Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 5th Ultimate Wellbeing in Education Conference, which was an opportunity to listen to fascinating lectures and talk to many educators about the state of wellbeing in schools, for both students and staff.
The conference was opened by Mike Buchanan and Sir Anthony Seldon, Chair and President of the International Positive Education Network respectively. IPEN have embarked on an ambitious venture in wellbeing and education, with aims to sign up 1 million people and 1000 institutions over the next year. They set the tone for the day by asserting that the focuses were twofold: inspiration, and practical application.
The keynote speech was given by Kim Leadbeater, sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, and ambassador of the Jo Cox Foundation. Leadbeater, who is a moving orator, delivered a poignant and thoughtful address in which she spoke of the importance of seeking unity with those who hold different opinions to us. She reiterated, in her sister’s now-famous words, that we have ‘far more in common with each other than that which divides us’. With a background in wellbeing and education (Leadbeater has a degree in Physical Activity, Health and Wellbeing and lectured at Bradford College for over ten years), she emphasised the importance of education in achieving this, and highlighted the fantastic work that the Foundation is doing to help.
The day was jam-packed with insightful workshops; one of the most notable of these was led by Jason van Schie, who spoke about why and how we should measure wellbeing in schools. Van Schie stated that the first step must be to understand exactly what it is we are measuring. He argued passionately that it should not entail looking at mental illnesses, such as anxiety; depression; and eating disorders. Instead, he argued, we should be measuring wellbeing in people as they are “flourishing”, in order to help us create preventative measures. By looking at instances of good wellbeing, rather than measuring it once it has already deteriorated, the benefits could be significant:
- Individual – if individuals receive clear and digestible feedback on their wellbeing, they will gain greater self-awareness, which in time will help them to develop agency over their own wellbeing
- Schools/institutional – measuring wellbeing can feed into useful assessments, for example needs analysis reports and assessing trends over time
- Societal – data on wellbeing can be used in predictive analytics, which can be used to inform government policy
Furthermore, all speakers emphasised the inherent link between student and staff wellbeing. If staff have low levels of “wellbeing literacy”, i.e. no understanding of what wellbeing is or how to look after it, they will be incapable of having meaningful conversations about it with their students. And, perhaps more importantly, as one teacher said to me, “how can you expect your students to trust you on wellbeing if you’re clearly burnt out and unhappy yourself?”.
Insights such as these are invaluable: not only for wellbeing-specific work that we conduct with our clients, but in understanding where wellbeing fits into the education landscape in general. What is clear is that the time has passed in which wellbeing in schools is merely an afterthought. What students and educators need now, is a measured, tangible approach to wellbeing that works in harmony with schools’ priorities, rather than detracting from them.