Monday, January 1, 2024

Supporting wellbeing in schools

Over the past few years research studies have shown the important link between wellbeing and learning outcomes.  Even before the pandemic wellbeing has been shown to impact cognitive functioning, learning engagement, focus, mood and behaviour, mental health and a more responsible and healthy lifestyle.  As I visit IB schools for evaluation visits, many of them have Programme Development Plans around wellbeing, in some cases as a response to students returning to physical schooling from online learning with issues related to fear, stress and anxiety.

Around the world, countries, schools and families dealt with the Covid pandemic in different ways.  In some countries schools did not ever go online, and in others there was online education for certain age groups and not others.  What is clear is that some countries were hit much harder than others, and measures taken were more extreme.  We know that students lost family members, teachers and school administrators which led to a heightened sense of fear of the future.  We also know that awareness about viral infections, how our bodies function and how we deal with difficult emotions has also increased, and many people have actually developed new healthy habits and behaviours as a result.  Many schools have also intentionally promoted connectedness, and open and positive dialogues about wellbeing.  In addition schools have identified that some community members have experienced more difficulty and stress and have added specialist support services to meet the needs of these members.

School closures affected over 190 countries and 1.5 billion students.  However various studies have also shown that there are strategies that can mitigate the impact of this on academic performance.  Although some students may have lost 1/3rd of expected progress in reading and maths during school closures, we also know that students did learn a lot informally during school lockdowns.  In addition questions have been raised about what the role of education is when the future is unknown and complex, and alternative ways to learn and assess learning have been explored.  There have been many positive learning experiences during online learning and schools can build new learning experiences from these.  Assisting students in setting new individual learning goals, and celebrating small achievements can build confidence and motivation at this time.

One of the biggest challenges learners faced was that of uncertainty - not just about what was going to happen in school but also in life in general.  One of the IB learner profile attributes is risk-taker, the capacity to approach uncertainty with forethought and determination ... to become resilient in the face of challenges and change", and yet not everyone is open to new experiences or can tolerate ambiguity.  A continued state of uncertainly may affect wellbeing and the giving up of school-related goals that were once seen as important and meaningful.  The world continues to change rapidly, so learning new things and dealing with unfamiliar situations is going to become increasingly important - in fact what has happened in schools can be seen as a valuable preparation for life in a changing world.  

Looking back, it is clear that no country or school had the perfect response to navigating the changes in education in recent years.  In the IB publication Why wellbeing matters during a time of crisis we are presented with the following strategies:

  • Learn from the crisis - there are opportunities for significant innovation and development and it is important to reflect on past actions, what worked well, what should be kept, and what could have been done differently.
  • Become confident with uncertainty - it is important to embrace the unknown and to foster the creation of new routines.  Learning about complexity, sensitive and controversial issues may help strengthen our tolerance for ambiguity and new challenges.
  • Invest in wellbeing routines - such as strengthening relationships and creating a safe and trusting learning environment.  
  • Re-design a wellbeing pedagogy - encourage students to set individual goals and embed wellbeing practices into the school experience.  Foster a sense of belonging.  Plan activities and workload so that all members of the community are not overwhelmed by demands.
  • Dare to experiment, share and innovate - trust your capacity to make the best decisions for your specific context.
During the pandemic, schools were champions in providing wellbeing support for students, teachers and parents.  The main challenge now is to capitalise on this experience to embed wellbeing into the day to day life of a school in order to support a healthy, flourishing learning environment for all students.

Image by Healthguru on Pixabay. Free for use under the Pixabay Content License

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