After writing and podcasting about wellness and sharing lots of crazy ideas over the past several years, I think it is time to take a stab at organizing some of my strategies into one post to possibly help schools when planning to design and implement a wellness program. I do this with little experience in wellness program design while knowing that multiple books, dissertations, and articles have been written about implementing new programs. And yes, there are consultants in the business and education worlds who specialize in program development and implementation, with some providing guidance specifically for wellness. What I am offering is not a set plan. It is a menu of ideas to choose from that can go into a project to be implemented as a wellness program. 🙂
Looking at starting a Positive Psychology/Education-oriented wellness program takes me to the work of the educators at Geelong Grammar School (GGS) and their Institute of Positive Education. I searched and found the following resources about their wellness program development efforts. Look to definitely read what these PosEdu pros have to say! They use the term Positive Education as the application of Positive Psychology into the field of education.
I also looked to the work of Dr. David Perkins and Dr. Jim Reese in their article entitled “When Change Has Legs,” as well as my interview with Dr. Reese on the EdTech Co-Op podcast to help guide my thinking on implementation strategies.
My approach always is to find what is practical and actionable to bring timely results for students and adults.
-Decide on whether you will include the parents and/or staff in growing their wellness.
–Form a wellness committee with representatives of all stakeholders to design a community-wide wellness plan. Form a more focused “wellness team” within the committee of interested staff to be the drivers of the process. I have not been on a school and community-wide committee for some years that included students, but I have heard of schools bringing them on to some committees. With no such experience, I am guessing that selected high school students could be full-on members of a wellness committee. Perhaps one could put forth the case for mature and confident Middle Schoolers. Hence, I wonder if there is a way to have a side student advisory committee that also includes older elementary students where input is received on ideas from the larger wellness committee. Again, I don’t have any experience with student representatives. Still, I think students need to be a part of the process, especially to get their ideas on how a wellness program would be received and how to tailor it to the students’ lives. Along the same lines, I would think about forming a separate parent advisory group with which the parents of the wellness committee and administrators connect for their ideas and to use as a sounding board.
-Have your instructional technologists represented on your wellness committee. There is a lot of common ground between their student curriculum on (digital) citizenship and their providing of workshops for parents with what your instructional coaches for wellness cover especially with digital wellness for students, staff, and parents.
-Get your leadership organized, as in who will be the political and the practical leaders of the implementation process. Dr. Perkins and Dr. Reese list the responsibilities of each, so do look to read their article. As a practitioner, I always focus on finding current leaders and others with the potential to apply their Character Strengths of leadership and teamwork to further craft implementation strategies while building accountability for the change process.
–Define what wellness means for your community connecting to the principles of Positive Psychology (my shorthand is “PosPsych”). I think that sometimes committees tend to think too big and broad in the scope of what they want to cover. This is understandable. I know of a wellness consortium that brings financial, environmental and spiritual into the usual Physical – Intellectual – Emotional – Social (PIES) approach to how we categorize parts of the whole student. I would advise against doing this for many reasons, with one big one being that PosPsych is research-supported to describe the domains of life that, if lived well, will lead to wellness when engaging one’s Character Strengths. Schools can have a separate umbrella of life skills with some overlap that can cover financial, environmental, and other essential life literacies that school leaders wish to grow within their students.
-Bring in the components of social and emotional learning as provided by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). They overlap with the Character Lab versions of the Character Strengths of emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and self-control.
-Speaking of Character Lab, besides defining the term wellness, consider whether you will use the Character Lab names for the Character Strengths (they currently list 15 of the 24 strengths) or the VIA Institute on Character version. And will you use the term Positive Psychology or Positive Education in describing your program? I find the Character Lab names more student-friendly. I also like to use Positive Psychology as the term used in research and the acronym PERMA, which many add “H” for health. I find that using PERMAH is sticky with folks, while the Positive Education version with “positive” before each pillar title offers no acronym. And yes, I know capitalizing Character Strengths is incorrect, but I like the emphasis the capitals provide. 🙂 The bottom line is to build a shared learning language for your wellness program.
-There are many techniques to running meetings effectively, including protocols provided through mechanisms like Critical Friends Groups. It is essential to start the change process with solid foundational strategies that stakeholders are already using. A starting place is to do a plus-minus brainstorming listing of what the school has in place that already supports wellness and the negatives as barriers that will need to be overcome.
-A connected strategy is to conduct a wellness survey of community members, including students, parents, and staff, to gather data to have a baseline to refer back to once the program is in place. One aspect of the survey can be on PosPsych content knowledge regarding what the term wellness means to community members. A second survey question can, of course, anonymously gather information about their well-being status.
-Nail down what is at the core of your wellness program in a paragraph or two. Like the school’s mission statement, this core statement must be promoted and shared frequently. Here is a rough example of what my core wellness statement looks like>
I see the science of Positive Psychology guiding my work, looking past deficiencies to see and focus on the strengths of those I work with. I help others to answer the questions:
- What does wellness look like from a Positive Psychology perspective?
- What is character?
- What are Character Strengths?
- What are the pillars of life (i.e., PERMAH) that we can engage our Character Strengths in to help us to thrive? In a figurative sense, which “tools”(i.e., PERMAH and the Character Strengths) in our “wellness toolkit” do we routinely use to live life well on a daily basis. Which tools do we apply when we face obstacles and long-term struggles?
- What are values?
-I would add the topic of digital wellness under the ample tent coverage of your wellness program.
-I can also see putting together a list of all the components/structures of the school where the principles of PosPsych could be embedded. From the business office to transportation to campus green space management to hiring to after-school programming, I could see a wellness filter being added to decision-making around the question of “how can wellness be supported?” when leadership makes decisions in the running of the school.
-Do a parallel implementation process by also following the School Retool model of jumping right in to introduce wellness education to your chosen stakeholders provided by your early adopters and others with enough content knowledge to get some pilots going that will provide feedback to support the wellness committee in designing the wellness plan. This goes against the Geelong Grammar School (GGS) model that is presented as being both linear in progression and, in time, a cycle. More on this topic later in the post.
-If the school currently has profiles of a graduate for ES, MS, and HS, if they don’t already have a section on well-being, add it with attributes of what a “well” student looks like at each level, including how one can observe students using their personal wellness toolkit to flourish and when needed, to overcome obstacles.
-Start scaffolding for learning and living wellness principles by having community members set wellness goals for personal wellness and school team/department and family wellness (the breadth depends on which populations are a part of your program). Wellness plan templates can be used to design the action steps for everyone to work towards their goals.
-Decide what your curriculum will be and how it will be delivered. Will you purchase a curriculum? Will you develop your own? Will your approach be integrated into the regular curriculum (i.e., LA, SS, Sci, etc.), or will it be delivered during a set time in the weekly timetable? Who will teach the curriculum? Might you have a hybrid approach combining the integrated and purchased standalone curriculum?
-Connecting to the previous strategies, look to have a wellness web portal and wellness app, use portfolios with a wellness documentation component, and other tools to teach and embed wellness into the lives of your chosen stakeholders.
-One aspect of using communication tools to get the wellness word out there is to ponder who and how you will communicate the latest news and updates to support ongoing learning about wellness. What “just in time” conduits will you have in case of a school crisis and/or ongoing community protocols such as with Covid information sharing? Schools already leverage social networking tools from Twitter to blogs, so how might you brand/title your wellness information and news?
-If you go the route of staff learning and experiencing PosPsych in their lives, have divisional and departmental (i.e., principals, HR, business, etc.) administrators work with individuals on their annual professional growth plan to include the setting of wellness goals. The teaching staff would also set goals for teaching the wellness curriculum. A series of calendar events would be scheduled to support progress toward reaching the plans during the year. The wellness coach at each division level can offer to coach to support staff with their personal wellness goal(s).
-The divisional wellness coach partners with the teaching teams to set their wellness teaching goal(s) to design the activities to work on the team wellness goal, including setting calendar events to meet and reflect on their efforts during the year.
-Redesign your curriculum planning unit template to include a way to document either the integration of and/or the teaching of the purchased wellness curriculum into the units of study. A starting place is to have a section of the unit plan entitled something like “Wellness Teaching & Integration.”
–Ongoing professional learning/development to help individuals and teams meet their wellness goals. The wellness coach and administrator who oversees the division wellness program meet with individuals and teams to help them design aspects of the school’s Professional Learning Community (PLC) and the wider Professional Learning Network (PLN) to help individuals personalize their learning.
-Give your early adopters and passionate about wellness staff members resources and time to engage their Character Strengths of creativity and teamwork to come up with ways to support and teach wellness within your community. One starting place is to set aside time for Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTT) workshops for learning and ideation. Go-getters can also design online mini-courses for staff to take on their own time schedules. This could tie into the badging strategy listed below.
-Further support staff learning by forming learning groups based on the COETAIL efforts that include PLCs around technology integration, which in this case would be for wellness integration. One possibility is to run several groups focusing on the school-wide or divisional goals of the year so that wellness might just be one topic choice among several.
-The creation of a badging (micro-credential) certificate system containing all the PosPsych content knowledge and integration strategies that staff can work on, whether towards their personal and/or professional goals. Teaching staff members can add their badges to the wellness section of their professional portfolios and possibly use them for credit hours in renewing their teaching licenses.
-New students and parents need to be onboarded annually into the wellness program. The same goes for new staff before their arrival in August for the normal orientation and onboarding program. Providing online tutorials, FAQs, webinars, and other resources through the wellness web portal can help with the process. Design wellness workshops as part of your orientation program for new students before the first day of school. Provide a series of workshops for parents for face to face meetings and for online attendees.
-Design wellness learning opportunities for your parents working with the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). The PTA can help with the onboarding process for new parents for wellness and other aspects of the school and community culture. If you have a community center on campus, support your PTA in offering book clubs, workshops, small group discussions, etc., on wellness, parenting, and other topics of interest.
-I can say again from experience that the onboarding needs to be scheduled and promoted at the start of the year to continue on a monthly offering new staff and parents opportunities to grow their knowledge of PosPsych with built-in activities to support their living and embedding of wellness principles into their lives.
-The same, of course, needs to happen for students. Schools often offer a start-of-the-year orientation program for new students. Possibly have more than one day of orientation in which you introduce your wellness program. Find ways for your ES homerooms and MS and HS advisory to have start-of-the-year wellness foundational learning opportunities to build foundational knowledge of PosPsych so that the new students can feel comfortable as teachers integrate the Character Strengths and PERMAH in their regular curricula . And just as with the parents, look to have some follow-up orientation get-togethers with your new students to discuss wellness and other topics to help them transition to your school.
-Will you follow the Geelong Grammar School (GGS) Positive Psychology/Education implementation model of “learn, live, teach and embed” or draw from another framework? A lesson learned is that it can take a lot of time and effort to have your staff and parents go through the learn and live it phases before moving on to the teaching phase. It makes sense that teachers need to understand the principles of PosPsych before teaching them, just as they do with the content of their regular curriculum. My lesson learned is to power up on preparation and follow through to take the adults through the first two phases. Don’t get bogged down in these two phases knowing that adult education is complex and changing behaviors is even more challenging. Your students deserve to learn and live wellness ASAP! Get into teaching mode!
-The GGS program is described both in a linear fashion and as “four interconnecting cyclical processes” (Learn it. Live it. Teach it. Embed it.), which is supported by the graphic representation of their GGS model. The article’s authors clearly state that each school must design a program that meets its needs. Hence, it seems that one can start going through the phases in a linear fashion that then becomes a cycle that leads to ongoing reviewing and refinement of the steps as a form of continual renewal. Well, I think that is how it works. 😉 As Dr. Perkins and Dr. Reese note, look to design your framework to be flexible and adaptable to the needs of your community as a whole and to individual stakeholders as much as possible.
I am reminded that Geelong Grammar had Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology, present on campus for six months, so they could get rolling with the Learn and Live stages. They really had their staff’s attention and made their wellness implementation their number one priority. It should also be noted that their team “complete a four–day residential training course to discover and explore elements of personal well-being, to learn the foundations of positive psychology, and to develop an understanding of and gain personal experience in the six domains of the GGS Model. Training courses are also offered to parents of students, to be introduced to Pos Ed that is intended to directly enhance their own well-being, and indirectly enhance the well-being of their children, family, and friends.” (Learn it. Live it. Teach it. Embed it.)
So yes, it is a big step to have the aspiration that teachers live the tenets of PosPysch before they can teach it. And yes, there is the question of whether the school can reach into the private lives of staff regarding their wellness. My experience tells me that schools can get waylaid in the first two phases before the teaching begins. And again, GGS put enormous resources towards supporting the adults in their community with the “Learn and Live It” stages.
So boy, howdy, the folks at GGS really were and are committed to their wellness program! This brings up the point of not trying to manage multiple initiatives simultaneously. Implementing a wellness program that so gets at changing behaviors and lives is a huge undertaking. So really refrain from bringing about “initiative fatigue” by trying to do other new programs while implementing your wellness plan.
The article’s authors do go on to acknowledge that schools might not be able to offer such a dedicated learning opportunity for their community members. The authors go on to twice note that “staff is encouraged…” to live by the principles of PosPsych. So in my thinking, they could say to staff that they were encouraged but not expected to apply what they were learning to their personal and private lives. I think it is a big undertaking for school leaders to desire, let alone require staff to make changes in their lives guided by PosPsych.
I, of course, would love to be a member of a school where all the staff makes such a commitment to personal wellness, but I cannot see it being made a professional obligation. I can see strategies and systems being constructed that offer a pathway to engage with PosPsych in one’s life, both professionally and personally. Once teachers learn the wellness content knowledge and have the tools to integrate wellness into their classrooms, don’t let the Live It phase prevent the students from experiencing the principles of PosPsych in their lives. And also, don’t let the time-consuming work of designing a strategic wellness plan get in the way of being actionable, as advocated by the School Retool approach to program implementation.
We know that modeling is a powerful instructional tool, so it makes sense for teachers to understand the content of PosPsych and share well-being practices with their students. Character Lab makes modeling a central strategy in all of their playbooks. But in the end, we can model by asking questions about how to apply Character Strengths and how to engage them within the PERMAH framework to teach PosPsych to our students. We don’t need to share our personal lives unless we choose to. So again, don’t get bogged down in how well or how many of one’s staff truly live what they teach about wellness.
I will finish this list of strategies by offering a final point that Dr. Perkins and Dr. Reese list as the fourth leg of their process to support innovation and change. They use the term institutionalization, which compliments the GGS phase of embedding the wellness program into all aspects of the school community. I think school leaders need to construct systems that keep the program growing with mechanisms for accountability that don’t depend on specific leaders and passionate individuals who, especially in international schools, often move on to new schools. From experience, I saw a few programs quickly disappear when the individual(s) who started and ran them left the school, and/or systems were not in place to keep the program(s) going.
I hope to learn about schools that designed and implemented wellness programs where students, staff, and parents speak and act upon the language of wellness. If you have been reading my blog, you know that these ideas were shared previously in more detail. I wish I could say the strategies come from my experiences in schools that successfully implemented school-wide wellness programs, but they do not.
By this, I mean that if I ask a third, eighth, or twelfth grader to paint a picture of what wellness looks like in their lives, they would be able to speak in terms of the Character Strengths that they exercise daily to live well along with the ones they engage in handling potential tough spots in their day. If asked which PERMAH pillars are really helping them thrive, they should be able to name them while stating which strengths assist in that effort.
I would apply the same questions to staff and parents who are open to sharing their experiences with the tenets of Positive Psychology and its application in their lives. And finally, I would be able to ask any teacher to either share specific wellness lessons and/or integration strategies that bring PERMAH and the Character Strengths into the culture of his/her class.
So if you made it to this point in the post, please use the comment tool to share about schools that are doing wellness well. 🙂
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