As you work with your school leadership team to design your wellbeing program there are many important facets of implementing effective wellbeing interventions that must be considered. This section will address many of those and help guide your team’s efforts in creating a program unique to your school’s needs.
While all the interventions included in this resource have been found to increase wellbeing, they likely will not increase wellbeing evenly across all participants. Lyubomirsky’s Positive-Activity Model shown below illustrates several factors that influence a wellbeing intervention’s effectiveness. It is important to consider the features of each wellbeing activity such as “dosage, variety, sequence, and built-in social support” (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013, p.58). Research has thus far been inconclusive about the optimal dosage and sequence of interventions to improve wellbeing. Therefore, it is important to know each of your students and their unique needs. When considering which interventions to implement, you must consider how the interventions fit with school and classroom goals, strengths and culture. Choose activities that your students and staff will be most interested in, as motivation is a key component of the effectiveness of wellbeing interventions, and provide necessary support(Lyubomirsky et al., 2011; Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013). Providing a variety of interventions can also help you meet the diverse needs of your students and staff. The following model, created by Lyubomirsky and Layous (2013), outlines additional considerations to help you find the best fitting interventions for your school or classroom.
According to CASEL, effective wellbeing interventions must be SAFE: sequenced, active, focused and explicit (https://casel.org/approaches/). Sequenced activities must be “connected and coordinated” (https://casel.org/approaches/). Breaking down the learning of new wellbeing concepts and skills into small sequential steps is necessary to help participants fully understand and develop these skills. (Durlak, Weissberg & Pachan, 2010). For example, before starting a mindfulness intervention, it may be important to have a prior activity where students learn what mindfulness is and how it can help them improve wellbeing. You might also follow up a mindfulness activity with a reflection activity on how students feel the activity impacted their wellbeing. Activities that are active do not necessarily require participants to be up and moving, but they must be engaged in the activity for it to have maximum effectiveness. Hands-on activities, such as role-playing and other rehearsal strategies, writing assignments, and frequent practice of the activity encourage participants to act on the material they are learning(Durlak, Weissberg & Pachan, 2010). A focused activity means that the time and attention dedicated to the activity is committed to the development of wellbeing. An activity must also be explicit in that it has clear and specific learning objectives, with an emphasis on working towards a specific aspect or skill of wellbeing(Durlak, Weissberg & Pachan, 2010). As you will see, this book organizes the activities into different aspects of the PERMAH framework. Rather than just choosing activities you find interesting, plan your activities around the wellbeing needs under the PERMAH framework that would best fit your school’s needs.
Cultural Responsiveness and Inclusion
Individual characteristics such as motivations and beliefs, personalities, perceived support, and demographic variables all can impact the effectiveness of an intervention (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013). For example, an extrovert may gain more positive emotion from a social activity, whereas an introvert may benefit more from a self-reflection exercise (Lyubomirsky, Tkach, & Sheldon, 2004). It is also important to consider cultural differences present in the school and design interventions and activities in a way that benefits each student. Many countries have different definitions about what it means to be happy or well. One study found that Eastern countries focus more on group happiness and wellbeing, whereas Western cultures tend to focus on the individual (Uchida, Norasakkunkit & Kitayama, 2004).“Definitional differences that exist between cultures can have overarching effects on design, and success, of particular positive interventions” (Pedrotti, 2014, p.406). Layous and colleagues(2013) found that students in the United States significantly benefited from a gratitude activity, whereas a gratitude intervention actually decreased wellbeing in students in South Korea. Because of cultural differences, doing an acts of kindness intervention was more beneficial to wellbeing in South Korean students than doing a gratitude activity, yet the reverse was true among students in the United States (Layous et al., 2013). Having a group discussion with your class or staff members regarding happiness and wellbeing may help you better understand the differing perspectives of the group towards the subject.
Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson, who has extensively researched organizational diversity and inclusion, in a recent interview, provided a few actionable steps leaders can take to promote diversity within their organization (Williams, 2021). First, she recommends embracing the fact that we are going to make mistakes, but not letting that stop us from continually working to improve inclusivity within our workplaces. Second, to promote diversity, we must recognize differences and see those differences as value that can be added. One way to do this is to make recognizing different perspectives the goal of staff meetings. Specifically, Johnson recommends sending out questions to be discussed in the meeting in advance, and then compiling various staff responses to be shared in the meeting, placing a particular emphasis on different opinions and unique responses. By doing this, leaders can create more equality in meetings between the participation of men and women, new and experienced employees, and introverts and extroverts (Williams, 2021). As you discover the cultural and belief differences your school may have towards wellbeing, this will help you decide what activities will be most beneficial as you move forward.
As DuFour and colleagues explain, "Terms travel easily...but the meaning of the underlying concept does not...It is difficult enough to bring these concepts to life in a school or district when there is shared understanding of their meaning. It is impossible when there is no common understanding and the terms mean very different things to different people within the same organization" (2016, p. 19). We encourage you to use the language of wellbeing in your interactions with students, staff, parents, and other community members to improve wellbeing literacy. Lindsay Oades, a leader in wellbeing literacy research, states that wellbeing literacy is “mindful language use for and about wellbeing” and includes “the vocabulary, knowledge and skills that may be intentionally used to maintain or improve the wellbeing of oneself or others” (Oades et al., 2021, p.696; Oades et al., 2017, p.171). The goal of wellbeing literacy is to make language about wellbeing understandable and familiar. Oades shares that to achieve wellbeing literacy one must have the ability to: 1) understand key vocabulary and terms of wellbeing, 2) comprehend and articulate how wellbeing is achieved and why it is important, 3) adapt their knowledge of wellbeing to different contexts and situations, 4) frequently and intentionally use wellbeing vocabulary and knowledge to improve the wellbeing of self and other (Oades et al., 2021, p. 699. See Table 2). To increase wellbeing literacy in your school and community, consider implementing these tools:
- Not only including positive psychology interventions in the classroom, but explaining to students why wellbeing matters and how these activities can benefit them.
- Providing a pamphlet or newsletter to parents defining wellbeing, outlining the importance of addressing student wellbeing, and how it will be addressed in your school
- Holding staff meetings dedicated to understanding wellbeing and its many facets.
As you educate yourself and your school community about wellbeing, the effectiveness of the wellbeing interventions implemented in your school will be enhanced (Oades et al., 2021).
Systems- Informed Planning
While improving wellbeing can certainly be pursued by individual teachers and teams, it will be much more effective if thoughtfully and intentionally done by an entire school or district system. We’re not shooting for a few pockets of wellbeing greatness in our systems. Every student and teacher deserves to experience high levels of wellbeing at school, so we must ensure teams, schools, and districts coherently support the people, programs, processes, and structures that enhance wellbeing. “If you want to move something that’s difficult to move, everyone needs to be pushing in the same direction, otherwise very good people can build very effective silos” (Knudson, 2013, p. 10 as cited in Lyle Kirtman & Michael Fullan, 2016 Leadership: Key Competencies for Whole-System Change, p. 82).
Systems-informed planning requires thinking about the bigger picture and considering the context of a proposed intervention. According to Peggy Kern(2019), the developer of systems-informed positive psychology, or SIPP, a systems approach allows for different perspectives and looks at unintended consequences of proposed interventions. It also recognizes that “no single discrete element within a school exists in isolation from the others” (Aguilar, 2013, p. 53), so wellbeing is the responsibility of the system, not just the individual (McQuaid, 2017). An example of this was illustrated in a study conducted in a hospital where nurses were not treated well by the doctors and their superiors. The nurses in turn ended up treating their patients with the same coldness, criticism, and impatience with which they were being treated (White, Slemp & Murray, 2017, p. x). While the nurses’ superiors may have not directly interacted with patients, their mistreatment of the nurses indirectly led to the mistreatment of patients. Similarly, if the culture of a school is not supportive of wellbeing, implementing different interventions to improve wellbeing may not be as effective.Tackling school wellbeing from a top-down approach is just as important as targeting it from the bottom-up.
Urie Bronfenbrenner(1972), an American psychologist, created a systems-based ecological model to address the factors and systems that influence child development. As illustrated in the model below, he argued that these systems range from the wider context of societal values, laws and social services(the macro and exosystems), to interpersonal relationships with family, school teachers, and peers(meso and microsystems). McCallum and Price (2015) adapted this model to address the systems affecting educator and school wellbeing. The macrosystem and exosystem usually involve factors that are beyond a single teacher or school leader’s control, such as societal perspectives and values regarding wellbeing and education, as well as district, state and federal policies involving teacher pay, scheduling, curriculum, etc. However, educators and school leaders may need to work closely with these greater systems to lobby for additional funding, permission, and resources in order to implement a wellbeing program or intervention. School wellbeing should “not solely [be] the responsibility of individuals, but rather a collaborative concern shared across schooling sectors, universities, employing authorities, and professional associations" (Price & McCallum, 2015, p.197).
In order to promote the efficacy and longevity of wellbeing interventions, we must consider the relationships between different systems within our schools, particularly the meso and microsystems, involving interactions between school leaders, teachers, students and their peers, and parents. Dr. Aaron Jarden (2016) recommends that within schools we should address three particular systems: me (individual), we(teams) and us(whole school community).Most wellbeing interventions are activities that can be done individually, such as using strengths and mindfulness. Dr. Jarden suggests that it is important to include interventions that initiate cooperation and teamwork and involve the school community as a whole, rather than just individual students and teachers. Examples of “us” interventions could include holding a wellbeing training for parents and community members or creating a wellbeing policy for your school (Jarden & Jarden, 2016).
(Jarden and Jarden, 2016)
If your system is not yet aligned and coherent in its approach to enhanced wellbeing, we join Fullan and Gallagher in their invitation to do what you can where you are, and start working to change the system. “See yourself as a system player. If your system is not supporting you yet in these changes, all the more reason for you to engage with the system to bring it inside. You are just as much a part of the system as the president or whomever…If there ever was a time to be a system player, it is now” (2020, p. 77).
Which of the following tools are you most likely to use with your school or district?
- Person-Activity Fit
- Cultural Responsiveness and Inclusion
- Wellbeing Literacy
- Systems Informed Planning
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