Dan Haesler asks which should come first, wellbeing or education?

This is a no brainer – and possibly the wrong question altogether! The national and international evidence is quite clear: though we have yet to persuade all school principals across Australia – and probably most politicians – to believe the evidence.  It is unequivocal that a focus on wellbeing underpins the following:

  • Academic engagement and achievement – for all students
  • Pro-social behaviour – which means less bullying
  • Mental health and resilience
  • Teacher wellbeing and retention

Someone once asked a panel at a conference on Positive Education why schools should focus on wellbeing and my answer was why on earth wouldn’t you if you were interested in promoting effective education for all and developing positive learning environments!

Some of our young people will do well wherever they are – they have family backing, resources to promote learning and nothing else major in their lives to deal with.  But for many others, adversities – either temporary or chronic – impact on their ability to learn – and often to behave in the ways schools expect.  Some students just keep their heads down despite what they are dealing with, so we need a focus on universal wellbeing.  This also promotes consideration, care and healthier relationships across the whole school.

And we do know what is involved in doing this. It begins with the belief that it matters, and in particular the vision of the school leadership to optimise the potential of each and every student in all aspects of their development. This vision needs to inspire others who understand that it is often doing things a bit differently than doing more.  Implementation factors are critical – it isn’t only what you do or which program you choose – but how you put this in place and how people relate to each other at every level. This is not just about students but engages the whole school community.  It is never a quick fix, but those schools who have got the message and are taking considered action are seeing major changes over time. There are many stories of great practice – the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne is doing great work and also the Catholic Education Services in Cairns.  South Australia is getting on board and so is Queensland. Some individual schools across the country are making a major difference for their diverse populations.  There’s a lot out there!

If anyone wants to know more about the evidence or strategies to get going – go to either www.wellbeingaustralia.com.au/wba or to www.sueroffey.com or www.kidsmatter.edu.au.  You might also want to check out the revised Safe Schools Framework.

Sue Roffey is Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Western Sydney, Director of Wellbeing Australia and the author of numerous books on aspects of wellbeing in education.