Is Schooling a Contribution or Threat to Student Well-Being?

January 15, 2024

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Student-Teacher Relationships, Mental Health, Psychology

Well-being has become widely regarded as a matter of concern for governments and public policy and, in recent years, schools have been increasingly seen as sites for promoting well-being. This has given rise to a substantial growth in research on school-based interventions related to student well-being. In this regard, the role of teachers has received particular attention, given the well-established association between the quality of student-teacher relationships, student engagement and well-being, and their social and emotional development However, research on the role of teachers has identified a need for conceptual clarification with what fostering well-being might entail.

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Well-being Should Be an Integral Part of Everyday Teaching and Learning

Previous research has indicated that teachers favored the term “well-being” and were more reluctant to use the term “mental health”. While teachers emphasize the importance of mental health, there is a gap in understanding how to implement practices. This has led to researchers suggesting that there needs to be more ways to increase mental health literacy among teachers. 

Researchers have pointed out that much of the discourse around well-being is centered on how it can relate to better academic outcomes rather than well-being simply being a product of education. It was additionally noted that if well-being is viewed as integral to the educational process then supporting it should be anchored in everyday teaching and learning rather than in addition to it.

The Pressure of Producing High Academic Results Prevents Teachers From Addressing the Well-being Concerns in Schools 

A qualitative study was done where researchers conducted focus groups. The study was carried out in the context of a continuing professional development program for teachers fostering student well-being across 10 municipalities with approximately 30 schools in Norway. 23 teachers participated (17 female and 6 male) with teaching experience ranging from 2-41 years. The teachers in this study gave high importance to their role in fostering student well-being, seeing it as related to students’ personal development and growth. Teachers in the study had a long-term perspective on their student’s growth and development and emphasized their role in facilitating conditions in which the students could thrive, explore, learn, and develop a sense of self-worth and social competence.

Teachers noted their concern about the high expectations on student performance in their school life including social pressure, academic pressure, and extracurricular demands. They said this has led to students feeling more overwhelmed and prone to mental health difficulties than they had in the past. While teachers would like to focus more on well-being and address these demands on students, they face their own unique set of demands, such as better test scores, leaving them with little time to foster overall student well-being.

The Role of Educators Concerning Student Well-being Needs To Be Clarified

The authors emphasized the tension and issue facing educators: wanting to find time to emphasize and address student well-being, but feeling ill-prepared and being short on time to do so. This in turn threatens the well-being of teachers and leaves them with a sense of uncertainty about their role in student well-being. One suggestion made was to offer more continuing professional development in this area and have more meaningful conversations about the educator’s role concerning student wellbeing.

Notable Quotes: 

“[…]the dominant discourse has focused on how students’ wellbeing can lead to better academic outcomes, rather than wellbeing being an outcome of education[…]”

“At an overarching level, the teachers in this study considered fostering student wellbeing to be integrated into their professional role.”

“This situation left teachers struggling to balance their various responsibilities; on one hand they felt that they should put pressure on the students to make them work harder and get better test scores, and on the other hand they felt that this might come at the expense of their focus on fostering students’ overall wellbeing”

Personal Takeaway: 

It was an interesting read. I resonated with valuing student well-being but being unsure of how to actually make this happen in practice. I also appreciated the way the tension teachers face with student well-being and academic achievement was articulated.—Matt Browne

Samnøy, S., Thurston, M., Wold, B., Jenssen, E. S., & Tjomsland, H. E. (2022). Schooling as a contribution or threat to wellbeing? A study of Norwegian teachers’ perceptions of their role in fostering student wellbeing. Pastoral Care in Education, 40(1), 60-79.

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