Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Optimizing the Art and Science of Well-Being in Schools

Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Optimizing the Art and Science of Well-Being in Schools

Article excerpt

Educators are increasingly recognizing that schools are ideal platforms from which to address topics of relevance to young people, particularly in relation to mental health. Although academic skills are helpful and can shape future jobs and careers, we as parents, teachers, health professionals, and the public at large want more for young people. We want them to be full of hope and energy for the future, to be motivated and active participants in life, and to be compassionate and civically minded individuals. Learning about mathematics, poetry, or science can provide focus and passion for some young people, but the way in which these subjects are typically taught in schools means that there is no substantial and meaningful discussion about how this knowledge applies in the real world for personal and community benefits. Similarly, life skills to regulate emotions and foster well-being are seldom addressed in any depth, yet these are vital for good mental health, effective learning, and spirited community involvement. So while we have high hopes for our young people, we are not currently equipping them with the necessary tools to help them realize these hopes and expectations and, subsequently, they sometimes lose their way and sacrifice their mental health in the process.

Numerous surveys indicate that a high percentage of young people, particularly those in high school, report excessive levels of stress, particularly around school life. In a recent Australian survey of 18,994 young people ages 15-19 years (Cave, Fildes, Luckett, & Wearring, 2015), coping with stress was the prime concern: 38.4% of young people reported being either extremely concerned (15.9%) or very concerned (22.5%). This survey also showed that school or study problems was a major concern for 33.6% (extremely concerned: 13.5%; very concerned: 20.1%) of young people. Keyes (2009) found that less than 4 in 10 young Americans were flourishing (experiencing high levels of well-being), and that being free from mental illness does not necessarily imply high levels of mental health. It is essential that mental health strategies focus on both eliminating mental illness and building resilience and flourishing. This is where positive education can be beneficial. The mission of positive education is to guide young people toward positive functioning and flourishing by integrating evidence-based positive psychology interventions with best-practice teaching methods. Positive education can help young people to not only manage their stress but to also live an enjoyable and meaningful life. It opens up the notion of not just coping with life but of finding ways of optimizing and thriving in life.

Teaching the art and science of well-being in schools can equip both students and teachers with the skills and confidence to better manage their emotions, develop constructive thinking styles, form positive self-identities, better understand their personal values, and establish healthy relationships with others and the community. Through the lens of positive psychology, individuals can learn to understand their strengths and to develop personal skills that they can then apply in the service of something greater that will benefit others. The framework of positive psychology promotes the pursuit of higher order, meaningful goals. Positive education also equips young people with the skills to thrive irrespective of their life circumstances and the complexities of modern day living. It encourages individuals to develop a new mindset of recognizing that there is "good" to be found in most situations, even the seemingly bleak. The goal is to identify and illuminate the good aspects and to learn and grow from life challenges.

Schools are well-placed to address the mental health and well-being needs of young people, as they can address mental health at an early age before a sustained pattern of mental illness sets in and becomes pervasive across their lives (Sawyer et al. …

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