Why should your school engage with student wellbeing? 1/2

Facts to convince your principal, parents, and school board that you need to do this – now.

In our first post in this series ‘How to lead a Quest for Student Wellbeing’, we looked at two key things that will scaffold your own quest; firstly, knowing that you have what it takes to do this, and secondly, not going it alone. That’s where this series of posts comes in. I’m happy to be your guide – Sherpa, if you will – helping show a way through the wellbeing minefield, but also carrying your pack of evidence-based tools, strategies and processes to get you where you want to be.

This brings us to the first tool you need and the topic of today’s post and the next few posts.  While you are convinced of the need to lead a quest for student wellbeing, you will need others to join you if you are to make a difference (more on actively ‘gathering your allies’ in a future post).  However, BEFORE you try to engage them, you need to have clear in your own mind several concrete reasons you can offer to make the case for wellbeing.  After reviewing the top reasons cited by academics, schools and parents, I’ve settled on four compelling reasons – that are common-sense and hard to refute – four facts that you can provide to convince your principal, parents, and school board that you need to engage with student wellbeing.  We’ll cover the first of these today, and the subsequent three in further posts (I’m trying not to overwhelm with too much in one post here!)

Let’s first acknowledge that wellbeing isn’t something brand new on the school scene.  Helping young people to ‘feel good and function well’ (which is a short-hand way one top academic defines wellbeing[1]) is not a new concept.  Arguably it’s been part of the tradition of schools for as long as we’ve had schools.  For instance, when I’ve spoken to some people in the Catholic system about wellbeing, they have been quick to point to the 300 year old writings of St John Baptist De La Salle (a proponent of education for all social classes and founder of Catholic schools), in which teachers were encouraged to help each student feel that they were noticed and that they mattered as an individual who is worthy of care and respect.

Fast forwarding to the present day, this view of wellbeing as part of what schools should do makes sense on a number of levels.  So (drumroll), here is the first of the  four key reasons that stand out as making the case for leading a quest for student wellbeing:

FACT #1: There is a strong need for a wellbeing focus in school.

Let’s briefly pick this apart so you can speak confidently with your audience on the topic.

The need to address wellbeing can be seen in both the perspectives offered to us by youth as well as the impact spelt out in cold hard cash.  How do we know what the student perspective is?  They tell us!  More importantly, over 45,000 of them tell the good people of Mission Australia every two or three years in the Mission Australia National Survey of Young Australians[2]. The uncomfortable fact is that youth mental illness and psychological distress continue to rise in the face of increasingly complex issues with enormous personal, social, and financial costs.  According to Mission Australia’s recent survey of Australians aged 11 to 24, young people are even more concerned, stressed and worried than in previous years about a number of issues.

For example, school or study problems were of great concern for 37.3% of respondents, a massive increase from the previous figure of 25.5%; similarly, worries about coping with stress increased (35.4% compared with 27.3%).  As a third example, body image concerns increased across the board (33.1% compared with 31.1% previously).  The impact of these and other issues are reflected in the high and increasing incidences of mental illness in young people; with the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) reporting one in four young Australians aged 15-19 experiencing symptoms of depression, and 15% reporting significant anxiety.  In addition to these personal and social costs, a report compiled by the Inspire Foundation and Ernst & Young estimates the financial cost in lost productivity due to mental health in males aged 12 – 25 years at $3.27 billion per annum[3].  Given that this figure is for males only, the financial cost is likely to be significantly higher when inclusive of both genders.

OK – so we’ve touched on enough numbers there to satisfy most people who like that sort of thing.  So what?  These numbers all add up to the fact that there is a strong need for addressing student wellbeing. And it is time to take action.

Today’s steps in your Quest for Student Wellbeing

If you’re just joining us, last time I mentioned that there will be a small incremental steps for you to carry out after each blog post.   Over time, taking one step at a time will add up to massive dividends for you, carrying you on your Quest.  (Conversely, I can guarantee that every strategy I offer will not work if you don’t take the step…)

  • Choose one or more of the figures above to practice talking about with someone close to you about the strong need for addressing student wellbeing – a loved one, friend, perhaps even a pet; it’s the practice in clarifying your thinking aloud that is useful here. (Tip: If they ask you what the answer is to the need, tell them at this stage you’re just thinking about this need and will be doing some more reading on ways to intervene effectively.  It might even be an opportunity to ask them to help you think through ‘what to do’!)
  • Extension task – go ahead and share with a more challenging audience, including one or more of the following: a colleague, your principal, or a parent.  (Don’t go straight to the school board – your principal won’t appreciate feeling ‘ambushed!’)
  • It is not cheating if you simply share this blog post as a way of engaging conversation on the topic!  In fact, I’d rather like it if you went ahead and shared, the more we can take on this journey with us the better!

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

Next time we resume with the remaining facts that will put you in a good position to launch your student wellbeing quest as we continue…

“Why should your school engage with student wellbeing?  Facts to convince your principal, parents, and school board that you need to do this – now.” 2/2

  1. Noble, T., et al., Scoping study into approaches to student wellbeing. 2008.
  2. Australia, M., Youth survey report 2016. 2016.
  3. Foundation, I. and J. Degney, Counting the Cost: The impact of young men’s mental health on the Australian economy. 2012: Inspire Foundation and Ernst & Young.

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.