This article was written by Chikita Kodikal and published in the MediationWorks Magazine 2015 Spring Edition.
In most New Zealand schools, student well-being is a central requirement. The inability to secure a safe environment for students at school has a direct impact on their ability to learn. As of February 2015, The Education Review Office (ERO) devised a report that delved deep into the different avenues schools had taken in order to create a culture that promoted the well-being of not just teachers and students, but also of their whanau (family). The report also looked into the various outcomes obtained with these schools having adopted different approaches to enhance well-being and student learning.
In term 1, 2014, The Education Review Office evaluated 159 schools from years 1 to 8 in order to understand how well they ‘promoted’ and ‘responded’ to student well-being. According to the report, nearly half of these selected schools promoted and responded reasonably well, while the other eighteen per cent had a relatively better approach as compared to the former lot of schools because well-being was promoted through the curriculum. A minor proportion of the listed schools chose to espouse The Extensive Approach, which students have found ‘deeply rewarding.’
The Extensive Approach is a revolutionary method that enabled students and teachers within the school to weave student well-being into their school’s core values and goals, consequently altering the culture of the school. The schools that used this approach had students, parents and teachers, collectively, agree to a set of goals that accentuated primarily on student well-being and learning. These goals guided their actions, reviews and improvements. As a result, students found school ‘deeply rewarding’ as it not only improved their ability to learn, but also provided them with opportunities to develop leadership, self-efficacy and resourcefulness while participating with others, thus creating a ‘high trust’ culture and enhancing safety within the school. With this approach, students developed the ability to ‘take accountability for their own choices’. One of the reasons this approach worked successfully was because student leaders, alongside their teachers, were actively monitoring the well-being of students at school, while also reviewing the effectiveness of the approaches that were implemented.
The report devised by The Education Review Office states that there is not just one definition for ‘well-being for success.’ In fact, it assumes that young people are ‘active participants’ in not just their learning, but also in developing healthy lifestyles. The report further elaborates, ‘[a] student’s level of well-being at school is indicated by their satisfaction with life at school, their engagement with learning and their social-emotional behavior. It is enhanced when evidence-informed practices are adopted by schools in partnership with families of the students and their community. Optimal student well-being is a sustainable state, characterized by predominantly positive feelings and attitude, positive relationships at school, resilience, self-optimism and a high level of satisfaction with learning experiences.’ Adopting all-inclusive practices, such as The Extensive Approach, will materialize the desired outcomes.
It is important to understand that inclusivity plays an integral role in the mental, emotional and social well-being of a student. A sense of inclusivity is correlated to the way in which the student perceives themselves and their ability to learn inside and outside the classroom. Students want to feel accepted and valued by their peers. They also want their teachers to understand them and actively participate in their learning, while also caring for them and proving that they are trustworthy. On a similar note, parents want their children to be happy and feel safe at school. They want their children to be able to relate to their peers, and also develop skills that will enable them to become independent. Parents want to ensure that if in case anything goes wrong at home or school, the teacher will aid the student in generating strategies that will help solve the conflict.
The schools that were unable to ‘promote’ and ‘respond’ to student well-being effectively lacked student involvement in creating an environment that enhanced their well-being and ability to learn. According to the report, some schools did not understand the relationship between values and well-being. This was mirrored in the ‘narrow’ definition of the school’s health curriculum and the very ‘compliance based’ method in which the schools had conferred with its students and the community. Some schools did not ensure that students and teachers acquired a shared understanding of the values. In a few cases, the principal or leadership team had established the goals and values without referring to others and they were not illustrated in the curriculum either. This lack of interaction between students, teachers and the community prevented students from not only developing their leadership abilities, but also prevented them from creating a learning network that was supported by people other than their teacher.
It is essential to keep student well-being central in order to successfully implement The New Zealand Curriculum as it has a direct impact on the student’s ability to learn inside and outside the classroom and also because it fosters students into ‘confident young people.’
If you would like to know more about well-being for primary school students, please read ‘Well-being for Children’s Success at Primary School February 2015.’ If you would like to know more about well-being for secondary school students, please read ‘Well-being for Young People’s Success at Secondary School February 2015.’