Well-being for all in Education: A lofty goal?
Patrice Palmer (Canada) evaluates how well-being policies are being implemented in education
I recently gave a keynote speech at the TESL Atlantic conference in Canada on this topic. In the last year, I’ve noticed more ELT conferences with a well-being theme so it appears that interest in well-being in English Language Teaching is growing which is good news. Despite this trend, few schools or educational institutions are making well-being for all (teachers, students, and all school staff) a priority. For many governments across the globe, there has been an attempt to make well-being a focus, with little progress according to positive psychology expert, Boniwell (2011).
Research related to well-being is exploding but there has been an ongoing debate about a precise definition (and a definition for teacher well-being as well). The World Health Organization (2004) defines well-being as the presence of ‘a state in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community’. In more simple terms, well-being is about feeling positively about life, full of energy and good health (Centres for DC, 2018).
Sadly, mental health issues in children and youth have been increasing globally. During the pandemic, these rates have further increased. Students who are not well will struggle academically and as Vella-Broderick & Chin (2021) suggest, well-being is important in its own right and a prerequisite for learning. Furthermore, there is a positive association between learner well-being and higher academic achievement (Suldo et al., 2011). Teachers want their students to be well but often do not have the resources, support or training to do this vital work.
There has been significant research conducted related to stress in the teaching profession. Teacher stress is higher and well-being lower than in the general population, and stressed teachers are less effective in the classroom (Bentea, 2017; Sanetti, 2021). More attention needs to be paid to the impact of stress on teachers, their ability to function and perform well, and sustain their careers. Teacher well-being is important because without well teachers, Greenberg (2021) argues that “we will not have healthy schools and successful students.” It’s imperative that schools and learning organizations address teacher well-being and implement initiatives that encourage and support well-being.
The Well-being Connection: Students and Teachers
Teacher and student well-being is closely linked. Simply put, the mental health and well-being of teachers impacts the mental health and well-being of students (Greif Green, 2021). In addition, there is interesting research from the University of British Columbia (UBC, 2016) that suggests a link between teacher burnout and student stress. The notion of stress contagion indicates that teachers can pass on stress to students. The key take-away is that learning happens best when teachers and their students are well, but as teachers flourish, relationships with students, colleagues and the larger community become more positive (Cherkowski & Walker, 2018). Therefore, there are many reasons why student and teacher well-being may be a lofty goal but a worthy one.
Why Well-being in Schools?
Here are some reasons why it makes sense for schools to adopt well-being for all as a goal:
Schools are important for student well-being and happiness (UNESCO, 2016)
Promoting and sustaining flourishing in schools is integral to societies because schools…are the locations for well-being (Cherkowski & Walker, 2018)
Schools that most effectively promote good mental health and well-being adopt a whole-school approach (Weare, 2006)
Teachers can model a healthy lifestyle, mindsets and habits (Cambridge Assessment, 2021)
Can we teach well-being?
The good news is yes! A recent study conducted by Yarden (2021) found that even short courses that taught evidence-based positive psychology interventions to enhance well-being improved students’ mental health. The interventions include activities like mindfulness, cultivating gratitude, savouring and self-compassion. Given the challenges of the past 16 months, learning about well-being and applying actions to improve it in students, teachers and all school staff is vital.
How do we teach well-being?
One approach is using a positive education model based on the science of positive psychology or human flourishing. Positive education has grown rapidly and evidence shows an effective and meaningful impact on students and teachers within a school setting, and other individuals within the educational communities using this model (Galazka, 2020). Some of the countries using a positive education model are Australia, Bhutan, China, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Peru, Mexico, UAE, the USA, and Canada. Positive education focuses on character strengths, growth, resilience, and optimism, as well as a goal of both well-being and academic mastery (White & Kern, 2018). I have posted some resources below to get you started.
CorStone – http:// corstone.org/girls-first-bihar-india
ELT and Happiness – http://www.eltandhappiness.com/
International Positive Education Network – https://www.ipen-network.com
Positive Psychology – https://positivepsychology.com/positive-education-happy-students/
Community of Positive Psychology for English Language Teachers – https://coppelt.org/
Growing Strong Minds – https://growingstrongminds.com/
MacIntyre, D., Gregersen, T., Mercer, S. (2016). Positive Psychology in SLA. Multilingual Matters
VIA Character Strengths – https://www.viacharacter.org/
Clarke, T. (2021). Education brief: Learner Well-being. Cambridge Assessment, International Education. https://www.cambridgeinternational.org/Images/612684-learner-wellbeing.pdf
Cherkowski, S. & Walker, K. (2018). Teacher wellbeing. noticing, nurturing, sustaining and flourishing in schools. Burlington, ON: Word & Deed Publishing.
Galazka, A. (2020). Positive Education and Well-being in the ELT Classroom. https://www.hltmag.co.uk/apr20/positive-education
Greif Green, E. in Cardoza, K. (2021). ‘We Need To Be Nurtured, Too’: Many Teachers Say They’re Reaching A Breaking Point. https://www.npr.org/2021/04/19/988211478/we-need-to-be-nurtured-too-many-teachers-say-theyre-reaching-a-breaking-point
Suldo, S. & Thalji, A. & Ferron, J. (2011). Longitudinal academic outcomes predicted by early adolescents’ subjective well-being, psychopathology, and mental health status yielded from a dual factor model. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 6. 17-30
Weare, K. (2006). Developing the Emotionally Literate School, London: Sage
White, M. A., & Kern, M. L., (2018). Positive education: Learning and teaching for wellbeing and academic mastery. International Journal of Wellbeing, 8(1), 1-17
Yaden, D., Claydon, J., Bathgate, M., Platt, B, Santos, L. (2021) Teaching well-being at scale: An intervention study. PLoS ONE 16(4): e0249193