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Measuring Wellbeing in Schools: A Guide To Help You Get Started

Kavyapriya Sethu

December 24, 2021

Measuring wellbeing | Design by Storyset

What is student wellbeing? 

My parents often tell me they want what is best for me, just like any other parent. They want me to be safe, be healthy, do well in my career, thrive in my relationships, and lead a satisfying life. In short, what they are looking out for is my wellbeing. We often use it interchangeably with the term happiness. But happiness is difficult to capture and measure. What does it mean to be truly happy? 

Martin Seligman, a renowned American psychologist known for his theories of positive psychology, broke down the happiness monism into more workable terms: positive emotions + engagement + meaning = happiness. Later, his research focused on wellbeing, creating the PERMA framework, with five principles that can be independently measured: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment.

Wellbeing is a multifaceted, multidimensional construct, and many researchers have come up with various theories to define it. All of them are valid. To help you get started, here is a simple definition that I like. Student wellbeing at school can be measured across four areas: cognitive, physical, psychological, and social/emotional. 


Student Wellbeing



“Having meaning and purpose is integral to people’s sense of wellbeing. Wellbeing involves far more than happiness, and accomplishments go far beyond test success.” — Andy Hargreaves

Director CHENINE (Change, Engagement, and Innovation in Education), University of Ottawa 

Why is wellbeing important at school?

Student success goes beyond test scores. By nurturing their wellbeing today, we ensure that they have the foundation to build a great career, sustain healthy relationships, have sound health, and more. What we teach and foster today will help them lead a happy and fulfilling life in the future. 

To understand this further, read our blog—4 reasons why you need to prioritize wellbeing at school. 

Can wellbeing be improved? 

To put it simply, yes! Wellbeing can be improved, and it is pertinent that students realize this. Wellbeing must be approached with a growth mindset (this is a powerful idea by Carol Dweck). Here is a great example she provides: 

“In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful.” ― Carol S. Dweck

Studies have shown that when students adopt a growth mindset, their academic performance enhances, social behavior increases, and general satisfaction towards life improves. Moreover, they are better equipped to manage their mental health issues like anxiety and depression and build confidence in themselves. On the other hand, students who believe that they cannot become smarter, or more socially skilled may feel unable to face adversities. They are also more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, or aggression. 

The right mindset has an impact on the various aspects of students' lives. To help you understand them better, we have summarized our learnings from Carol S. Dweck's book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, for you to read. 

How to measure wellbeing? 

In the business world, we often adopt the continuous improvement process model to enhance productivity and improve operations. The most popular continuous improvement method is a four-step framework: Plan, Do, Check, Act. I would like to think of measuring wellbeing as a continuous improvement process.

Plan

Assess what would like to measure

Have your school implemented wellbeing interventions, and would like to understand how these interventions have impacted the students? Or are you just beginning to measure wellbeing? If it is the latter, a general assessment might provide the required snapshot to help you understand where to start. Say you find that scores in a particular subject are falling across a grade level. Then, you can meet the teachers to discuss what learning strategies can be put in place. 

As children return to school after learning from home for a prolonged period, it is important to measure the wellbeing of each student. Only then can you design interventions or decide on policy changes that will help students better acclimatize to the changing environment. 

Decide the wellbeing measure

There is no right way to measure wellbeing. Take a look at the different measurement models, do a bit of research, and decide what best suits your school. Keep what you would like to measure in mind when choosing a tool (as discussed in the previous point). 

Here are some student Wellbeing Measurement options (and they are mostly free to use):  

This model captures five positive characteristics—engagement, perseverance, optimism, connectedness, and happiness—assets believed to promote the flourishing of a student. To know more, you can refer to the research here

We briefly discussed Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman's wellbeing model. To recap, he defined 5 pillars of wellbeing - positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment (PERMA). The PERMA-Profiler measures these five pillars, along with negative emotion and health. One can take the test online through the Authentic Happiness website. To know more, you can refer to the research here

Note: The Authentic Happiness Website offers many questionnaires. They are free, but you need to register. They will provide insights into your emotions, life satisfaction, engagement, and more. 

Based on the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, the framework encompasses questions to assess important aspects of wellbeing and resilience, tailored for each age group. Some constructs they help assess are positive wellbeing, behavioral or emotional difficulties, the presence and strength of protective factors such as perceived support at school, home, and community, and the ability to deal with stress and manage emotions.

The Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC), founded in 2002, collects and uses evidence to improve children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Earlier this year, they merged with the Anna Freud Center. They have compiled questionnaires that students can fill electronically to measure the various aspects of wellbeing. 

There are two versions of the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale—14-item scale WEMWBS and 7-item scale WEMWBS. Depending on your schools' needs, you can choose what you would like to adopt. They cover both feeling and functioning aspects of mental wellbeing, and the responses are summed to provide a single score. 

"Over the last decade, WEMWBS has enabled countless practitioners and professionals to promote mental wellbeing because it makes the concept easy to understand and allows the quantitative evaluations which are often required by funders and commissioners.'' — Prof. Sarah Stewart-Brown, Professor of Public Health, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick

Similar to the above models, this framework presents a self-report questionnaire that assesses aspects of social, emotional, and psychological wellbeing to determine if a student is flourishing or languishing. In other words, it evaluates if a student is suffering from any mental health symptoms and facing any psychosocial impairments. 

The WHO-5 is a short questionnaire that can be taken by young people. It was first introduced in its present form in 1998 by the WHO Regional Office in Europe as part of the DEPCARE project on well-being measures in primary health care. It has been found to have adequate validity in screening for depression. 

Most of the wellbeing measures mentioned can be sent out to survey by the staff using any tool of their choice like Google form. You also have the option to partner with online platforms. You have to conduct further research to find the right that works for you. 

When measuring wellbeing, make sure the students are aware of why such a measure is being taken by the school. Having them understand the importance of such a project will facilitate better cooperation. In helping them understand the value, you have a higher chance of getting candid responses and improving the accuracy of the scores. 

Do

Send out surveys to be taken. Give sufficient time for students to respond. Collaborate with staff to encourage students to take the survey. 

Schools can also partner with online platforms that are affordable, easy to implement to collect wellbeing data. These platforms help decipher the wellbeing data by pulling reports and drawing insights. Some might even provide the ability to compare wellbeing between schools, regions, states and even countries, helping you identify areas of strengths and areas of improvement. 

Some online platforms include 

Orah is going to soon release a mood check feature under Nurture to help staff identify students who are struggling and proactively support them in boosting their wellbeing. 

Check

Analyze the results gathered to identify problem areas. Identify patterns across groups (boys vs. girls, ethnicity, low-income families, and such). Comparing against available national data might give you more context on how your students are faring. 

Once you have analyzed your data, consolidate your findings into a simple, easy-to-understand format and share it with your staff and students. Celebrate what you are doing well and communicate goals you would like to achieve with the support of the students and staff. 

Act

Wellbeing is a whole-school approach. Involve students and staff in the decision-making process. Collaborate to ideate how to improve the areas you had previously identified as low-performing. Let the stakeholders do their research and bring fresh ideas to the table. Once you have a plan that is agreed upon by the majority, put it into action. 

And Repeat

With the new wellbeing programs in place, you would need to measure the effectiveness over time. Measure wellbeing periodically. Use the baseline data you had first collected, and compare to analyze the impact. 


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Kavyapriya Sethu

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