The HOW of Leading a Quest for Student Wellbeing

DESIGNING your school’s approach student wellbeing.

DESIGNING – this is the third stage of an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) [1] process – having already moved through DISCOVERY and DREAM, in which you ‘discovered’ student wellbeing at its best and ‘dreamed’ what might come about over the next five years at your school in terms of student wellbeing.  DESIGNING is that stage at with schools often mistakenly begin their wellbeing planning – by saying ‘what are we going to do’ first, rather than engaging in the reflection and celebration of the first two steps.  (Schools can be tempted to skip those first two ‘touchy feely’ steps because they may never have seen them done before, may not feel confident conducting them, or because of an assumption that ‘we know our kids’ wellbeing already’ – without any rigorous form of DISCOVERY).  However, if you’ve followed the previous posts on the AI process, I think you’ll agree that you’re in a much more powerful position having completed the steps of DISCOVERY and DREAM first; one stage builds naturally upon the other, making every step firmly founded on the lived experience of the staff.  Solid.  Now we can get to the part you’ve been absolutely itching to do this whole time, you practical teacher-at-heart you. Let’s talk about what you’re actually going to do.

Where we left off

Having moved through DISCOVERY, we found fifty or a hundred (depending on the number of staff) perspectives of what student wellbeing at its best looked like.  These stories were built upon in the DREAM stage, and were also at this stage tentatively sorted into categories or themes that made sense as the dreams for the future were shared.

Moving into DESIGN mode

In the DESIGN stage, it can be useful to ask people to sort themselves into teams based on areas of passion.  If in the DREAM stage there were huge sheets of butcher’s paper, one for every theme, on which post-its with individual ‘dreams’ were shared, in this DESIGN stage, one way to sort teams is to ask people to stand by a the sheet of butcher’s paper that they are most excited, curious, or interested in.  It may be worthwhile to ask people to nominate a second and third area of interest, so that they can re-sort themselves if there is one poster with 40 people and six others with one person each (this usually isn’t too much of a problem as all the ideas are ones that have come from the staff, therefore there should be a bunch of people passionate about each theme).

In this stage, these loosely formed teams are asked to identify ways that these themes, these dreams can be actualised – brought into the real world.

For instance, running with the dream related in the last post:

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.

The above dream had been placed on a piece of butcher’s paper that I think got labelled with the theme ‘Mindfulness’.  However as other dreams were added, with a greater range of strategies for managing mood, ‘Mindfulness’ was crossed out and amended to ‘Self-management’.  (It’s a fluid process, and that’s a good thing!)  So this team, with the working title ‘Self-management’, was faced with brainstorming ways forward, to make this 5 year dream a reality.

E.g., one staff member added:

Add a daily mindfulness exercise to each class – just after lunch to help settle kids down.

And another:

Have kids in Year 10 do a course in Mindfulness – maybe .B?

Another said:

Can we build mindfulness into something that’s already there?  Like, maybe we can have a one minute mindfulness exercise that draws on Scripture and can be used as the morning or afternoon prayer?  It might also help those teachers who struggle to come up with these daily prayers.

And yet another:

Make sure kids have downloaded a mindfulness app and have practiced using it.

And so on.

After this, the teams again link their work with the whole group, which can be done by representative speakers from each team, or, to shake it up, I’ve also seen it work well as a ‘gallery-walk’, where for ten minutes or so people stroll around looking at what every group has done.  Do remind them that every team will have a different focus, and there will need to be adjustments to allow for where these need to creatively jive with each other to reduce clashes, but that right now isn’t the time to sort clashes out.  They can, however, add their own ideas, again on sticky-notes, to help improve or add to what they see.

Take a strategic break

The above process can take an hour to an hour and a half – we don’t want to overcook people in this process, we want to make sure they are sharp and focussed, which can make now a perfect time for lunch…

Oh, I meant lunch for everyone except your leadership (sorry leaders!)  Your executive / big decision-makers now have an opportunity, whilst everyone else is eating the Subway platters you ordered in, to capitalise with some immediate small wins.  What do I mean by that?  Well, there will have been some hairy suggestions come up that need timetabling or thrashing out; things that can’t be committed to straight away.  The job of leadership in this lunch break is to take two or more ideas that are simply good sense, and which don’t need to be thrashed out, and to green light them straight away.  From the batch of ideas above, can you guess which one got green-lighted (greenlit?)  Yes, the one that solved two problems at once, and didn’t take extra time or extra budget – mindfulness as an option for morning or afternoon prayer.

OK, leaders, here’s the hard part.  You love announcing wins as soon as they’re in your hot little hands I know (we all love sharing good news), but just hold off until after the next stage in the AI process, DELIVER.  Trust me, you want to share it after the DELIVER stage has run its course.

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

‘DELIVERING your 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.