At the beginning of 2017, St Andrew’s College established a whole school goal to focus on student and staff well-being. The past 10 years have seen growth in the field of Positive Psychology—the science of what makes people flourish in life. Psychological and neurological research has proven that it is possible to explicitly teach the skills of well-being. Over the next 5 years, St Andrew’s has prioritised responding to this research and our goal is to enhance our culture and curriculum by placing well-being at the heart of what we do.
We believe that staff and student well-being is at the core of a high performing school. Not only is it inextricably linked to academic achievement, but it is also a strong predictor of what we want most for our old collegians—long term life satisfaction and happiness.
What is well-being?
We hear the term a lot these days. This is a question we posed to our staff this year.
The first step in developing a well-being programme is establishing a shared understanding of this concept. It is a common misconception that well-being is about feeling positive emotion—being happy. This is not the case. Through history; key philosophers, religious leaders and psychologists have developed understandings of broader, more holistic approaches to understanding well-being.
The question of what makes a person flourish is nothing new. Far from it. In about 384 BC Aristotle developed the theory of eudaimonic happiness. Eudaimonia, the notion that true happiness in life is achieved through leading a virtuous life, is different from hedonic notions of well-being which focus purely on feeling positive emotions.
Martin Seligman is credited as the father of Positive Psychology. In 2011 he wrote the influential book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing. In this book, Seligman offers a conceptual framework to help us understand well-being. And it is not all about being happy and stress free. Seligman sees that there are five building blocks needed to achieve a life of fulfilment. The elements are; Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment- PERMA. I recommend watching Seligman’s talk where he outlines the meaning of PERMA as an acronym.
We have decided to use the PERMA framework as our whole school definition for well-being. Alongside this, we have incorporated the importance of Vitality into our model. Research clearly provides evidence that healthy eating, adequate sleep and regular exercise are beneficial and necessary ingredients for overall well-being.
Our model for well-being: PERMA-V
Positive Emotions: Positive Emotions like happiness, joy, gratitude, love and awe help us to broaden our perspective, and build our resilience.
Engagement: When we use our strengths with the right level of challenge, we experience ‘flow’ or engagement.
Relationships: The cultivation of energising and supportive relationships significantly impact on our lives.
Meaning: Developing a sense that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves.
Accomplishment: The self-belief and ability to pursue and accomplish goals.
Vitality: Eating well, sleeping deeply and moving regularly.
Well-being professional development for teachers
Professional development has focused on building staff fluency of PERMA-V. We believe staff need to live the theory before they teach and embed it with students. This has resulted in teachers setting PERMA-V well-being goals and tracking their progress throughout the term. It is our intention that teachers understand that their small well-being habits will build resilience and coping strategies during times of short-term stress. During Term 3 we have had a weekly focus on a particular element of PERMA-V. Every staff member is collecting a ‘toolbox’ of PERMA-V cards which suggest strategies they could use to improve their overall well-being.
Our well-being program will continue to focus on promoting the 6 elements of PERMA-V, in and outside the classroom. Next year our focus will be on developing student understanding of
well-being as a multidimensional construct.
What makes you flourish in life? How could an understanding and reflection of PERMA-V assist in fostering your own well-being?
Kern, M.L, Waters, L.E, Adler, A, White, M.A. (2015) A multidimensional approach to measuring well-being in students: Application of the PERMA framework. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10 (3), 262-271.
Seligman, E.P. (2011) Flourish: a new understanding of happiness and well-being- and how to achieve them. London: Free Press.