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

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

*This post is the second half of “Why should your school engage with student wellbeing?…”  in the ‘How to lead a Quest for Student Wellbeing’ Series. If you’ve just joined us, you may want to go back to that first half, or start here J.

Last time we spoke about the need to have clear in your own mind the reasons for leading a quest for student wellbeing in your school, and covered the first of four compelling reasons.  This was:

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

In exploring that first fact a little, we covered some unsettling statistics about the amount of mental ill health that the current generation of young people are exposed to.  It’s such a compelling reason it needed its own separate post. (I hope you also had a chance to do the first step in your quest – how did that work out for you?)

Today we’ll hit the next three reasons that stand out from the academic literature on the topic. Remember, these facts are your personal arsenal to fall back on should you need to convince your colleagues, principal, parents, and school board that you need to engage on the topic of student wellbeing – it’s worth taking the time to be clear on them.

Without any further ado, the three are:

FACT #2: Students live most of their waking lives at school – making it the best place to work on wellbeing.

FACT #3: Well-implemented wellbeing enhances academic outcomes by 11%.

FACT #4: Student wellbeing is already embedded in national and international policy (we should already be ‘doing it’!)

Let’s have a closer look at each of these:

FACT #2: Students live most of their waking lives at school – making it the best place to work on wellbeing.

Children and adolescents spend much of their waking life at school, with one early study placing the typical figure at a massive 30 – 35 hours per week[1].  Add to that that the trend over past decades is for greater school retention rates – that is, more young people are in school for longer.  In 2010 most states in Australia increased school-leaving age to 17, a policy geared towards even more of these critical formative years being spent at school.  To go even further, if we add the exponential growth of extra-curricular activities, my own back-of-the-envelope calculation is that students can be at school for far longer – I could name a dozen students whose self-imposed extra-curricular schedule has them here at school over 55 hours a week.  Whether it’s 35 hours or 55 hours, students’ everyday interactions with their peers, teachers and other staff members are integral to their wellbeing and are important targets for wellbeing interventions.  Therefore, in school settings young people are more accessible for wellbeing work than may be the case in family, work, sport or leisure environments.

FACT #3: Well-implemented wellbeing enhances academic outcomes by 11%.

Building students’ academic abilities is the core business of schools; and well-implemented wellbeing programmes assist that core business.  NAPLAN and GPA are tangible, measureable results, and are seen, rightly or wrongly, as an indication of a school’s value, of a programme’s value, and even – dare we say it – our own value as educators.  Rather than debate the soundness or otherwise of this view, I will simply point out that teaching the skills of wellbeing sits well alongside the goal of academic achievement.  In a meta-analysis (a meta-analysis is a big study based on a whole bunch of other studies) of 213 school-based wellbeing programmes, it was found that when compared to controls (groups with no interventions), and allowing for socio-economic backgrounds, well-designed and implemented programmes were associated with an average 11-percentile-point gain in achievement (Durlak et al., 2011).  Further evidence of this relationship between wellbeing and achievement is found in an Australian study of 96 schools which indicated a strong relationship between a well-implemented approach to wellbeing and academic performance.  The difference in this latter case was shown as the equivalent of up to 6 months of schooling as measured by NAPLAN testing by the end of Year 7. 

Why is this the case?  Well, one theory is that being able to regulate emotions and improve your own mood (these are key wellbeing skills) have been associated with a change in the quality of attention and thinking, and this in turn could have an impact on academic achievement.  We also know that positive mood produces broader attention and more creative thinking [2] in and of itself!

FACT #4: Student wellbeing is already embedded in national and international policy (we should already be ‘doing it’!)

Nationally and internationally, school engagement with student wellbeing is being seen as part of preparing the ‘whole child’[3].  For example, it is stated in the National Safe Schools Framework is that all Australian schools ought to be “Safe, supportive and respectful teaching and learning communities that promote student wellbeing” In the USA, most states now mandate or encourage character education, and many have standards related to Social and Emotional Learning.  Britain’s education policy also includes the promotion of character development or wellbeing[5], and significant funding arrangements have been made by the UK government to support schools in doing this.  Therefore, it would appear that at home and abroad, promoting student wellbeing is viewed as a core expectation of schools.

I hope you find these three additional facts as useful as I have when it comes to having discussions around the importance of building student wellbeing in schools!

Today’s steps in your Quest for Student Wellbeing

  • How will you best remember the three facts above for ‘crunch time’: when someone asks you why we’re doing this wellbeing thing? Take a few minutes set them firmly in mind – perhaps making a note for your future self that summarise the three points. You’ll be glad you did!

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

So, we’ve just shored up some cold, hard facts for leading a quest for student wellbeing.  Now it’s time to get personal:

“Why are YOU working on student wellbeing?  Identify your motivation so you can stick with it when the going gets tough.”

  1. Hofferth, S.L. and J.F. Sandberg, How American Children Spend Their Time. Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001. 63(2): p. 295-308.
  2. Fredrickson, B.L. and C. Branigan, Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought‐action repertoires. Cognition & Emotion, 2005. 19(3): p. 313-332.
  3. Huitt, W. A holistic view of education and schooling: guiding students to develop capacities, acquire virtues, and provide service. in Revision of paper presented at the 12th Annual International Conference sponsored by the Athens Institute for Education and Research (ATINER), May 24-27. 2011. Athens, Greece.: Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/papers/holistic-view-of-schooling-rev.pdf.
  4. Development, M.C.f.E.E.C. and Y. Affairs, National safe schools framework. 2004, Education Services Australia Melbourne.
  5. Seligman, M.E.P., et al., Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 2009. 35(3): p. 293-311.

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.