The evidence is omnipresent and overwhelming that children are not well.
Consider the results of a recent survey by The School Superintendents Association (AASA), which found that the two most important issues are student mental health and student apathy. In addition, a recent New York Times article stated. “Most American teenagers—across demographic groups—see depression and anxiety as major problems among their peers,” based on a new survey by the Pew Research Center. The survey found that 70 percent of teenagers saw mental health as a big issue.
Clearly, we can agree that there are wellbeing problems for our children and that we are all struggling with how to impact them. Further, education leaders—including superintendents, principals, and curriculum leaders—are required to demonstrate their ability to implement the National Policy Board for Education Administration professional standards.
Related: 3 no-cost ways to support mental health in schools
So why are school leaders not taking bold action to impact the dire wellbeing statistics, even when required by their own professional standards? Perhaps it is not about understanding “how” to impact, but rather it is more a matter of leadership courage. We challenge school leaders to take two actions to address student wellbeing today!
Action Number 1 – Assess the wellbeing of all children
Education leaders need a clear picture of the social-emotional wellbeing of the children in their care. What should educators look for to determine their students’ wellbeing?
Emotionally and psychologically healthy children possess the following qualities or attributes, which can be measured by the Ryff Psychological Wellbeing Scale:
- Autonomy – self-determining and independent, able to resist social pressures to think and act in certain ways, regulates behavior from within, and evaluates one’s self by personal standards
- Environmental mastery – a sense of mastery and competence in managing the environment, controls a complex array of external activities, makes effective use of surrounding opportunities, and is able to choose or create contexts suitable to personal needs and values
- Personal growth – a feeling of continued development, sees the self as growing and expanding, is open to new experiences, has a sense of realizing his or her potential, sees improvement in self and behavior over time, and is changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness
- Positive relations with others – is able to have warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others; is concerned about the welfare of others; is capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy; and understands the give and take of human relationships
- Purpose in life – has goals and dreams in life and a sense of directedness, feels there is meaning to present and past life experiences, holds beliefs that give life purpose, and has aims and objectives for living
- Self-acceptance – possesses a positive attitude toward the self, acknowledges and accepts multiple aspects of self, including good and bad qualities, and feels positive about previous life experiences
Effective wellbeing assessments focus on positive psychology attributes of human flourishing not merely depression screenings, and include the entire school community—parents, teachers, and school leaders.
Action Number 2 – Train teachers in self across the curriculum
To experience self-knowledge is the height of social-emotional capacity and the most direct path to wellbeing. Therefore, educators require a tool bag of approaches to impact the self of their students.
One research-based best practice available to teachers that effectively combines wellbeing into classroom curricula is the Self Across the Curriculum. The Self Across the Curriculum has two goals: to teach self-knowledge through academic content and to use self-knowledge to connect with the content more thoroughly and deeply. This type of teaching and learning requires an internal focus versus an external one; it drives the learner to look inward first, to know one’s self and attain a sense of purpose, dreams, moral center, and personal strengths, so as to literally create or construct one’s self.
Related: Why students’ emotional well-being in school is tied to their success
School-aged children with psychological wellbeing have a lower risk of mental-health disorders and physical health diagnoses such as depression, obesity, cutting, substance abuse, and bullying, among others. As such, wellbeing is an important protective factor to impart in a child’s life. Education leaders have the moral obligation to take action today just in time to meet the needs of today’s children.