A whole-school approach to well-being is about creating a safe and supportive environment in schools, one that enhances all dimensions of health and the development of students, writes Nicky Sloss.
It is often obvious when our students are not doing so well – we see this through their facial expressions, posture and energy levels, the things they say and don’t say. How does it look, sound and feel when our young people are flourishing in all aspects of their lives and how do teachers help them along that path to wellbeing?
What is wellbeing?
For over 70 years, the World Health Organisation has defined health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ (Who.int, 2015). It is a definition that acknowledges how multifaceted the nature of wellbeing is. Dodge et.al. (2012) states that wellbeing is the ‘balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced.’ In other words people can only thrive when they have the resources to address the adversities they face. In relation to education, the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) survey provided the following definition for student wellbeing, ‘a sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience and satisfaction with self, relationships and experiences at school’ (Australian Catholic University, 2008).
In order to complete duties and be effective educators within the school community, teachers and those working with young people in schools need to have a diverse set of skills and characteristics. On top of good pedagogy, an expanding curriculum and a knowledge of mandatory school policies and procedures, teachers need high levels of energy, a capacity to recognise they do not have all the answers and a willingness to seek the support of others when required. Understanding the wellbeing of students and developing strong connections and a sense of belonging might seem an extra demand on educators however, evidence suggests it is critical. It this focus on wellbeing that underpins the effective education of the whole child, and every child – ‘Everybody is a teacher of wellbeing’ (MindMatters).
In my role as AISNSW [Association of Independent Schools NSW] Student Wellbeing Consultant, I get to talk with many teachers across New South Wales in relation to their work with students in school settings. I find it encouraging, comforting and not at all surprising that many classroom teachers, school administration and support staff have high levels of awareness concerning student wellbeing. The idea that wellbeing affects learning is not a new one and there is a plethora of evidence to inform and assist educators and staff supporting students in schools to support this.
Educators and staff working with young people are eager to learn strategies to enhance their relationships with students to improve wellbeing and academic outcomes. Martin and Dawson (2009) suggest that, ‘a focus on relationships throughout the school has a positive ripple effect impacting on not only wellbeing, but also the motivation and performance of both students and their teachers.’ As one of my colleagues and I regularly say, teachers teach students as well as subjects.
Teachers require professional learning and resources to assist them in relation to student wellbeing. A recent survey of Australian principals and teachers conducted by the Australian not-for-profit organisation beyondblue found that almost all believed that student wellbeing and mental health was equally as important as school curriculum. Two thirds of those surveyed would like more professional learning and resources in this area (beyondblue 2015). Educators acknowledged their responsibility in creating a supportive environment in the classroom and to address the wellbeing of the young people in their care but do not always know the best way to deliver that support.
What might wellbeing look like in schools?
Both KidsMatter (primary) and MindMatters (secondary) are two reputable and evidence-based frameworks created in collaboration with beyondblue, the Australian Psychologists Association and Principal’s Australia Institute. Their whole-school approach is not only key, it is essential. The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008) clearly identified schools as having a pivotal role in the wellbeing of young Australians working in partnership with the broader community. The wellbeing of students is a key foundation for success.
A whole-school approach to wellbeing involves everyone in the school as well as the community – ensuring that a sense of connectedness and belonging is provided for young people (KidsMatter). A whole-school approach is about creating a safe and supportive environment in schools, one that enhances all dimensions of health and the development of students.
Huppert (2011) suggests that schools are a key component in terms of moving students and staff from languishing to flourishing. There will always be those students whose mental health requires a high-level response in our schools however, the focus is now increasingly aimed at universal prevention intervention. These interventions stretch beyond one or two lessons and may extend to an informal and formal wellbeing ‘curriculum’ in schools.
Challenges and solutions
Access to resources, planning time, structures and budget can all be seen as challenges in schools however none of these are unsurmountable. In Australia, we are fortunate to have access to a wide range of resources and professional learning networks across the country and globe. Teachers and schools can access a range of resources all free of charge including though not limited to:
• Australian Communications and Media Authority Black Dog Institute
• Bravehearts beyondblue
• Bereavement Care Centre Bullying No Way
• Curve Lurve CyberSmart
• Edutopia Five Ways to Wellbeing
• Greater Good Science Centre headspace
• KidsMatter MindMatters
• National Centre Against Bullying NSW Cancer Council
• Peer Support Australia Orygen Youth Health
• ReachOut.com/Professionals Safe Schools Hub
• Stay Smart online Syd Uni Brain and Mind
• The Butterfly Foundation The Smiling Mind
• Transport for NSW Wellbeing Australia
• Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre Youth beyondblue
A number of these organisations and resources also provide professional learning for teachers. Not to be underestimated, Twitter is also an outstanding professional learning network and place to source ideas and resources for wellbeing in schools.
Each term in the AISNSW Student Wellbeing News, the plethora of evidence-based resources, articles, apps and fresh evidence-based ideas and opportunities is showcased. Teachers can access this newsletter as professional learning to utilise in their work with both students and the parent community, who are a vital part of the wellbeing puzzle.
Experts and researchers, as well as police liaison officers and advocacy groups, can also be a useful addition to wellbeing programs provided they are scaffolded by appropriate sessions with Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) or wellbeing staff. Purposefully scheduling visitors when KLA curriculum would benefit from their support can also be appropriate. Adequately resourcing teaching staff and providing professional learning in relation to student wellbeing topics will build their capacity and ensure messages are well-received and sustained by the school community.
• Schools are vital in relation to student wellbeing.
• Student wellbeing is necessary for effective learning, pro-social behaviour and resilience.
• Informal conversations, development of relationships and connections play an important role in the development of student wellbeing.
• Professional learning is essential to build teacher capacity in relation to student wellbeing.
• Teachers require an understanding of current evidence-based research regarding the contemporary issues concerning the health and wellbeing of young people.
• Both proactive and reactive approaches are required when working with young people in schools.
• There are a plethora of evidence-based resources related to student wellbeing.
Wellbeing is definitely on the agenda in our schools.
Australian Catholic University and Erebus International (2008) Scoping Study into approaches to student wellbeing: Literature review. Report to the Department of Education, Employment and Work Relations: Canberra
beyondblue (2015). Media Release, 4th May. beyondblue launches new MindMatters initiative to improve mental health in Australian Secondary Schools. Available at: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/news/news/2015/05/03/i-beyondblue-i-launches-new-mindmatters-initiative-to-improve-mental-health-in-australian-secondary-schools [Accessed 21 Jul. 2015].
Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (2015). Student Wellbeing: Literature Review. Report to NSW Department of Education and. Communities.
Dodge, R., Daly, A., Huyton, J., @ Sanders, L. (2012). The challenge of defining wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2 (3), 222-235.
Martin, A.J., & Dawson, M. (2009). Interpersonal relationships, motivation, engagement, and achievement: Yields for theory, current issues, and educational practice. Review of Educational Research, 79 (1), 327-365.
Huppert, F.A. (2011). Flourishing Across Europe: Application of a New Conceptual Framework for Defining Well-being. Well-Being Institute & Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge.
Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (2008). Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians.
Principals Australia Institute
Roffey, S. (2012). Positive Relationships: Evidence Based Practice across the World. Springer Science + Business Media.
Who.int, (2015). WHO Definition of Health. [online] Available at: http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html [Accessed 21 Jul. 2015].
Nicky Sloss is a passionate educator working as the Student Wellbeing Consultant at the Association of Independent Schools NSW. A teacher for 25 years in both Government and Independent Schools, she is currently completing her Graduate Diploma in Counselling. Nicky won an Australian Government Quality Teacher Program Grant and Positive Schools teacher nomination in 2013 and is a member of the NSW Wellbeing Australia advisory group. Nicky can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW) is a significant provider of professional learning programs for more than 460 independent schools in NSW, and its programs are also able to be accessed by teachers from other schools sectors and states and territories. AISNSW delivers hundreds of programs and customised consultancies to schools focusing on the curriculum and pedagogy, as well as conferences, online learning programs and webinars.
AISNSW Student Wellbeing Professional Learning
AISNSW Student Wellbeing News is a newsletter sent to teachers who register their interest each term. We invite teachers to engage with this source of information as an exciting means of professional discourse. Select ‘student wellbeing’ as an area of interest on your AIS profile and you will be included on the distribution list. More details are on the AISNSW Student Wellbeing Page https://www.aisnsw.edu.au/Services/PL/SW/pages/default.aspx
AIS Student Wellbeing Conference 2015 – Walking the Talk about Wellbeing 24 August 2015 https://www.aisnsw.edu.au/CoursesEvents/Pages/CourseDetail.aspx?cid=906c8613-abef-46cd-ad7e-3798edea0020
Wellbeing for Beginning Teachers 26 August 2015 https://www.aisnsw.edu.au/CoursesEvents/Pages/CourseDetail.aspx?cid=21453ad5-b963-4f56-8b68-7b4ae99878fc
What is Working Well in Wellbeing? Online Module Available from 3 November2015 https://www.aisnsw.edu.au/CoursesEvents/Pages/CourseDetail.aspx?cid=136b4e09-f54d-4984-b84b-16fe2e35cfd2
Building Teacher-Student Relationships 15 October 2015
Strategies for Leading Wellbeing Teams 21 October 2015
Best Practice in Education – A Drug and Alcohol Focus with Paul Dillon 9-10 November 2015