The importance of our wellbeing continues to be a significant topic, in which a vast array of information is available.
Academic research, government programmes, social media commentary and commercial lifestyle periodicals, are just some information sources that can potentially help us understand: 1) why our well-being is important and 2) what we can do or access to help us enhance our well-being.
From an educational perspective, a key strategic issue for school leaders is, ‘what factors need to be considered and implemented that enable effective well-being provision for pupils, staff and the broader school community’? Arguably, the COVID 19 pandemic has further highlighted this key area of school development.
Why a whole school approach?
Before answering the above question, it’s useful to acknowledge the broader systemic benefits that effective wellbeing provision can deliver within school contexts. Peer reviewed research has evidenced that robust wellbeing programmes can impact on, but not limited to:
1. Pupil motivation
2. Reduction in pupil mental health issues
3. Reduction in pupil exclusion rates and absence
4. Improved teaching performance and reduced staff absence
Not only does enhanced wellbeing have clear and obvious benefits at the individual level, the systemic importance of this area for school leaders cannot be stressed enough. Therefore, if a school can develop, implement and sustain a strong system that enables positive wellbeing across the organisation, over time, the staff and pupil outcomes that it can potentially achieve is significant.
What are the key strategic issues?
Whether a school organisation wishes to fundamentally change its current wellbeing provision or review the impact of current practices, there are a number of key strategic issues that senior leaders may wish to consider as part of the process. These strategic issues have been informed by a document commissioned by Public Health England and produced by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Commission - ‘Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing a whole school and college approach’ (2015).
Firstly, and perhaps obviously, clarity and drive from leadership teams is critical. Therefore, questions such as, to what extent is wellbeing a key strategic priority? To what extent is whole school wellbeing integrated into policy, school improvement planning and practice? What leadership models will best achieve your vision? Fundamentally, there must be clarity of thought in relation to these questions, it is the foundation that enables everything else to grow.
Secondly, thought with regard to developing the right culture within the school system is a key strategic issue. A question such as, ‘what are the whole school values pertaining to wellbeing and are they reflected in provision, practice and behaviour’, is relevant. Understanding the extent to which value positions and associated behaviours are positively linked is key. Driving a shared value base across the school further enriches the strong foundation needed to build upon.
Thirdly, the extent to how embedded the teaching and promotion of positive mental health and wellbeing is in the curriculum, is a further strategic consideration. Strong and consistent teaching, positive pupil engagement and positive messages that children and young people can take away, are all salient outcomes for schools to achieve when building a whole school approach to wellbeing.
Fourthly, pupil and parent/carer voice and participation in the process of designing and implementing whole school wellbeing provision across the school is an important feature. Arguably, the more empowered and involved pupils and parents/carers can be, the greater the level of commitment and ‘by in’ can be generated which supports the culture that is being cultivated or sustained. Providing pupils with a platform in which their voice can be heard, in which they feel listened to and crucially feel understood, is a key facet for leaders to carefully think through.
The penultimate consideration focuses on the importance of staff development and their own wellbeing. It is of key significance that staff are well informed about issues relating to children’s mental health and broader well-being; which can be built into their own appraisals and part of broader school training programmes.
However, focusing on their knowledge base to support effective teaching practices is just a part of the whole. As crucial as it is for pupils to have access to robust well-being provision, school staff must also have access to support when required. It’s vitally important to have effective systems in place that enable staff to feel connected, valued, motivated and supported. If this can be achieved, as we all know, the knock-on impacts can potentially mean more effective teaching and greater staff retention.
Finally, clarity of processes by which: 1) needs are identified 2) provision is coordinated and 3) impact is evidenced and monitored, is required. Key questions such as, how are needs identified across the school? How does the assessment of need inform the provision provided for pupils and staff at both universal and targeted levels? How clear is the connection between vision, strategy, operational implementation and impact? How is impact being measured and what outcomes are being sought?
Linking everything together
School leadership teams working collaboratively, bringing together the above strategic issues into a coherent plan is arguably the main aim. Whatever framework or methodology that is used to connect the issues outlined in the previous section, a very useful starting point is having a leadership team that is: 1) passionate about well-being 2) can truly appreciate the significant benefits it can potentially have on the broader school community and 3) aware that effective resource planning is aligned to plans that are to be developed.
Potential next step
OneWellbeing is a newly designed service that can help you explore in more depth the issues outlined in this article. If you would value some support and assistance in embedding a whole school approach to well-being which in turn can impact on teaching practices and pupil engagement then please don’t hesitate to make an initial enquiry. We would be glad to have an initial discussion with you to determine how best to offer support through set or more tailored offers.
Dr Ben Powell, Lead Educational Psychologist at One Education Ltd