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4 Reasons Why Schools Should Prioritize Student Well-Being

Kavyapriya Sethu

July 30, 2021

student well-being is important

Growing up is never easy. Kids are thrust into our complex world and are expected to learn, grow and meet societal expectations. Coping with academic stress, navigating relationships, understanding their identity, gender, and sexuality, managing emotions, fitting in with their peers, struggling with body image is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s no wonder many young adults often develop mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and have difficulty learning and achieving milestones in school. 

According to World Health Organization, an estimated 10-20% of adolescents globally experience mental health conditions, yet these either remain underdiagnosed or not treated adequately. In the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has added to this number. In a recent report by the Early Intervention Foundation, three-quarters of secondary school teachers have observed increased levels of anxiety/depressive symptoms (including low mood, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed), as well as reduced motivation and engagement.

Now more than ever, parents and educators need to prioritize student well-being i.e., the physical, social, mental, and emotional state of a child, along with academic learning. Adopting a framework where well-being is a fundamental component benefits not just students but also teachers and schools. Here's how.

Gain parents' trust

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Traditionally, schools have focused on students’ academic learning. But schools are slowly adopting a growth mindset and changing the way they deliver education to the students. 

Students deserve the best education that prepares them to face any challenge thrown their way, both inside the classroom and in the world outside that they have to face after graduation. And to do that, enhancing the resilience and well-being of students should be part of the school experience. This belief is at the core of most schools' vision, and these are the kind of schools that parents and students want to be part of. 

What influences parents when choosing a school is not one or two factors but involves many factors. However, high student support and care and whether their children are happy and enjoy school are always one of the top factors (among others like the quality of education, strong discipline, good teachers, improved student safety) parents seem to take into consideration. In face, it has proved to be one of the main differentiating factors for independent/private schools. 

During a global pandemic, this is all the more a pressing ask, as starting school or going back to school can be overwhelming for children. Parents are worried about how children will adjust to changes in the school environment, cope with school work, and connect with other students and teachers. A survey by the Early Intervention Foundation states that there is strong support among parents (71%) for schools doing more to support students’ mental health and well-being. Some preferred types of support are school counselors proactively seeking and counseling students who are struggling, more focus on mental health and well-being across the school, and better communication with parents about their children’s well-being.

Improve educational outcomes

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Students who perform well in their studies have a better chance to complete higher education, get better job prospects, and experience higher life satisfaction. However, declining motivation and disengagement are often factors that affect students and keep them from performing. Understanding the causes of disengagement and helping students cope can go a long way in improving academic achievement. The latter can be done by teaching social and emotional skills (such as resilience and collaboration skills), thus improving the overall well-being of a student. In fact, research in the past decade suggests that there is a clear association between student well-being and academic achievement.

Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of the existing evidence around the impact of well-being interventions on student outcomes. They found that all interventions (especially those that foster school belonging and engagement, provide mentoring, help build social‑emotional skills) have a positive impact on academic outcomes. 

Another meta-analysis revealed that schools with Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs saw an 11-percentile-point gain in academic achievement. 

Students who are happy and healthy tend to

  • develop better concentration and motivation to focus on studies
  • build and maintain better relationships, especially with teachers and mentors, therefore are more receptive to learn from them
  • not cow down in the face of problems, particularly those faced in academics

Simply put, those who feel better can learn better. Compared to five years ago, modern schools understand this and are devoting more time to improving well-being and teaching social‑emotional skills today. And as students return to school amidst the global pandemic, putting an effort to enhance their well-being can boost their confidence in their ability to catch up on lost learning. 

Decrease problem behaviors

As kids reach adolescence, they are forced to cope with physical and psychological changes as well as learn to navigate peer relationships, understand their identity, and cope with academic stress. We have all been there, done that, and understand the various phases kids go through and the behavioral changes associated with it. 

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However, adolescence is also the age of onset for serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety. This adds to the volatile emotions and behavior. Abnormal behavioral changes observed include feeling sad, unable to concentrate, extreme mood swings, withdrawal from friends and activities, problem sleeping, unexplained tiredness, problems with alcohol or drug use, changes in eating habits, excessive anger, hostility, or violence, and suicidal thinking. And these severely impact the child from functioning normally. According to the C.S. Mott Poll, since the start of the pandemic, parents have reported negative changes in their teen’s sleep (24% for girls vs. 21% for boys), withdrawing from family (14% vs. 13%), and aggressive behavior (8% vs. 9%).

It is safe to conclude that a low level of well-being is often related to problem behavior. And these also translate to an anti-school attitude that affects the classroom, leaving teachers feeling frustrated and helpless. The only way to solve this is for teachers to identify the root causes for the behavior change, promote greater self-awareness, and teach resilience. Schools need to adopt a framework where well-being is a fundamental component—a framework that teachers can use to support students.   

Set students up for long-term success

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While academics might help a student get a good-paying job, other essential skills are required for a student to become a well-rounded, successful individual in the future. Are schools equipping their students with necessary life skills to face the world? 

Building resilience, which is directly related to well-being, provides students with the ability to thrive despite adversities. It will help students develop a growth mindset, enabling them to confidently navigate adulthood and face any challenge thrown their way. Most importantly, it teaches them that the process of learning is ultimately more important than the outcome. Children will carry these habits well into adulthood, becoming lifelong learners who not only are eager to acquire new skills but look at life with a positive attitude. 

 “We can all agree that meaningful schoolwork promotes students’ learning of academic content. But why stop there? I believe that meaningful work can also teach students to love challenges, to enjoy effort, to be resilient, and to value their own improvement. In other words, we can design and present learning tasks in a way that helps students develop a growth mindset, which leads to not just short-term achievement but also a long-term success," says Dr. Carol Dweck, a renowned American psychologist known for her work on mindset. 

Also, a lot of longitudinal research demonstrated that pupils with growth mindsets tend to outperform those with fixed, even when they started with a similar knowledge or skill level. 

Schools can adopt social-emotional learning programs that involve teaching the skills needed to develop positive well-being and resilience. They target to improve self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness, and relationship skills, setting the students for long-term success.

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Kavyapriya Sethu

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