Educators and communities across the country are preparing to return students to fulltime in-person learning. This is a positive direction and yet the way ahead is clouded with imperatives to assess and remediate learning loss. Many schools are supporting student learning with summertime remediation and credit recovery. This is necessary and supports students’ academic needs. The bigger question is, what do students need as they return to school?
The mental health needs of students will be a paramount concern and challenge as students return. During the pandemic increases in emergency psychiatric visits increased by 24% among 5-11 year olds and 31% among 12-18 year olds. Experts agree that this trend will likely continue. The effects of the pandemic will linger, and the impact will be more severe in lower socio-economic communities. Business as usual will likely not support the increased mental health needs of our students.
Fortunately, ample research provides information on how to support our schools. In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin Seligman outlines the need for schools to teach well-being. As Seligman points out, well-being measures positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishments. The goal of Well-Being Theory is to increase all of those above mentioned measures.
Years before the pandemic when Seligman first published Flourish, he identified that despite increasing material wealth the citizens of the United States and other countries were simultaneously experiencing increased depression. He also pointed out that there was no increase in reported happiness over the last several decades. Perhaps his best argument for teaching well-being is that it enhances learning, the goal of education.
Seligman cites two studies that showed significant benefits over time with the effects lasting for at least two years. He further reported that a positive psychology program improved strengths of curiosity, love of learning, and creativity.
Training and implementing a robust program designed to impact students is probably not in reach of all schools. However, an awareness of the role well-being plays in maintaining a positive mindset and developing resilience is essential. When you consider the five elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishments, it is not hard to find a starting place to begin to embark on a school wide mission to improve well-being. The three E’s of Meaning-Centered Leadership provides a clear structure for implementation.
- Positive relationships must be a priority throughout the school.
- Engagement with all stakeholders must be a priority. Teacher to student, student to student, faculty to faculty, school to community.
- Create a central unifying purpose connected to a mission and vision that seeks to add inspiration and clarity in the work.
- Accomplishments must be celebrated. Not just who got the highest score, but acknowledging growth and grit as a pathway to building resilience and a sense of efficacy throughout the school.
- Building expertise throughout the school requires wisdom, which we define as “experience guided by principles.” Be clear on the principles that guide your school and clearer on how those principles are enacted. If treating each other with respect is a principle, it must be enacted in all situations at all times.
- Optimism for the future should be a bedrock for all the work you do. Believe that all students can achieve at high levels then enthusiastically support efforts to ensure that outcome. Do that by focusing on a growth mindset by expressing humility and a willingness to constantly listen and learn.