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July 11, 2022
Vol. 79
No. 9
Readers' Guide

Reader's Guide / Beyond Lip Service on School Well-Being

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    Social-emotional learning
    School Culture
    Engagement
    Leadership
    Reader's Guide (stock thumbnail)
    Credit: Grinbox / Shutterstock
      As most educators can attest, the growing push around well-being in schools is not a new phenomenon. Several ongoing priorities in K–12 education—such as social-emotional learning, whole child education, trauma-sensitive schooling, and equity—center on aspects of well-being and the need to move beyond narrow conceptions of school success. Even the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, signed in 2015, broadened school accountability systems to include measures of school climate and wellness.
      But things have gotten more urgent now. The pandemic, with its attendant disruptions and hardships, created new pressures and traumas for students and educators alike—many of which are still rumbling. It has strained school resources and personnel, while revealing gaps in systemic supports and problems in long-prevailing conventions. As in other industries, it has made many people reassess their priorities in the interests of greater balance and personal health.
      In this context, many educators believe, school systems can no longer afford to pay lip service to the importance of well-being or offer fragmentary programs or initiatives. Well-being must become an integral part of what they do.
      Making that happen won't be easy, but there are places to start. This special online-only issue of Educational Leadershipavailable free to all readers—is designed to help educators and school leaders think through and discuss possibilities and new paradigms. The articles outline specific shifts, both large and small, schools can make to support students and teachers more holistically and ingrain wellness and care more deeply into their organizational fabrics.
      Here are some key ideas to think about as you read the issue:
      Build belonging and connection. Several of the articles underscore the importance of belonging and connection to students' sense of psychological safety and ability to learn. These qualities can be elusive for many students if schools are not intentionally cultivating them. For this reason, instructional practices and school climate norms alike need to be run through the "filter" of relationship building.
      Burnout is an "ecosystem" problem. Another recurrent theme is that, when it comes to supporting teachers, relying on self-help or self-preservation strategies is not enough. Schools need to do a better job of recognizing and addressing the organizational causes of educator burnout. This means not only working to create more connective and emotionally supportive professional communities, but also taking steps to reduce barriers to educator efficacy. These include initiative overload, poor professional learning, and time-sucking nonessential tasks and interruptions.
      Student voice matters. True well-being in schools, write Catharine Biddle, Lyn Mikel Brown, and Mark Tappan, requires that "we listen to students and trust them as experts on their own experience, and that we engage them as full and active partners in school and community transformation." As these and other authors argue, we need to create more opportunities in the curriculum and in the school day for student voice, autonomy, and control. (Likewise for teachers.)
      Make time and space for well-being. "If we care about student [and teacher] well-being, we must show that it matters," writes Cathy Vatterott. This means school well-being initiatives must amount to more than good intentions or lofty mission statements. Instead, schools need to create dedicated time and room for well-being in their programming, organizational structures, and physical spaces. Examples include reconfiguring daily schedules to slow the pace, providing access to meaningful mental health services, and boosting opportunities for play and stress relief.
      The bonus, of course, is that none of these ideas is separate from academic achievement. As the authors in this issue remind us, they are absolutely integral to it.

      Reflect and Discuss

      "Lessons on Student Well-Being From 'The Great Resignation'" by Cathy Vatterott

      ➛ In what ways could you and your school give students more flexibility, autonomy, and control?

      ➛ Is student mental health a priority at your school? Are you doing a good job communicating that it's a priority?

      ➛ How else might we rethink student wellbeing in light of what we've learned from the pandemic?

      "Fixing Your School's Well-Being Ecosystem" by Jane Kise and Ann C. Holm

      ➛ Consider the aspects of your work as an educator that most sap your energy and "bandwidth". Which ones result from policies in your school that could realistically change?

      ➛ Leaders: The suggestions for "setting guardrails" and "do not disturb" signals all relate to protecting time for concentrated work. Which of these suggestions—that you could actually try—would most protect your teachers?

      ➛ Why do so many schools suffer from initiative fatigue? How could you address the root causes of this in your school?

      "Letting Student Voice Lead the Way" by Catharine Biddle, Lyn Mikel Brown, and Mark Tappan

      ➛ What are some simple, fun, but effective ways to empower students in your school to be decision makers?

      ➛ In what ways are students taking on leadership roles at your school? How can you create more space for this?

      ➛ What would your "Someday" wish be?

      "Making Time for Well-Being" by Sarah Miles, Denise Pope, Jennifer Curry Villeneuve, and Samantha T. Selby

      ➛ Does your school's schedule reflect well-being as a priority? Why or why not?

      ➛ How does time affect your own well-being—either positively or negatively?

      ➛ Do any of the schedule changes the authors mention seem like a doable option for your school? Which might be most effective in your setting?

      Anthony Rebora is the editor in chief of Educational Leadership.

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