Unpacking well-being part two: Driving change
Unpacking well-being part two: Driving change
Unpacking well-being part two: Driving change
Leo Thompson CIS School Support & Evaluation Officer


By Leo Thompson, MA, MEd, CIS School Support and Evaluation Officer



We began unpacking well-being by asking, ‘what is well-being in education?’. We looked at related concepts and theory and started to identify the ways that international schools are challenged to weave well-being through their community to align with CIS accreditation standards. Now, let’s reflect on what is driving this change and consider how can we react.


Purpose and direction, learning, global citizenship, and well-being

At CIS, we have four driving ideas or ‘drivers’ that form the essence of our accreditation standards: purpose and direction, learning, global citizenship, and well-being.

As individuals, it’s easy to relate to these drivers personally and rank them according to our personal preference and there is no doubt that they are all important and interconnected. Likewise, in international education.

Well-being is a priority clearly linked to the first three drivers. Schools who are seeking CIS International Accreditation are required to include it in some form in their guiding statements.

If an international student is learning rapidly, integrates, accepted in their school community for who they are, lives a balanced life, and has a meaningful sense of purpose and direction, there is a good chance that they have a feeling of well-being. But that is no guarantee as well-being is a mental state and appearances can be deceptive. 


Time, change, and transitions

graphic equalizer

To throw in other variables, how do time, change and transitions (micro and macro) come into the equation? We know that life is not a constant and we have our daily ups and downs, or ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet put it.

If our sense of well-being has the potential to fluctuate in response to change like an erratic graphic equaliser, what can we do to help young people learn to manage this phenomenon and create a sense of stability, safety, and comfort?

Perhaps learning for well-being and physical and mental health is potentially the greatest gift we can give our students because we are essentially educating them to take care of themselves and those around them in a very uncertain future.

There are numerous personal factors to attend to as indicated in Maslow's model and we must support as many needs as realistically possible in our schools, increasing our resources if necessary.

For instance, the Anna Freud Centre, recommended by CIS Head of Safeguarding and Children’s Well-being, Katie Rigg, has some excellent examples and resources around mental health. This is particularly important for schools if we note that 50% of mental health conditions are established by the age of 14


So why now? Why is well-being increasingly gaining attention in education?

It is not just the unwelcome arrival of Covid-19.

A case can be made for a range of negative and even positive factors at a micro and macro level.

Undoubtedly, this pandemic is our negative common ground having caused immeasurable suffering and loss, human and community separation, family upheaval and financial concerns, but there are other factors threatening the physical and mental health of children all linked to failures or issues at various stages in Maslow's model:

  1. tragic incidents relating to failures in student security and safety 
  2. the impact of seemingly inescapable and addictive technologies and media affecting life balance and sleep 
  3. assessment and performativity pressures often associated with a competitive neoliberal context according to Stephen Ball 
  4. instability factors relating to international education, such as regular turnover of students, teachers, and leadership 
  5. omnipresent news relating to catastrophes, disease, wars, and environmental destruction that makes us feel an existential threat 
  6. marginalisation, bullying and other forms of discrimination

Furthermore, our consciousness is punctuated and fears potentially magnified via the social media that often divides us into very conflicting, tribal camps.

Is it any wonder that so many of our students, and even our colleagues, become traumatised and need support? The list above are only six identified negative factors impacting well-being and there are certainly more that we can put forward.


There are positives too

Some positive reasons for an increased focus on well-being relate to the fact that informed educators know its intrinsic, human importance. They are making deeper connections driven by compelling research.

It is proven that a satisfactory feeling of health, prosperity, and happiness provides powerful preconditions for effective learning.

We all know from our own experience that we learn best when we are well-rested, comfortable, relaxed, and feeling positive. And an overwhelming amount of neuroscientific research props up our own experience.

When I searched the ’link between well-being and learning, Google generated about 2.670.000.000 results in 0,78 seconds. When I typed the same search into Google Scholar I got about 1.130.000 results (0,09 sec), many linking to robust, peer reviewed research.

It’s going to take a pretty persuasive individual to argue against the critical link between the two. 

Well-being is not just a “nice to have”, it is essential for learning!

We can also call on the work of the OECD Learning Compass, the UN SDGs, and ‘edruptor’ Michael Fullan. They collectively urge for well-being to be centrally placed in the goals and work of schools—complementing and echoing our mandate to weave well-being through school communities via our CIS accreditation standards. Well-being coach Andy Griffiths elegantly summarised this global call to action by saying that we all need to ensure that words like:

Well-being doesn’t become the varnish on a table (in schools), but instead becomes the fundamental stability of the furniture itself, the reason why it exists in the first place.

Andy Griffiths, Well-being Coach

Summing up

As I posed at the beginning of this unpacking exercise, well-being is a multifaceted precious gem. It plays an integral role in education and it should not be separated from notions of high-quality learning.

Well-being is deeply immersed in the CIS standards and facilitated in many different ways, deeply interconnected with purpose and direction and global citizenship via our work to address inclusion via diversity, equity and anti-racism (I-DEA).

We should commit to ‘bringing our human’ into the classrooms and corridors and being concerned about the well-being of every individual person in our school community—students, staff, parents—looking out for and checking in with each other when we can.

It is not only the right thing to do, it builds secure, healthy, positive and sustainable learning communities. Including well-being in the school’s mission and placing it centrally in the CIS accreditation framework of standards gives well-being a mandate for a holistic set of actions and decisions.

Perhaps our first step is to get together and define well-being in our diverse school contexts, as a form of communitywide common agreement to guide our practice and approach. Then we can align ourselves around this clarifying statement to make it happen through programmes, policies, procedures, and projects.

Well-being should not just be the gallant work of one or two appointed individuals, but the caring work of the many creating a culture of well-being.

Here is another example of a definition in the CIS Explanation of Terms (used to support the CIS Standards), to help indicate its broad range, but apply some DIY and define it for yourselves!  

An overall term for the physical and mental health of people. In young people, it is a foundation for learning while in full-time education, but also the foundation for life beyond school with resilience and emotional competences being particularly important. There are many aspects to well-being, ranging from provision of basic needs and safety from dangers (including harm and abuse), to one’s sense of identity and belonging, to one’s ability to exercise cognitive and interpersonal skills, identify and manage distressing emotions and foster positive perspectives. As such, the term includes but is not limited to issues related to child protection and safeguarding.

In part three of this post series to unpack well-being, I’ll attempt a different approach, using student voice to reveal practical initiatives in schools and demonstrate the power of involving them in monitoring and improving well-being programmes in our schools. I’ll do my best to gather and share grounded, practical examples of well-being initiatives taken from diverse school communities who are doing great work in this area to help keep this important discussion going.

Let’s work together to ensure that well-being is not the next educational fad.

Many Voices, Many Expressions, One Direction.

Let Peter’s slogan be our one direction and be well!

Join us for a Mental Health & Well-being Workshop

22–24 November 2022 | Virtual

Learn how to embed a positive culture and create psychological safety for your community of students, staff, and faculty. You’ll be guided by experts in the field as you explore ways to empower and actively engage your community as they face everyday and emerging challenges.

The sessions will be available on-demand in the weeks following so you can catch up or view again at your own convenience.

We'll keep our events page up to date with new dates and registration information for this workshop.


Acknowledgements: Jane Larsson, Katie Rigg, Simon Camby, Chris Durbin, Chris Green, Rick Spradling, Sudha Govindswamy, Monica Greeley, Chris Maggio, Kate Taverner, Stuart McLay, Martha Ross, Peter Williams, Vanessa Reid, Leila Holmyard.

Related content:


Unpacking well-being part two: Driving change
  • Diversity (I-DEA)
  • Global citizenship
  • International accreditation
  • Student well-being
Unpacking well-being part two: Driving change