Why the Focus on Wellbeing?
We are continually hearing about the importance of wellbeing in all areas of life. We are also continually being made aware that schools have a very important role in promoting good health and wellbeing. I guess the starting point for any discussion in this area is to look at what we mean by the term wellbeing.Wellbeing is a complex combination of a person’s physical, mental emotional and social health factors. It is strongly linked to happiness and life satisfaction. In short, wellbeing could be described as how we feel about ourselves and our life.
The next question to be addressed is why is health and wellbeing important for learning? To answer this we need to recognise that schools have a critical role to play in supporting students to make healthy lifestyle choices and to understand consequences on lifelong health and wellbeing. The link between health and wellbeing and positive academic performance is well researched:
- Healthy students are more alert, engaged and better able to concentrate and learn, while poorly nourished students are often tired, apathetic and unable to concentrate.
- Physical activity is associated with improved learning and concentration, better mood and behaviour as well as healthy weight.
- Smoking, drinking and other substances severely impact a student’s cognitive functions (concentration, memory, attention), capacity to behave appropriately, and frequently leads to the student engaging in risky behaviour.
- Developing strong, supportive relationships in school provides a safer and more inclusive environment for students to engage in their studies and learn.
- Adolescence is a critical period for developing attitudes, skills and knowledge for living a healthy life. During this time students notice, assess and make judgements about what is normal and desirable.
The choices made by adolescents depend on a host of variables such as, what is easily accessible, what is cost effective, what their peers choose, what is common practice at home and their experiences. People make choices from what they know. A student’s health and wellbeing is dynamic and changeable. Schools inform choices and deepen understanding of what constitutes good health choices. They also present learning opportunities that build upon family/cultural experiences and allow for critical analysis of media, advertising and peer conformity.
In short, schools have a responsibility to teach, model and build behaviours that support a learning environment that is nurturing and encouraging. In this way all students have the opportunity to do their best and to achieve to their potential, physically, academically, emotionally and socially.While there is growing awareness about the importance of wellbeing in adolescents we still have a way to go. This is evident in the rise of anxiety and depression in young people today. I would suggest that in some ways we need to flip our current models. Wellbeing needs to be our starting point for a successful life not a side benefit that comes if students meet the success criteria that is valued and sought after in today’s busy world.
Have a great weekend
Dr Frank Pitt
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