If you’ve just joined us, this post is the sixth in the ‘How to Lead a Quest for Student Wellbeing’ series of posts.  The first four posts covered the WHY of student wellbeing (why should schools do it, why are you personally motivated to do it); the fifth post was the start of the WHAT of student wellbeing (what are the key theories you need under your belt to undertake effective wellbeing interventions).  The final set of posts will be the HOW of student wellbeing (now you’re equipped, how do we take everyone on this journey with us and get it happening?).


‘PERMAH Wellbeing Theory – possibly the world’s top theory for guiding student wellbeing’ Part 3

Previously, we explored the ‘P’ and ‘E’ from PERMAH Wellbeing Theory.  This time we move on to the next part of this very useful way to look at wellbeing. But first, a recap:

P is for – Positive Emotion

E is for – Engagement!


What is the third element of PERMAH?

R – Relationships

Relationships are, in my opinion, the lynch-pin of this wellbeing theory.  So many times, when I’ve been counselling a student or staff member who is facing a serious life challenge –if they at least felt that there were one or two people who understood them, the difference that that made to their overall wellbeing was substantial.

The connectedness we feel with others involves, in part, the brain’s decision about whether someone is ‘like us’ or ‘not like us’; whether they are a ‘friend’ or ‘foe’. Recall your first day in a new job – did you know anyone?  If you didn’t you probably registered a threat response amongst these strangers, feeling somewhat unsettled, which would have lessened after introducing yourself to even two or three people.   Humans naturally like to form tribes in which we experience a sense of belonging; perhaps a by-product of our origins, living in small communities for thousands of years.  Human are fairly small individually when compared to predators in the animal kingdom. To compensate for this, humans rose to prominence through cooperation, where collaboration and belonging meant life itself. On the flipside, to be exiled from one’s tribe also likely meant death; and sometimes the presence of strangers was also likely to be quite bad.

According to Hattie, the effect size that the impact of Teacher-student relationship has on achievement is larger than the effect sizes for Quality of teaching, Homework, Goal setting, or even Teacher subject matter knowledge![1]  Clearly, this shifts Relationships from the categories of ‘optional’ or ‘nice and fluffy’ into ‘essential to being a professional educator’.  I’ll say it another way – if we fail to build quality relationships, the evidence shows we directly contribute to the failure of our students.

So, how do we generate a sense of rapport or relatedness?  In a 2008 meta-analysis of 824 rapport-building behaviours[2], three categories of behaviour were stand-outs: attentiveness, common grounding, and showing warmth.

Attentiveness is as simple as it sounds – it’s being aware of your body language (is it open/closed, etc.), looking your students / staff in the eye at appropriate moments, and actively listening; i.e. all the things that show you really are paying attention.

Common-grounding is identifying shared interests or experiences – this might include things like where you grew up, hobbies, etc.  This is a two-way street, where both parties share and reciprocate sharing – there is a natural give and take.

Showing warmth – this is about being kind and personable – offering a smile is an example.

This wellbeing element of Relationships is quite a passion of mine, and I can (and have) delivered hour-long sessions for school staff, up to day-long sessions on the topic for provisional psychologists and coaches.  If any element of wellbeing is worth investing in – Relationships is the one to go for, and it can be dangerous to assume that because our staff ‘love kids’ they therefore know how to build relationship intentionally, purposefully, and well.

As your action towards leading your own quest for student wellbeing; may I suggest that you intentionally practice one or more of the three above skills for building relationship.  Not just seeing if you can remember the three – but actively engaging in practice.


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

‘PERMAH Wellbeing Theory – possibly the world’s top theory for guiding student wellbeing’ Part 4

  1. Hattie, John. Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. routledge, 2008.
  2. Gremler, Dwayne D., and Kevin P. Gwinner. “Rapport-building behaviors used by retail employees.” Journal of Retailing3 (2008): 308-324.

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.