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How to increase student wellbeing in education

7 November 2019

Classrooms can be a challenging place – they can make or break students. To shape confident and capable students, it’s critical for educators to support the wellbeing of all learners. There’s a growing body of evidence that shows that aiding the emotional wellbeing of students can lead to success, both academically and socially. Here are four ways education leaders can improve student wellbeing.

Foster positive relationships

Traditionally the focus in schools has been on the three Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic. These days there’s a fourth R that is as equally important – relationships. Promoting a respectful learning environment through positive peer-to-peer and student-teacher relationships is just as vital to student learning. In fact, relationships hold the key to student happiness and overall school engagement. Research shows that students who report high life satisfaction are more likely to have increased academic achievements.

Using evidence-based practices, educators can establish a safe and supportive learning environment and create a stimulating classroom, where students feel valued, respected and connected. Positive relationships are not only central to creating school-connectedness but have broader life implications. According to the Consciousness and Connections in Education paper, “If the connection between the student and educator is not nourished and developed by the teacher, the student will not only shut down the learning process, they will also shut down the creative process.” 

Further, the report found that student-teacher relationships play an important role in helping reduce the rate of school dropout. Educators can create a learning environment that enhances learning through various techniques such as: communicating positive expectations, demonstrating caring, and preventing and reducing frustration and stress.  

A female teacher and a student smiling and talking at a classroom desk.       

Champion diversity

All students are different. By responding to diverse learning needs, educators can enhance student wellbeing and empower pupils to do well at school. Several news reports describe Australia’s growing educational inequality. One article states that Indigenous students and newly arrived migrants are among those who are disproportionately represented in the lower-achieving categories. Similarly, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) points to social issues related to a sense of belonging, indicating that many Australian students feel they ‘don’t belong in school.’ To counteract such statistics, educators are required to recognise, respect and respond to differences in race, ethnicity, culture, language, socio-economic status, religion, ability and identity.

The FISO Improvement Model shows that inclusive schools which celebrate and protect diversity – no matter the student's background or ability – achieve the best possible outcomes at school. Through the delivery of differentiated curriculum and targeted programs, educators are able to enrich the learning experience and students are able to fulfil their individual potential. When educators adopt a truly global perspective in their teaching style and support student wellbeing through effective instructional approaches, students are then able to contribute at school confidently. They also develop the self-assurance required to map their own futures.

Say no to bullying

Wellbeing is about the quality of a student’s life – and feelings play a major role in this regard. Whether or not a student feels positive about school is inextricably linked to their wellbeing, their ability to learn and ultimately their classroom success. When students feel a sense of belonging and trust and feel encouraged to participate, their motivation levels are higher. On the flip side, research shows that when students perceive the school environment to be toxic, learning is impaired. This is backed up by studies which argue that bad emotions have more of an impact than good ones.

Emotion is important in education – it drives attention, which in turn drives learning and memory. When a positive classroom environment is threatened by bullying – a systemic abuse of power – there can be harmful consequences. The initial impact on the student may be a lack of enthusiasm for learning, which could then potentially spiral towards risk-taking or anti-social behaviour.

Bullying is repeated behaviour – it can be verbal or physical – and it causes psychological or physical injury. In some cases, children are rejected by peers, excluded from activities or publicly shamed. And with cyber-bullying on the rise, the internet is also a source of harassment. According to an OECD report on student wellbeing, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) highlights a significant prevalence of all forms of bullying. The results show that 26% of frequently bullied students report relatively low satisfaction with life, and victims of bullying often decide to stay out of school.

Protecting students against bullying by creating a sense of school connectedness is the strongest defence in combatting school absenteeism, violence or risk-taking behaviours. Teachers need to communicate to students that they will not tolerate bullying. The Australian Student Wellbeing Framework outlines steps for educators on how to counter violence, bullying and abuse in all online and physical spaces. Educators can also build positive classrooms through seven strategies – by making learning relevant, creating a classroom code of conduct, teaching positive actions, instilling intrinsic motivation, reinforcing positive behaviours, engaging positive role models, and always being positive.       

A male teacher having a discussion about emotional intelligence with a group of secondary school students.

Build resilience

According to a national survey conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research, 14 per cent of Australian children and adolescents display some kind of mental health problem. Students do best at school when they have good mental health – this starts with fostering a culture of resilience. Building resilience is about strengthening a student’s capacity to cope, learn and thrive when faced with stress, challenges or setbacks. By teaching students self-reflection and promoting mindfulness, educators can help them to focus on their own strengths and empower them to develop the tools to problem-solve.

Developing a student’s emotional intelligence and teaching the skills for self-regulation of their own emotions leads to healthy relationships, responsible decision-making, the ability to bounce back from obstacles and a positive self-image. These are all important aspects of learning. Increasingly research shows the significance of social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools, both in Australia and overseas. There are a number of SEL materials that educators can use to grow resilience in students, which includes building self-awareness and self-management.

Research shows that students who participate in rigorously designed and well-taught SEL programs demonstrate more positive social behaviour and are less likely to engage in risky and disruptive behaviour. And there is evidence that shows that high levels of mental health are associated with increased learning, creativity and productivity, more pro-social behaviour and positive social relationships. Such students also experience improved physical health and life expectancy. And the good news for educators is that by promoting positive health during the school years, you will be helping with the prevention of mental health problems into adulthood.

Find out more about learning the skills to create better student wellbeing by studying a Master of Education, specialising in Wellbeing with SCU Online.