The HOW of Leading a Quest for Student Wellbeing

FOLLOWING up – where does your AI action plan fit in the bigger picture?

We left off last time after successfully holding an Appreciative Inquiry [1] process into student wellbeing, and creating a very actionable plan to implement the recommendations.  But – no rest for the wicked!  As a leader of this quest for student wellbeing, we want to be able to make sure that what we have planned and put into place has done what it intended.  We also need to see where this piece of the puzzle fits in the bigger picture over time.

For these reasons, this blog post, we’ll be looking from the perspective of a school that has been working at implementing their student wellbeing plan for two and a half years; a real life example by some very clever cookies.

The clever cookies in question are Professor Lea Waters and Dr Mathew White – who are both academics and practitioners of student wellbeing, and well known for this on the national and international stage.  The two collaborated in authoring an article in the International Journal of Wellbeing [2] which was a case study of a school wellbeing initiative which started with an AI process – just like that which has been described in previous blog posts.  (Many thanks to Dr Dan Weijers, the editor of the IJW, for providing permission to reproduce Figure 1 and Table 1 from the article!)

Have a gander at Figure 1.  In the figure, you can see three main ‘phases’ for implementing a student wellbeing initiative used in the Waters and White case study.  I‘ll cover these three very briefly piece by piece.

student wellbeing

Development Phase

To help orient you, the part we’ve been focussed on in blogs so far has been an AI process, going through the four stages of Discover, Dream, Design, and Deliver.  This is also called the 4D process (for obvious reasons) – and if you use the 4D process with all staff in a single day, it might even be called an AI Summit, as it is in the first dot point in Figure 1.

You can see we’ve focused intensely in this series of blog posts on the Development Phase, so this probably needs the least description… A key difference from what we’ve discussed is that their process resulted in 8 initiatives, which is good to remember for the next section. Now you’re oriented, let’s move on!

Implementation Phase

Here’s something new.  Remember the 4D process?  In this case study, the school then went on to have the entire leadership team trained by an external facilitator in using the 4D process – who then used the process to roll out the student wellbeing action plan, reflect on the plan, and further develop the plan as it went along.  Can you imagine the good vibes generated by having leadership continually ask “What’s going well here?  What’s a strength you can tell me about in what we’re doing?  How are things at their best?  What’s your dream for moving forward?”  We’re starting to talk about changing the climate in the school when we get to this stage, aren’t we?  It’s following the next logical step – not just being about student wellbeing, but the wellbeing of all.  At this point, some of you might be wondering whether this case study is a one-off – isn’t this a bit too pie-in-the-sky?  Can Appreciative Inquiry really be used to keep staff accountable?  To review staff performance?  Yes, and yes. AI has had good results in terms of managing staff – fostering engagement by building collaboration and buy-in [3], (maybe we can talk about that more in another series of blogs!)  In the Waters and White case study, the school even used the 4D process in staff meetings and in the classroom.  By the end of two and a half years, they’d made significant progress – have a quick squiz at Table 1 for an overview:

Table 1: Fifteen wellbeing initiatives implemented at the school over two-and-a-half years

Wellbeing initiatives suggested by staff as a result of the AI summit Summit suggested initiatives enacted over a two-and-a-half-year timeline Additional wellbeing initiatives suggested by staff and enacted post the AI summit
The formation of a positive psychology interest group. A positive psychology interest group was formed and over 70 staff joined the group with representation from teaching, support staff, and grounds staff. (2012) Teachers bringing positive psychology into academic curriculums such as English Literature, Religion, and Drama. (2012)
*Running parent information evening sessions and parent training courses on wellbeing. The school had run three parent evenings focusing on some of the skills taught to students in the wellbeing program. (2013) Sports coaches adopting positive psychology principles with students on the sports field. (2012)
Discussing boy’s wellbeing explicitly in parent-teacher meetings in addition to boy’s academic report card. Teacher’s now discuss a boy’s VIA character strengths during parent-teacher interviews. (2013) Staff training the student captains in the AI methodology and the school captains using AI with school prefects. (2013)
Providing wellbeing activities for staff to boost staff wellbeing. The Physical Education Department volunteered to run a wellbeing club for staff and now runs weekly activities such as yoga, mindfulness, and Tai Chi. (2012) The student school captains hosting an AI Summit for student school leaders from other schools across Australia, which has now been run for three years in a row. (2013)
*Providing wellbeing training for staff so they can teach it to the boys. The school engaged external training consultants to train all staff in a three-day wellbeing course. (2012) AI questions were built into the recruitment, selection, orientation, and promotion policies and practices at the school. (2013)
*Developing a formal wellbeing curriculum for students. The school introduced seven explicit wellbeing programs that have been embedded into the timetable at early learning – Year 4, Year 5, Year 6, Year 7, Year 8, and Year 10 (the wellbeing curriculum reaches over 800 students in the school). (2013) AI has now been integrated into policy and practice as one of the key methods to manage and create change and renewal through the St Peter’s College Change and Renewal Framework developed by the culture and values committee at the School. (2013)
*Measuring student wellbeing. Students (aged 13-18) completed a wellbeing survey (2011-2013). Change to a more positively oriented behavior management policy. (2013)
Training to staff so they can adopt an evidence-based approach in real-time in their classes to assess the success of the wellbeing approaches in building the boys’ wellbeing. A selection of teachers from the junior school, the senior school, education support officers, and all Heads of Departments and Faculty were trained by an external educational consulting company in evidence-based data collection processes. (2014)

* Initiatives that were put forward by staff at the AI Summit that had already been identified as action steps by the senior leadership team.

You can see the power of an approach like this – where staff can comment on, have continual feedback into, and continue to build the student wellbeing approach.  Collaboration is high, isolation is low (we know isolation or silo-ing can be a big energy-sap) and bottom-up initiatives are allowed to have a voice, or even flourish.  Just as importantly, leadership is maintained – it’s not a case of everyone saying what they like and doing what they want.  Everyone knows that they’re to work within the 4D process if they want to work on the student wellbeing initiative; putting everyone on the ‘same page’… rather than everyone running in all directions.

Monitoring Phase

Let’s get back to the three phase structure from Figure 1.  As you look at those three dot points, what do you notice?  The first point is where students and staff are invited to have input into the way wellbeing will be measured.  Secondly, the results of that measurement are fed back to all stakeholders, parents, students and staff.  Thirdly, training is provided based on what’s found through measuring wellbeing.  Sound familiar?  Yes.  This monitoring phase could very well be a reflection of the first phase, the Development Phase – it is a condensed 4D process, i.e. an AI process of Discover, Dream, Design, and Deliver, bringing the entire implementation full circle (notice on Figure 1 how there’s even an arrow leading back from Monitoring to Implementation).  At this stage, we’re now looking at culture change.  We have come full circle.  If in the last phase we were looking at climate, that is, how things are at a particular point in time for the organisation – now we’re looking at sustaining that change, building on that change, making that change part of how we do thing here in an ongoing way over time, affecting people over time – affecting the culture of the school.  Wellbeing change is, of course, not a process that runs its course, but a cyclical process over time.  Not going in circles for the point of going in circles, but seeking always how better to live the dream, how to celebrate what has worked and build on it – seen from a side angle, hopefully more like an ascending spiral rather than mere circles.

Full circle

This also brings us ‘full circle’ – I hope that this series of posts on leading a quest for student wellbeing has in some way benefitted you and those who you serve through your work, be they staff, student or other.

  1. Srivastva, S. and D. Cooperrider, Appreciative Inquiry into Organizational Life. Research in organizational change and development, 1987. 1.
  2. Waters, L. and M. White, Case study of a school wellbeing initiative: Using appreciative inquiry to support positive change. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2015. 5(1): p. 19-32.
  3. Kluger, A. N., & Nir, D. (2010). The feedforward interview. Human Resource Management Review20(3), 235-246.

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.