Individualized wellbeing programs: Overcoming the 3 biggest challenges
Challenge #1: Who has the time for wellbeing?
This is largely a manifestation of the complexity of wellbeing itself and ties into the below challenge of 'meaning.’ Given its complexity, there is a tendency to want to embed overly prescriptive and detailed frameworks that break wellbeing down into a set of domains. These domains might include relationships, resilience, diet and many others. At a group level, it is feasible to assess these domains, typically through large scale surveys, and implement policies in an attempt to improve specific outcomes. However, when we consider this at the individual level, to find enough structured time to work with each student on these domains becomes increasingly difficult and can intrude on day-to-day classroom programs, in which teachers are trying to teach to already detailed curriculums.
Challenge #2: Defining wellbeing
Wellbeing is highly subjective and dynamic in its nature. This means that at the group level, we may be able to objectively define a set of domains that are generally considered important to our wellbeing, however, given the uniqueness of each individual, these domains may vary from person to person and context to context. For example, an individual may place greater importance on diet if they are an aspiring athlete. Equally, it is dynamic and certain events impact individual wellbeing differently depending on a variety of factors. To some, the news of a bad grade it is met with relative calmness, to others this may trigger an intense feeling of negativity. This makes defining wellbeing at the individual level challenging and our measures/structures for understanding wellbeing become critical.
Challenge #3: The dilemma of needs
This is a dilemma often felt across educational reform. There is a disconnect between what works for senior leaders and policy makers, and those on the frontline, being the teachers and their students. There are many great ideas in education but if they do not account for the practical realities of the classroom, and engage students, then they will not work. In that same token, often what is engaging and simple leads to undesirable results for senior leaders as we cannot glean sufficient information and are therefore unable to make informed decisions. That is where the dilemma exists for managing wellbeing. To make wellbeing work at all levels, our structures need to be user friendly, but data rich and these two tend to lead us in opposite directions.
Make it simple to make it work
Refine: We need to distill wellbeing down into what it is we really need to know to support the safety and wellbeing of each student. By refining traditionally large frameworks to what sits at the very core of our wellbeing, we make it relevant and manageable at the individual level.
Monitor: Embed structures that enable us to monitor wellbeing and all factors affecting wellbeing on a regular basis. At the heart of this should be student voice, engaging each individual to communicate their wellbeing and then ensuring voices are heard and acted on.
Improve: Once we are effectively monitoring wellbeing and getting to deeply know each student, we need to be able to effectively intervene in order to foster positive wellbeing. Particularly when we see wellbeing issues arise. This requires building capacity and strong teacher-student relationships.
When we keep it simple, student wellbeing works and works well, especially when you follow the three pillars to managing student wellbeing. In part two of our series, we’ll look at the three pillars and how to use them to maximize your students’ wellbeing.
About the authors
Julian Fagan learned through personal reflection that academic success meant very little if students were unable to overcome the battle with themselves. In response to this, Julian, together with his twin brother Ian, founded wellbeing software company Skodel, which is driven by a mission to give every student a voice that is heard and acted on. It is now being used by schools across the globe to check in with students every week.
Ian Fagan is a proven entrepreneur in the education industry. He founded his first business, HSC Study Buddy, straight out of high school in 2010. Ian then turned his attention to student mental health, given the increasing prevalence of youth wellbeing challenges as well as his own personal experience of mental illness. Together with his twin brother Julian, he launched youth wellbeing software company, Skodel, which provides teachers and school professionals with up-to-date information on student wellbeing that can inform action for at-risk students.
James Sanders is CEO of Scoot Education. Before Scoot, James founded Australia’s largest not-for-profit organization for connecting entrepreneurs and spent 9 years at Deloitte helping educational startups scale their businesses. Today, you can find James obsessed with helping US schools get great teachers into classrooms and drive stronger learning outcomes as a result. He also enjoys soccer, walking his dog Jedi, and rooting for his AFL team Geelong Cats.