The HOW of Leading a Quest for Student Wellbeing

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

In this post we continue walking through a school-based version of an Appreciative Inquiry [1] process.  From the DISCOVERY phase, you will have documented and reflected back to staff and other stakeholders some of the key stories that define student wellbeing at its best.  It is important to ‘strike while the iron is hot’, at this stage, and move into the DREAM phase.

In the DREAM phase, participants are asked to imagine student wellbeing at its best in five years’ time.  This is done with reference to the strengths that were shared in the DISCOVER phase, and it can also be useful to share relevant information from other sources to support a full picture – e.g. the whole cohort results from your school’s engagement in the Flourishing At School survey.  (In my experience people are always keen to hear about results from a wellbeing survey about themselves or their students).  You can operate the DREAM phase in the same way as the DISCOVERY phase if you wish, using interview, focus group, or whole staff meetings.

Where and how – choosing a mode of facilitation

My personal preference is for running both DISCOVERY and DREAM phases on the same day with whole staff physically present, so that momentum is built and is witnessed being built by everyone.  There is probably a way to capture the process via an enterprise social network or email or conference call – but my experience is that there is something powerful in being physically present.  I still have staff talk with me about how six years ago when we first ran our process, they were there when a particular gruff staff member shared his dream for the future and became a little teary in the process.  They heard his voice and saw his tears, they witnessed his passion for the wellbeing of staff and students from his sharing.  They were there for that moment.  An email or a post on Yammer would lose some of that.  I’m choosing a powerful example for demonstrative purposes – I don’t mean to imply that everyone got teary! – but the experience was more impactful face to face, and this impact is the good stuff we want to capture, it is the gold we want to turn into implementation and outcomes by the end of the AI process.

DREAM Process

When it gets to the DREAM phase, I like to repeat the Think-Pair-Square-Share process (having staff individually reflect on what they would see as student wellbeing at its best in 5 years, then sharing in a pair, a pair of pairs, then the whole group) – documenting at every stage.   Naturally, phrase the question in a way most powerful for your situation; another valid prompt could be “What would student wellbeing look like in five years if we did more of what’s working well?” The timeframe of 3 to 5 years seems to be a Goldilocks amount of time that is a) long enough for people to give themselves freedom to dream big, but also b) short enough that people care about it still.  (If you made it three months, people would be hyperaware of the constraints of time and would constrain their brainstorming, also – and if you made it for 100 years from now, it would be almost entirely irrelevant as nobody could consistently maintain their enthusiasm for that amount of time…)

Leveraging the stages

When I’ve run these two stages together, it’s allowed people to make links they otherwise may not have made.  For instance, one teacher shared an example of student wellbeing at its best in the DISCOVERY phase that went like this:

A parent came up to me last week to thank us for teaching her son mindfulness.  He had learned a mindfulness exercise in class, and the same day gone home to find his mother panicking about something – there were financial difficulties involved.  He asked his mother if she’d be willing to try something new, and got her sitting with a straight back on the couch – while he talked her through a mindfulness of breath exercise.  She came to me the next day to say thanks for both helping her calm down, but even more for helping her son feel capable of making a difference to his own and others’ wellbeing.

This is one of the stories that was shared with the staff as a whole at the end of the DISCOVERY phase.  Following this, in the DREAM phase, a completely different staff member built upon this strength in the following way:

In five years’ time I would see student wellbeing at its best if every student was confident to manage their own mood and others’ through practical use of mindfulness and other strategies.

You can see how the second phase builds on the first, and how the sharing of the process as a whole staff enabled the leveraging of information and experience from across the ‘network’ of staff.

As I indicated above, these are then shared with the whole staff; and I like to have several ‘runners’ who can begin at this preliminary stage to sort what we’re getting into categories – the good old post it notes on posters is a great way to go for doing this, as you can easily recategorise on the fly if need be.

Where to from here

At the end of the DREAM phase you’ve gathered the distilled enthusiasm of your staff into their hopes for the next five years for student wellbeing.  As with the transition from DISCOVERY to DREAM, it is extremely useful to roll straight on into DESIGN and DELIVER in a short timeframe – e.g. the same day (or preferably no longer than the following week).  I’ve seen the AI process done as a series of weekly twilight events – but staff get considerably inconvenienced by this, especially those with young kids – and the last thing you want is to build resistance to your student wellbeing programme before you’ve begun.   In our next post we’ll move forward into the DESIGN stage.

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

‘DESIGNING you school’s approach student wellbeing.’

  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.