The HOW of Leading a Quest for Student Wellbeing

DISCOVERING student wellbeing – a positive needs analysis (Part Two)

The DISCOVERY phase of your Appreciative Inquiry [1] process focusses on of what is going well (see the previous post DISCOVERING student wellbeing… Part One).  To briefly recap. We’re seeking to establish baseline data in a positive way – and the positive focus is about harnessing the goodwill, good ‘feeling’, and motivation of all involved. In this post we have a look at ‘adding some numbers’ to that assessment, and explore the idea of getting into wellbeing analytics in a way that is practical, time-efficient, and gives you just the information you need (not a lot of extraneous data that wastes everyone’s time!)

DISCOVERY is a great stage to consider adding a more number-based measure of wellbeing to the anecdotal information you have gathered.  Naturally, it is important to go through your own process with the relevant stakeholders in identifying what kind of information you want and, importantly, how you will use it.  Have this sorted out from the beginning, as nothing is more frustrating than spending hours of your life – and the lives of your students and staff – on completing a survey, or some other measure, that turns out to be un-useable.   It uses up some of the goodwill of staff and students, and wastes other precious resources like time and money. I have tried a range of measures over the years, from bespoke surveys we’ve created ourselves, to pre-created measures with Kidsmatters / Mindmatters  / ACER / DASS-Y and EPOCH.  Your own process will lead you to your own solution.  What we decided on (and I wish it had been in existence at the start of our student wellbeing initiative) was the Flourishing At School survey.  We settled on this for several reasons.

Flourishing At School is built around the PERMAH Wellbeing Theory

Firstly, it is one of the few surveys which measure reliably each element of the PERMAH wellbeing model – the evidence-based wellbeing model that we had chosen to guide us.  (The closest alternative measure, EPOCH, does not measure Meaning – when Meaning is one of the most powerful indicators of overall wellbeing).

Flourishing At School does NOT get distracted by ill-being

Secondly, the Flourishing At School survey does NOT measure depression, anxiety and stress.  You may well want to know these things, however, we decided that we could possibly infer their presence through low scores on wellbeing, as well as already having robust referral processes already in place to deal with ‘ill-being’.

At one point we did gather depression, anxiety and stress information via survey.

The consequences of this weren’t what we anticipated:

  • Obligation to act on ill-being data. Once we collected the data, we had a moral and ethical obligation to act from a risk management perspective – we needed to check in with students that were apparently at high risk, (and however delicately this is done, some students found the process uncomfortable). Moreover, we did not find any genuinely ‘ill’ students whose struggles were not already identified and being supported – all we did for these students was increase the number of staff who knew about their situation, when realistically, they were already seeing a counselor or otherwise being supported and usually happy for that information to be between them, their parents, and their counselor.
  • Potential for ‘misfires’ – inappropriately labeling kids’ situations. There were a number of embarrassing misfires – students who came up as being at risk because they did a donkey-vote instead of really reading survey questions.  However, we didn’t know they were misfires until we followed up – which took time and energy that we didn’t anticipate needing to invest – and which sometimes caused students mild embarrassment/invasiveness.  On the topic of misfires, there were a number of students who were just having a bad day on that day of the survey, who took the survey as a chance to vent, selecting the strongest negative answer to each question.  A small portion of these were, in my opinion, then put in a position of labeling their ‘crappy day’ as something permanent and clinically significant about themselves.  Rather than saying ‘well, that was a bad day, let’s move on’, they were offered permanent-sounding labels in the questions posed by the survey:  Anxiety. Stress.  We don’t need to pathologise having a bad day!
  • Grumpy counsellors. Lastly, the whole enterprise of measuring ill-being, communicating with counsellors, following up students – all of this was extra work for us and the already-thinly-stretched counselling team.  Of all the people you want onside when seeking to build wellbeing, counsellors (and teacher-aides and nurses) are pretty important.  They are often key players whose support is essential to success.  Our long-suffering and dedicated counsellors took it in their stride, but the unnecessary extra work put an understandable dent in their enthusiasm for the student wellbeing programme.

There are valid cases for measuring ill-being, e.g. if your existing mental health referral processes are inadequate in some way, or if you are conducting research, or some other worthwhile aim is being met.  However, if you need to measure ill-being – depression, anxiety, or stress – by all means go ahead, ensuring you have adequate staffing and resources to follow up, as you will be obliged to do so.

After our experience, we opted to focus on measures which do not measure ill-being, and Flourishing At School fit that bill.

Flourishing At School minimises time taken to analyse data

Our third consideration was the level of analysis required to make sense of the data.  The Flourishing At School survey allows for the automatic generation of immediately interpretable results at the individual, cohort, and whole of school level, making it, in the end our first choice.

Next post in the ‘How to lead a Quest for Student Wellbeing’ series:

‘DREAMING you school’s approach student wellbeing – positive, collaborative planning.’

  1. Srivastva, S. and D. Cooperrider, Appreciative Inquiry into Organizational Life. Research in organizational change and development, 1987. 1.

Nahum Kozak | Psychologist

Nahum is a Psychologist who uses the power of story, humour, and data to help improve organisations.  Nahum has a wealth of experience from school and corporate contexts – as Head of Positive Education and Senior School Counsellor (John Paul College), Corporate Coach (including experience with Griffith’s Work and Organisational Resiliency Centre) and Youth Minister (in Catholic Schools across Australia). He holds a B.A.(Psychology), M.Ed.(Educational Research: Theory and Practice), and is currently undertaking a second Masters in Organisational Psychology. He has presented at schools and conferences around Australia, and has had his research on wellbeing, social connection and sleep quality published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry. Nahum is passionate about building healthy, happy organisations.