sessions in the school playground as part of our Enrichment programme and to mark events such as World Heart Day.

Caption: ‘Wake and Shake’ in the Covid years.


These early morning rituals are more than just physical exercise; they are a celebration of music, movement and community spirit. Led by enthusiastic teachers and student leaders, and accompanied by upbeat tunes, the whole school comes together to engage in a series of dynamic stretches, energising exercises and joyful dances to kick-start their day with vitality and positivity. There is something quite powerful about moving in unison and doing so in a large gathering offers students some protection and anonymity necessary to minimise risk; particularly important to self-conscious teens. In the first few ‘Wake and Shake’ events we organised, there were students who opted out by taking up space on the edges of the playground, preferring to watch on as others got involved and led the way, which was fine. The number of those preferring not to participate has become fewer and fewer each time to the point now where the vast majority are actively involved.

As these activities have gained such positive feedback, we have looked to capitalise on the benefits of these sessions by developing them further. One thing students told us when they returned from the second of two national lockdowns here in Bahrain, was how much they had missed the ‘fun’ aspects of school. Online learning, for so many students not just in Bahrain but around the world, stripped them of so many social interactions and important relationship-building milestones that we previously took for granted. Working with a team of student volunteers we developed our now annual ‘Party in the Playground’ where once again we found opportunities to come together as a whole school to unite through music and movement in a celebration of the richness of our culture we are so fortunate to have in our school.

Caption: Teaching staff leading the crowds through some funky dancing during our first ‘Party in the Playground’ event.


The Positive Education PERMA model influences our approach to wellbeing here at Christopher’s and we carefully map and track opportunities our students have within this framework through our Future Ready Curriculum, for which we have just recently won the TES Award for Curriculum Innovation of the Year. Explicitly planning for opportunities for students to experience positive emotions and develop relationships through these activities is an important part of our wellbeing provision, something that was acknowledged by assessors as we earned the Silver Carnegie Mental Health for Schools Award in 2022.

Caption: Our PE staff leading the school through some exercise moves.


Student feedback around these movement activities has been overwhelmingly positive and has been influential in how we continue to utilise such activities in our calendar. In our half-termly student voice surveys, we are often asked to host these more regularly. The more articulate responses go into even greater detail and many students talk about this being ‘transformational’ to their mood for the rest of the day. Students have also spoken about these types of activities being a boost to their motivation as they become events in the calendar they look forward to and add to their enjoyment of school. Staff too have noticed the difference in the general atmosphere around the school on the days we run these activities with everyone feeling more lifted and energised.

Caption: Staff and students on stage in front of the whole school during our Wake and Shake ‘Singalong’ organised as part of Children’s Mental Health Week.


In our most recent ‘Wake and Shake’ event held during Children’s Mental Health week, we allowed each year group to choose a favourite song and then pitted each year group against each other to see who could sing and dance along with the greatest energy. If you think the Sixth Form students were ‘too cool for school’ to sing and dance first thing in the morning in the presence of the entire school, you will be surprised to hear that they gave it their all! By incorporating the singing element to our movement activities we are encouraging self-expression and confidence building. Singing has been shown in many studies to reduce anxiety, improve self-esteem and strengthen social connections. Hearing 150-plus students in each year singing and moving together in unison is quite an experience, topped only by the finale where the whole school sings and moves as one.

Caption: Students coming together to plan their dance moves for the ‘Sing Off’.


There is something quite innate, quite tribal about social groups engaging in movement and dance together. Along with language, it is one of the cornerstones of our ability to communicate and share experiences. In a school setting, there are so many opportunities to enhance wellbeing, and promote a healthy school culture by making movement and music the rhythm of your school’s wellbeing.


13 May 2024