Student Well-Being: Two Reasons Schools Should Care


High School Studentsby Carl Nielson, Chief Discovery Officer, Success Discoveries, and creator of Career Coaching for Students, a program for high school students.

I work with high school students rather often considering I’m not a teacher or school administrator. What I’m sensing is that student well-being is important – for two key reasons. The first reason is the recognition that schooling should not just be about academic outcomes but about well-being of the ‘whole person’; the second is that students who have higher levels of well-being tend to have better cognitive outcomes at school (an important goal of most high schools).

I provide a program called Career Coaching for Students™ which is how I’ve come to work with so many high school students. This program has a key component – to focus on the whole student, to establish a sense of well-being on multiple levels while exploring self and possible futures. According to the Australian Centre for Education Statistics & Evaluation, in May 2015, they released their literature review into Student Well-Being. You can access the entire document here. It clearly and concisely lays out all the considerations important for addressing student well-being in schools. It also offers dozens of research papers to explore by way of referencing.

Defining well-being as:

A sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience and satisfaction with self, relationships and experiences at school.

Assuming your school or organization is keen to address well-being in a meaningful way, the literature suggests you need to have 5 things in place.

1. Safety – Schools need to provide a safe environment

2. Connectedness – A sense of belonging to the school environment

3. Learning Engagement – Students can engage with a school at social, institutional and intellectual levels.

When people work with their strengths, they tend to learn more readily, perform at a higher level, are more motivated and confident and have a stronger sense of satisfaction, mastery and competence.

4. Social & Emotional LearningSocial emotional learning (SEL) is an educational process for learning life skills but many of the aspects can be found in other more reactive problem-focused educational programming such as character education, restorative justice, peer mediation, bullying prevention, anger management, drug/alcohol prevention, violence prevention, school climate, ethical-decision making, harassment prevention, positive behavior supports. SEL teaches mental skills that lead to understanding and managing emotion, setting positive and realistic goals, building long-lasting relationships, showing empathy for others, and constructive and ethical problem-solving skills.

5. Whole School Approach – a culture of high expectations for all students with teachers who emphasize continuously improving their own thinking, skills and tools.

Well-being must be integrated into the school learning environment, the curriculum and pedagogy, the policies and procedures at schools, and the partnerships inherent within and outside schools including teachers, students, parents, support staff and community groups.

I believe that engagement and well-being are at the crux of what highly successful schools focus on and if we get this right, outcomes will – largely – look after themselves (for staff as well as students).

Misguided outcome focus

  • Average student GPA
  • Percent of students going to a four-year college

More effective outcome focus

  • Number of students with an established career plan, path and vision for their future
  • Number of students using and displaying effective life skills throughout high school years

But still… too many schools, organizations and systems pursue the wrong outcomes at the expense of engagement and well-being, and then they struggle to understand why staff, students and the wider community are so disaffected.

Career Coaching for Students logo

So what do you want to do with your life?

Career Coaching for Students™ and Life Skills for Students™ is primed and ready for mass delivery in high schools. But in the meantime, if you are a parent wanting to provide your high school student (incoming 9th grade is a perfect time) with a kind of well-being that leads to higher engagement and success, visit the Home Study version of the Career Coaching for Students program (which includes the Life Skills for Students self-study curriculum).

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