Wellbeing First

When working with teachers and school-level leadership through the question of what matters most at their school, I like to tell them a tale of two students.

Meet Lucas and Jasmine – two students whose stories are partially described in the following table of data, which includes Learning Progression ratings for Self-Understanding, Creativity, and Connection.

Based on the data, the school system would likely worry more about Jasmine – she evidences low levels of self-understanding, creativity, and connection, along with general disengagement from learning.

But when these rows of data are replaced with another?

Jasmine’s no longer a cause for concern – and that in itself is concerning. Because buried beneath that letter-grade average is a wealth of information schools traditionally overlook, but that tells a much truer story of individuals’ success.

Taken altogether, despite her grade average, these data indicate that Jasmine is struggling. School isn’t academically challenging, but she knows little about herself and what’s important to her, demonstrates limited creative capacity, and doesn’t feel a connection to her classmates or others. With each new piece of evidence added to Lucas’ learning picture, on the other hand, we come to more clearly appreciate a learner whose struggles in school don’t extend to his relationships, sense of purpose, or drive.

It’s likely that most teachers have students like Lucas and Jasmine, whatever their school or the age of their students. Which makes this question so important for all of us: When success comes down to only academic knowledge, are schools able to put their students’ wellbeing first?

The examples of Lucas and Jasmine help demonstrate that the answer is no – students’ overall success and sense of wellbeing is masked (and sometimes even undermined) by their measured performance in school. It’s only when new measures (e.g. measures of self-understanding, competency, and connection) are introduced alongside traditional academic measures that schools can (1) meaningfully gather a full picture of wellbeing and (2) use what they find to make students’ lives better.

For teachers, principals, and other professionals to start taking a purposeful approach to student wellbeing, they could start with a purposeful approach to their own wellbeing. In that same pursuit of the best possible grades and test scores, teachers’ wellbeing is often overlooked, too. When teachers feel pressured to deprioritize personal connections with students, and their own sense of purpose and wellbeing in the process, everyone’s experience of school takes a hit.

What I like to explore with teachers and school leaders, whether over the course of a school year or through focused Wellbeing First workshops, is that the components of wellbeing know no age or location. Understanding of ourselves as individuals, competence and knowledge of the world and its workings, positive connections with others and the environments around us – all these contribute to our sense of wellbeing wherever we are in our lives.

One of the most eye-opening experiences for teachers and other professionals engaged in these workshops is the measurement of their own deeper learning outcomes. The Learner First has three versions of its Learning Progressions for (1) teachers/adults to measure their own development, (2) teachers to measure students’ development, and (3) students to measure their own development. The image below compares descriptions at the highest level of progression (Geared for Success) for the interpersonal dimension of connection across each version of the tool.

Whether teachers are measuring their own or their students’ connection, the descriptions of the outcome are exactly the same. And when student self-measurement is added to the mix, the full link is finally in place – everyone in the school system can help move one another toward a shared picture of lifelong success.

Self-assessing and measuring our own connection, self-understanding, and competencies (e.g. creativity, communication, and collaboration) connects us to students’ learning like never before. It helps reveal the importance of deeper learning outcomes at each and every stage of our lives, and shows us those areas in which we can improve to then better develop our students’ wellbeing.

In your schools, get to know one another not only as professionals but as diverse individuals with stories worth sharing. Once you “see it” with one another, you’ll want nothing more than to see it with your students.

Learn more about The Learner First’s Wellbeing First workshop, which supports your school or district’s journey to putting wellbeing first.