3 Approaches to Teaching Tools for Well-being
By Frederika Roberts, Kimberley Evans, Thérèse Hoyle and Bukky Yusuf
As educators, we are in both a privileged position and one of great responsibility – not merely to educate students academically, but to teach them tools for well-being.
In this vast topic, here are three ways to get started or build on what you are already doing:
- Allow students to make mistakes. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks, and unless we allow children and adolescents to experience setbacks in a safe and supportive environment, they won’t develop the tools to deal with the emotions they can generate. Teach them that it’s ok to be disappointed or upset and ask them to look for ways they can learn from their mistakes. Help them work out strategies to apply the lessons learned and remind them they are likely to experience further setbacks and make more mistakes, and that is ok, too.
- Lead by example. You are human – you get stressed and tired, you suffer losses – and, where appropriate, it’s ok to share some vulnerabilities with your students. Let them know your coping strategies and how you look after your well-being. Share your well-being habits with them and let them see that it’s ok not to be ok and to ask for help. And remember – YOUR wellbeing matters, too! So when you develop healthy mind habits and behaviors and share these with your students, you are not only supporting your students’ wellbeing, but your own, too.
- Teach students to recognize and regulate their emotions. Build activities into your lessons, curriculum and school that help students recognize, appropriately express and regulate their emotions. For example, you could have a system for taking the “emotional temperature” of the school (Roberts & Wright, 2018, p.112): everyone entering the building places a colorful counter into a prominently displayed basket or box, labeled with a word or emoji describing a broad emotion; this creates a quick visual of the mood of the school that day. Or you could explore Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) practices such as “Circle Solutions” (Roffey, in Evans, Hoyle, Roberts & Yusuf, 2022, pp.108-114), to teach students how to talk – safely, supportively and respectfully – about their emotions.
Don’t be afraid to bring conversations about emotions and wellbeing into the classroom and the school. You are helping to develop fully-functioning humans who can effectively express their emotions and deal with setbacks.
What’s Good for Student Well-Being is Often Good for You
By Stephanie Malia Krauss
When it comes to supporting student well-being, you’re in luck. What’s good for kids is often good for adults. We can build environments and experiences that promote health and healing for everyone. Doing so creates cultures of care in our classrooms while simultaneously optimizing conditions for student learning.
Through words and actions, students ask us for love, care, understanding, patience, connection, novelty, and opportunity.
Prioritizing well-being is more important than ever. We are years into schools being at the center of global crises, culture wars, mass shootings, and other forms of instability. Combined with more routine stressors, it’s easy to see why teachers and students are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and trauma. These experiences get in the way of students and staff being able to live, learn, and thrive.
To prioritize well-being in classrooms, we can take cues from kids. Their rhythms and requests reveal a lot about what everyone needs—individually and collectively. Through words and actions, students ask us for love, care, understanding, patience, connection, novelty, and opportunity. Often, their needs reflect our own.
Resiliency is having what it takes to keep going when times are tough, but well-being is bigger. It encompasses the whole of what people need cognitively, socially, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. The experience of well-being is highly interdependent on where we spend time and who we spend time with. Students do better when their teachers are well. And vice versa.
As we head into the final stretch of the school year, consider ways to pursue well-being. Tune into kids’ cues for care with curiosity. Commit to a daily or hourly cycle of observation, reflection, and response. Which needs emerge most often? If students need more patience, what does that say about your patience? If students are bored, where can you build in novelty? When student well-being improves, what happens to your own?
Keep track of what you see, what you do, and what happens to student behaviors, classroom culture, and the quality of learning. Every day, you spend hours with students, sharing space and being in community together. You owe it to them and yourself to prioritize well-being. Not only will it promote health and wellness, but it will optimize conditions for learning and work, and make the school experience more enjoyable overall.
Roberts, F. and Wright, E. (2018) Character Toolkit for Teachers: 100+ classroom and whole school character education activities for 5-11-year-olds. London and Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Evans, K. et al. (eds) (2022) The Big Book of Whole School Wellbeing. London: Corwin.