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How to support student wellbeing in education

5 January 2023

Classrooms can be challenging places – they can make or break students in more ways than one. Unfortunately, students can experience a range of issues in classrooms, including difficulty learning or concentrating, bullying, boredom and frustration, according to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership Limited (AITSL). These issues are surprisingly common: at least 42 per cent of Australian students are bullied as frequently as once a month, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

To shape confident and capable students, it’s critical for educators to support students in all facets of their learning. A growing body of evidence shows that aiding student wellbeing can lead to success. Educators interested in learning the latest strategies and pedagogy should consider a Master of Education.

Strategies to increase student wellbeing

Teachers can do numerous things to increase student wellbeing, including the following four initiatives:

1. Foster positive relationships

Traditionally the focus in schools has been on the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. These days a fourth R is considered 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.

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 also 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 paper 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 by communicating positive expectations, demonstrating caring and preventing and reducing frustration.

2. Champion diversity

All students are different. By responding to diverse learning needs, educators can enhance student wellbeing and empower students to do well at school. Several news reports describe Australia’s growing educational inequality. To counteract these issues, educators are required to recognise, respect and respond to differences in race, ethnicity, culture, language, socioeconomic status, religion, ability and identity.

The Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO) Model shows that inclusive schools that celebrate and protect diversity, no matter the student’s background or ability, achieve the best possible outcomes at school. Through the delivery of a differentiated curriculum and targeted programs, educators can 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.

3. Say no to bullying

Student wellbeing is about the quality of their lives, and feelings play a major role in this regard. Whether a student feels positive about school is inextricably linked to wellbeing, the ability to learn and ultimately 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, when students perceive the school environment to be toxic, learning is impaired.

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

Bullying is repeated behaviour, verbal or physical, that causes psychological or physical injury. In some cases, peers reject children or children are excluded from activities or publicly shamed. Also, with cyber-bullying incidents on the rise, the internet is a source of harassment. Research by the AIHW shows that seven in 10 Australian students will be bullied at least once during their education.

Protecting students against bullying by creating a sense of school connectedness is the strongest defence in combating 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 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.

4. 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. Student wellbeing increases 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 mindfulness, educators can help them to focus on their own strengths and empower them to develop the tools to solve problems.

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. All are important aspects of learning. Increasingly, research shows the significance of social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools. Educators can use SEL materials to promote resilience, which includes building self-awareness and self-management, according to the AITSL.

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. Also, evidence shows that high levels of mental health are associated with increased learning, creativity and productivity, more prosocial behaviour and positive social relationships. Such students also experience improved physical health and life expectancy. The good news for educators is that by promoting positive health during the school years, they’ll be helping with the prevention of mental health problems into adulthood.

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

Why supporting student wellbeing is important

The impact and responsibility of educators go far beyond the classroom: Teachers can have a profound impact on their students’ lives. A focus on student wellbeing has significant short-term benefits, including the fact that students who feel more content and connected in their classrooms perform better overall on tests and are typically more productive in their studies. When student wellbeing increases, so does student engagement.

In the long term, supporting students can have an even more profound impact. Students who feel supported have better teacher relationships; have higher confidence in themselves, and are more likely to succeed academically, not just on one test or in one classroom, but in their studies overall. Student support has been linked to enhanced mental health and better, more responsible life choices, according to the AITSL.

Student wellbeing: A priority for the future

Education has the power to transform lives, but it can’t have the same transformative effect if students can’t thrive in the classroom. Supporting students by creating initiatives and programs that focus on student wellbeing is critical.

Find out more about learning the skills to create better student wellbeing by studying a Master of Education with SCU Online, which offers an Educational Wellbeing specialisation focusing on valuing diversity, supporting students in difficult times, educational leadership and wellbeing, and enhancing student wellbeing.

Explore the Master of Education and become an educator focused on student wellbeing.

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