THE AAIE NEW SCHOOL PROJECT
We co-create a culture that nurtures the intellectual, social, emotional, physical, spiritual, environmental, and occupational well-being of all community members.
The Well-Being principle is founded on the research that shows that individuals learn and perform best in an environment that supports their health and their well-being. Core elements of well-being within a school community include psychological and physical safety, spaces that allow individuals to present themselves fully and authentically, and a commitment to healthy practices for nutrition, resilience, and stress management. Without an emphasis on Well-Being, individuals and communities are at risk. This principle is reflected in Abraham Maslow’s work in delineating a hierarchy of human needs that ranges from basic needs (including physiological needs and psychological safety) to self-actualization and transcendence (higher growth needs).
Throughout the pandemic, teachers and administrators realized the coronavirus’s profound impact on physiological needs. At the beginning, teachers prioritized curriculum and content at the expense of Maslow’s basic needs. Fortunately, in time, it became clear that a rebalancing was required and the phrase “Maslow before Bloom” was coined to illustrate the importance of prioritizing community Well-Being over curriculum and content. “Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by a failure to meet lower level needs,”(Saul MacLeod, Simply Psychology December 2020) and once this was realized, educators shifted their priorities to support students’ health and well-being.
Our Well-Being is affected by our families, our communities, and our ability to handle the stress and anxiety stemming from environmental, political, and social circumstances. Each school will need to evaluate the structures that are in place within the organization to support individuals both students and adults. Schools might benefit from introducing social-emotional supports and specific curricula designed to promote self-awareness, resilience, and mental health and well-being.
First, leaders can offer opportunities for faculty and staff to examine this principle through activities to evaluate the needs of the stakeholders. Each school can tell “their story” of how they have supported adults and students through their most difficult challenges. Sources of information and access to support with counselors or leaders who are able to “listen actively” are essential to the process of developing community wellness. Learning how to listen actively to each other as reflective and caring partners becomes part of the healing process. Accessing student voices in order to identify sources of angst and anxiety within the school community will provide avenues to explore deeply-rooted practices that may benefit from re-examination. Policies for grading, “seat time,” and pacing may need to be reviewed. Concerted efforts on the part of all adults within a school’s ecosystem - counselors, faculty, staff, administrators, leaders, and parents - are required to embrace this principle as a foundation for community wellness. This is not a “one and done” process. Ongoing monitoring, frequent check-ins, and espousing a mindset of living comfortably with uncertainty provide opportunities to reinforce the Well-Being of the community.
Adults need to feel a sense of a work/life balance as they engage on a daily basis with the school community. Expectations for staff need to articulate and reinforce the values of rest, recovery, and renewal as a means to provide balance. Play is also integral to healthy living. Opportunities for creative outlets and play can be a way to provide support for occupational Well-Being, as well as offer adults in the community a chance to serve as role models for their students.
Resources offered by organizations such as CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) help us to define what social/emotional learning should look like within our specific school culture. Well-Being is a foundational principle to support learning. Research has shown repeatedly that without support for intellectual, social, emotional, physical, spiritual, environmental, and occupational wellness, students and staff do not achieve the goals. More often than not, the area of Well-Being can be overlooked within communities that prioritize achievement and status. The New School model identifies Well-Being as essential to the learning process and the health of the educational organization. The Well-Being principle calls upon schools to reflect on the ways that they actively support the wellbeing of individuals, groups, and collective community. As each individual contributes to the whole, it is essential that support structures are established to support wellness across the organization. More than ever, educators and parents are realizing that Well-Being plays a fundamental role in a successful life.
Blenda Batista de Oliveira - School of the Nations
Principle in Action
What does this principle look like in action? The following quotes represent examples for how this principle is manifested in a school.
“When I was a junior, I created a peer tutoring program for math students at my school. Math always came easily to me, and I was upset that my friends were struggling. Our teachers always offered extra help, but my friends were always coming to me for help. So I decided to start a peer tutoring program. I worked with our Upper School Director to set up a system that allowed students to request peer tutoring. Teachers could also recommend students to receive tutoring from a peer. Students were then matched with a peer tutor. This seemed like a good solution and my friends started using the peer tutoring program instead of me. I was happy about this!”
“A number of teachers in our school were feeling overwhelmed. One of the teachers mentioned taking a series of mindfulness workshops and mentioned the idea of having faculty take time every morning to share in a mindfulness practice in order to ground themselves in preparation for the day. Since that time, students have also started using the practices and they frequently request time in class to be mindful and take a moment of peace. The teachers have continued to investigate options for more training for Social Emotional Learning and have started working with the school counselor to integrate the Second Step practices into their curriculum.” - Lower Level School Counselor
“As a result of hearing from numerous individual teachers about well-being concerns, I decided to focus a faculty meeting on a listening session. Our teachers were able to voice their concerns about parents wanting everything to `go back to normal.’ They also expressed feeling overwhelmed by the number of goals and initiatives in our school. I started our discussion by saying, `Let’s review what we value in our school’. By reviewing the goals for the year, the teachers were then able to highlight the importance of feeling like a family, working collaboratively, and the love we hold for the relationships we have with our students.” - School Division Principal
“Our students have been reporting high anxiety and depression over the current political situation in our country. Feelings of helplessness have been expressed and social media has provided a forum for students to express their frustration and hopelessness. We gathered parents and educators together for a series of meetings to first identify the needs of the students and families and second, to identify ways that the school could offer support to our students. A referral system was set up to support students, whether they needed individual counseling or small group sessions. Students were encouraged to invite other students to the conversations and to develop ways to express their voices within the community. One student group developed a film to convey to teachers and administrators their feelings of anonymity within our school and the pressure they experience from our current grading practices.” -- PTO Treasurer
People have come to realize the importance of wellbeing in the workplace, in schools, and in our communities. This principle affects all the individuals within the school and therefore, also has a profound impact on the greater community as a whole. Reinforcing a collective commitment to upholding well-being and embracing “Maslow before Bloom” is not a simple nor easy task, but it is essential. As the research by Jones, Greenberg, and Crowley (2015) shows, “inadequate levels of social and emotional functioning are increasingly recognized as central to many public health problems (e.g., substance abuse, obesity, violence).” Not surprisingly, students perform best when they feel their physiological and psychological needs are being met. The same is true for the adults in our school communities.
Provocations are intended to be tools to use within a school community to get people thinking creatively and in a generative way about the elements of each of the Principles. As reflective leaders in the change process, we must use fearless inquiry to step out of our comfort zone, examine our current practices, and design approaches for the future. The following questions are designed to prompt conversations within your school community. Your answers to these questions should challenge the status quo. If you are fearful of your answers, it is an indication that you are exploring this principle at a deep level.
- In what ways does our system maintain outdated practices that create stress or anxiety within our learning community? How do we check in with learning community members to help support their well-being?
- Over the last ten years, what changes have we undergone that increased our support for well-being (ie. equity, social emotional learning, team and counseling supports, professional learning, instructional, grading/assessment, and policy practices)? How did we make these shifts, and what can we learn from the changes we have made in the past?
- What does well-being look like for all of our stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, leaders, and in our host community)? How can we enhance our support for well-being in all of these subgroups?
- What habits, behaviors, and dispositions may impact the general well-being of others? Are there cultural considerations that we need to address within our school community?
Guidance and Tools for Well-Being
For each of our NEW SCHOOL Principles, we provide a Pathway that attempts to tell the story of a school on a journey towards putting that principle into practice. These narratives are only approximations, because every school is different and change is not as linear as this represents. It is messy, imperfect, and iterative. To apply the metaphor of a ‘pathway’, it is often one step forward and several steps in reverse. The spirit of this pathway is simply to provide ‘a portrait of possibility’. It offers a picture of what progress might look like, as it can be easier to imagine something if a possible model is provided.
We offer four stages along this journey, for schools to reflect on their current reality and imagine what might be next:
- Thinking about it...What might it look like when your school is “thinking about” the Well-Being Principle? (This can involve a range of applications, stakeholders and ideas, beyond a single point in time or a right answer.)
- Working on it...What might it look like when your school is “working on” the Well-Being Principle?
- Living it...What might it look like when your school is “living” this Principle?
- Transforming it...If you get this far along the continuum, what would a transformation of your school’s relationship with the Well-Being Principle look like in practice? How would you tell that story?
When we put the WELL-BEING principle at the heart of our school, we see each of the other principles flourish. To really change the culture of our school in order to embed the well-being principle, we use ADAPTIVE CHANGE to inspire profound learning throughout our school community as we co-create common language around well-being that reflect the shared values of our learning COMMUNITY. Well-being and the LEARNING principle are intricately linked, as impactful and joyful learning are challenging at best without the positive benefits of well-being. Building CAPACITY among all stakeholders is part of the transformative process of shifting a school culture, helped enormously by the fact that we have a shared definition of learning that includes elements of well-being. With well-being an integral part of our community’s shared definition of learning, we broaden our view of learner EVIDENCE to include dimensions of well-being using rich and diverse data methods. Research is clear about the significance of our sense of belonging to our well-being, and so the EQUITY principle inspires us to create an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.