This was originally written for my regular column in the Generation Next Newsletter
Last Friday I spent the day at the Student Wellbeing Action Network (SWAN) Symposium co-hosted by Wellbeing Australia and the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).
The day brought together policy makers, researchers, practitioners, teachers and – most importantly for me – students to talk about how approaches to wellbeing can be enhanced in schools.
All manner of programs were discussed, some barriers identified and goals set in order to move forward.
I spent my afternoon on a table with six Year 11 students, two of whom were from a selective school. Some of their thoughts we quite interesting to me, and I thought they may be to you as well.
One Year 11 boy said the word wellbeing meant little to him.
Two others said that they’d heard the word resilience so much at school, it had become a cliché.
All the kids viewed the word wellbeing with only negative connotations. Ie. To talk about one’s wellbeing would be to indicate you were struggling with something. This – two students said – meant wellbeing was something of a taboo subject at their (selective) high school.
Five out of the six students were studying subjects they did not enjoy or find particularly interesting, despite having been given the choice of what subjects to study for the HSC.
They all agreed that the perceived hierarchy of subject intelligence played a large part in what they chose, along with the expectations of teachers, parents and their peer group.
They also agreed that spending their time doing something they did not enjoy did little for their overall wellbeing.
One of the most powerful statements I heard from the students, was when a Year 11 boy said,
Y’know we come along to a day like this, and hear all of you talking about us, making assumptions about how we feel about stuff and what we want in school. But you don’t have to make assumptions. You could just ask us.
In the space of a couple of hours, I heard – albeit from only a handful of very eloquent students – that they don’t understand the language we use, though they feel it has negative connotations. They spend their time doing things they don’t particularly want to do, at the behest of others, and feel they have very little say in their education.
I wonder what impact addressing these few issues alone would do to enhance wellbeing across our schools?
And no I’m not only talking about just making sure kids are “ok.”
I’m talking about helping kids to flourish.
Great article. Interestingly, some feedback from one of the accompanying teachers on the day was that the kids wanted to know what they would do with what they learned from the day. The concept of ‘wellbeing’ probably isn’t something they naturally discuss with peers and if they feel the connotation of wellbeing is negative, there might be a reluctance to discuss it in any form. Perhaps it might be helpful for schools to put initiatives in place that support wellbeing without labeling it too heavily. 🙂