Lessons Learned

Instructional Technology - International Education - Wellness

Leaving Life as an Educator

If you are a listener to our Educators Going Global podcast, I hope you are feeling informed. Audrey and I work to bring you leaders in international education to provide our listeners with insights and helpful strategies, whether you are considering becoming an international educator or you are a veteran of the going global lifestyle.

We occasionally do episodes with just the two of us. A recent one connects to one of the themes of my blog, as we discussed using Positive Psychology to guide one’s pivot out of international education. The reality is that the strategies provided apply to any educator retiring from teaching.

Here is the episode for your review.

Professional Learning: Improving Your Wellness Program

How well is your elementary wellness program succeeding in helping your students construct their wellness toolkits to exercise their character strengths within the PERMAH pillars? In addition, where are your students regarding personal growth and thriving? Designing a wellness program is a vast task, with implementation being a vital component. Another critical aspect of program building and implementation that schools sometimes fail with is the follow-through to measure the effects upon the stakeholders.

Accountability, thus, is central to the success of the program. One way to pull in the lessons learned from the program rollout is to periodically have staff reflect, share and create together to improve your wellness curriculum.

The following is one approach for an elementary staff workshop to start the improvement process for your wellness program that you can possibly adapt for your staff as they strive to integrate the character strengths and PERMAH pillars into the culture of their classrooms. Measuring how effective your wellness program is for your students is another aspect of accountability. A future blog post will cover this most important topic.

Wellness Integration Reflection and Improvement Workshop

If your number of staff members is not too large, set up six tables where you usually do your professional learning workshops. If your staff is large, you need to set up two or more sets of six tables.

Let’s go with a smaller staff for this workshop description – one with a set of six tables and your staff divided into six groups. It is up to you to decide the parameters of the group makeup. Do you go with current grade level teams accompanied by specialists teachers, or do you mix things up by assigning group members from each grade level? An additional criterion could be to try and get a diverse mix of skills and character strengths within each group.

The first stage is to review the current PRIME integration strategies (the ones that work for most character strengths). The goal is to improve your instruction bringing the strengths into the culture of your classrooms. The teams also review the character strengths integration strategies specific to particular strengths (e.g., creativity). Each table has posters listing each PRIME and specific character strengths integration strategies. The teams at each table first rate each strategy for effectiveness, giving them a green for working well, a yellow for working so-so, and a red for not working.

The next step is to improve each strategy focusing on those receiving the yellow and red designations. The group works to improve each strategy writing their improved approaches to the strategy listings on the poster papers. Teams delist red strategies that cannot be improved.


The second stage is the round-robin aspect of the workshop. Each table will be home to one PERMAH pillar listed on poster paper. You will need to assess how long stage one will take to decide whether to try and tackle this second stage after your work on the first stage or save this activity until another day. The goal is to review how individual character strengths can be applied within each PERMAH pillar. With your staff already having implemented your wellness program by first teaching the character strengths followed by teaching the PERMAH pillars and how character strengths can be exercised with each pillar, your staff should have enough experience to now reflect and improve upon their efforts.

Each team spends a designated amount of time at each PERMAH table, focusing on each specific pillar. The facilitator can predetermine how much time is spent at each table or assess how much time each team needs per table once the process begins. An example is one group working at the Relationships table. The first step is to share and record on the poster paper which strengths and how each group member is teaching them to their students to engage within the pillar. The next step is to collectively comment upon and refine the instructional techniques that are being shared. The final step is to discuss character strengths not listed by anyone that their students could exercise to enhance their engagement within their assigned PERMAH pillar. Strategies to teach these new strengths into the pillar also would be written on the poster paper. Once this work is completed, each group moves to another PERMAH pillar table to follow the same multi-stage procedure.


The final stage is to regroup by grade level and assign specialists to grade-level teams in which they teach many of their students. You will need to assess how long stages one and two take to decide whether to try and tackle this third stage or save this activity until another day. The goal of this stage is to have each team spend time to devise new character strength integration strategies to use in their classrooms. The strategies can be PRIME in that they will work for most, if not all, of the character strengths, or they can be specific to individual character strengths. Team members present their new strategies to be refined by the team to be written on the provided “New Strength Integration Strategies” poster paper if the majority feel the strategy is doable and on par or better than current integration activities.


The wellness coach and wellness team meet later to review the workshop(s) outcomes. Further refinements are made, if needed, to the information on the poster papers. The final listing of improved and new strategies is then added to your web portal. I am guessing you have some website or online resource that lists the PRIME integration and those specific to the individual strengths, like my Wellness@ES website.

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Community Wellness Program – Wellness Ambassadors

A ways back I listed a few ideas to consider when designing and implementing a community wellness program. I stressed the importance of involving parents throughout the process. Thus, one aspect of the program would be finding ways to gather ideas and share information with parents. As my diagram above points out, a community has multiple levels, from the macro community to the micro level of individuals in which to engage.

One way schools can connect with and share information with parents is through parent workshops. I intentionally choose the term “workshop” rather than presentation. Workshops encompass teaching but also bring in insights and perspectives from the parents. Another aspect of workshops is that parents work on processing, analyzing, and sharing their learning. An example of this is my workshop entitled Parenting in the Digital Age.

As we advance the community wellness program, I see myself reaching out to interested parents to form an advisory group to help me further grow the program. As mentioned in my wellness program design blog post, I would gather insights from parents on the most critical issues and topics they see for their families. I would also get their feedback on my initiatives and plans in response to what they share.

Back to parent workshops, I would work with this advisory group to design a series of workshops on wellness and parenting topics of their choosing. Zeroing in on wellness, I would ask for volunteers to be “wellness ambassadors” to help me with wellness workshops and supporting our community’s wellness. I suggest a few roles they could fill. Here are some that come to mind.

  • An essential partner in this process is the parent-teacher organization. I would start with their leadership team to get the ball rolling.
  • A sounding board for topic generation.
  • Unpacking topics for more profound understanding through the various cultural lenses of the community members.
  • Have them be my practice audience once I design the workshops. They could give me feedback to fine-tune the material before I work with the greater parent community.
  • They could work as table facilitators when we do the workshops with the greater parent community.
  • They give me feedback after the workshops on how they ran and what they learned from their table groups.
  • I advocate for their voices to be heard as we grow our wellness program.

I probably would not have these ambassadors engage in “how to parent-style” workshops. It could be uncomfortable putting them in the role of facilitating table discussions on parenting which can be a very personal and sometimes emotional topic to discuss. It makes more sense to have administrators and other instructional coaches who have experience working with parents help facilitate table discussions on parenting. 🙂

OK, here I go again, sharing some ideas I have yet to try and have not proven effective. I have written a few times with other ideas, such as constructing a parent portal to build community while supporting one’s parents. Hopefully, the ideas presented here make sense, and they elicit lateral thinking connecting to your experiences and plans to support your parent community.

The Educators Going Global Information Hub and Podcast

If you are an international educator or looking to become one, I have a website and podcast to help you connect and better understand what is happening with international schooling. Audrey Forgeron and I are now many months into adding information to the Educators Going Global Information Hub while doing many podcast interviews.

Here is more information about our efforts!

We just started a new enterprise with multiple channels organized around school life, recruiting, transitions, finances, and travel

The central portal of our endeavor is the Educators Going Global (EGG) website. There you will find a podcast, a blog, a resource library, and links to our YouTube videos where international educators share their “Going Global Stories.” We also have a Facebook group where we post resources and crowdsource questions on topics such as potential guests, questions we need help with and lots more. 

Have a question about finances or your upcoming transition to a new school? Visit our site to select “Finances” or “Transitions” to see podcast episodes, blog posts, books, and website resources for your review. We hope you will see our website as an additional tool for your international teaching toolkit. 

At the same time, you can subscribe to the Educators Going Global podcast on your device using your favorite podcasting app to listen to our shows. We have posted 25+ shows, and many more are in the works. Our guests have been interesting and informative, and there is something there for everyone, whether you are new to International Education or a long-time veteran like ourselves.

We will share with you how to travel, teach and connect!

That should cover What Educators Going Global is. Now, here’s the Who! We are Audrey Forgeron and David Carpenter.  

Audrey is a thirty-year international teaching veteran of seven international schools on four continents. She has variously taught Health and Physical Education, Social Studies, French, Film and Design Technology in grades three through twelve and has been an instructional technology educator. She is now a trailing spouse and mother of two grown Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs) and is currently training to become a life coach.

David is also a long-time international educator, having worked in ten international schools for over 30 years. He has worn many hats, from Social Studies teacher to Counselor to Curriculum Designer to Instructional Technologist to Instructional Coach for Wellness. David is now semi-retired, wearing his dad hat whenever possible to support and learn from his adult sons, Maxwell and Samuel. 

So Why are we keen to share our insights and the expertise of our guests? We want to give back to the community of educators that gave each of us so much. We see our effort as a public service. 

Our mission is to inform veteran and aspiring international educators about working overseas. We do this via targeted podcast episodes that include informational interviews and personal vignettes related to these five Ws of international education. What it’s like and how it’s changing, Where to find more information, Why “going global” is so attractive, and How and When to work through the recruiting process.

We work to tell the whole story so you are really in the know about international schools. Our motto is Eyes wide open!

The bottom line is that, just like when we worked in international schools, we want to build community and be of service. Please connect with us as we go global together!

The Wellness Coach (Counselor) – Instructional Technologist Partnership

I have written a lot about what I see as the wellness coach and instructional technologist overlap of areas of services to our school community.

We describe (digital) citizenship as the purview of instructional technologists. As an instructional coach for wellness, I use the term “digital wellness” to describe the domain where I support students, staff, and parents in their lives. I need to find out where conventional guidance counselors generally stand in supporting citizenship or digital wellness. As usual, I am speaking about my experiences and ideation.

The question can arise of the difference between digital citizenship and digital wellness. One way to understand the difference between (digital) citizenship and digital wellness is that most citizenship curricula teach students to think about how their actions affect others. Digital wellness looks inward to help us think about how our use of technology affects our well-being.

Remember that a guiding principle of digital wellness is to engage the Character Strength of proactivity to help us take charge of how we use technology to support our interests, values, and wellness. 🙂

When teachers or the instructional technologist are teaching citizenship skills, instances of digital wellness also come into play. The reverse is true for teachers and wellness coaches teaching digital wellness when citizenship is a part of the learning. With all this said, it makes sense to me that the wellness coach and instructional technologist should have a strong partnership to help each other design their programs including professional learning opportunities for staff.

My focus on elementary students means building the foundational understanding that they are in charge of the tools – not the other way around. They learn how to use technology for learning and, yes, for entertainment and fun. The wellness program naturally grows student self-awareness to help them understand technology’s positive and negative influence on their lives, especially their well-being.

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Wellness Program Implementation in the Elementary

I went big with my post, listing many ideas for implementing a comprehensive school wellness program. Let’s now focus on the elementary.

One primary goal of a wellness program is to help our students THRIVE! To reach this goal, here are six potential steps to follow>

Step 1: Introduction Lessons – What is wellness? What is character? What are Character Strengths?

Step 2: Teachers then teach students the individual Character Strengths that scientific research shows we all have. One approach is for the wellness coach and grade-level teachers to design the scope and sequence of when you will teach each of the strengths. Perhaps in early childhood, only a handful of strengths are introduced, such as emotional and social intelligences, honesty, kindness, and self-control. Teach additional Character Strengths each year so that all the strengths are in place by, say, Grade 3.

Step 3: Teachers then apply the PRIME integration and Secondary strategies listed on this website for each Character Strength to offer many opportunities to practice using the strengths during the year. As students learn each of the strengths, they will grow their understanding by “exercising” them.

Step 4: Teachers then teach students Positive Psychology’s six “pillars.” We use the acronym PERMAH to describe them. Each pillar is a significant category of how we live our lives. Again, it is through scientific research that psychologists concluded that living well within each pillar helps us thrive. The wellness coach works with the grade-level teams to decide the scope and sequence of when individual pillars will be taught. You could start with relationships and aspects of health in the early years, adding on pillars from there.

Step 5: Each student creates a personal wellness plan that lists how they will exercise the Character Strengths within each PERMAH pillar to live more fully and flourish. The wellness plan contains action steps to help students engage with the Character Strengths and PERMAH pillars as a regular part of their lives. It can also be helpful to have students add intentional practices and habits to engage further within each pillar.

Step 6: Once you complete steps 1-5 to bring wellness practices into the lives of our students, we start using the term “wellness toolkit” as an ongoing integration practice. At this point, students develop a language of wellness, further embedding the tenets of Positive Psychology into their life practices and habits.

We use language and references such as

  • Which tools can you use from your wellness toolkit to help with….?

  • In planning for our field trip this week, which tools from your wellness toolkits can help us prepare for and make the most of our experience?

  • Let’s look at your wellness plans to see how you are all doing. Let’s do some self-reflection on our efforts. Which tools from your wellness toolkits are you using most frequently?

  • Let’s drill down into your toolkits with the pillar of H for Health. Which tools, as in strengths and practices like diet, sleep, and exercising, are you engaging in? Which habits are helping you engage with this PERMAH pillar?

Additional Step: The Character Strengths are organized into six classes of virtues: Courage | Humanity | Justice | Temperance | Transcendence | Wisdom. In your second year, you could design age-appropriate lessons on values clarification to build on your work from the previous year.


Pulling from the comprehensive school wellness post, here are a few ideas to further onboard new students, parents, and staff into the program annually.

-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.

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Collaboration, Creativity, and Refinement with the Kidspire Team

For the past several months, I have worked with a team of dedicated educators at the Kidspire non-profit in Vietnam to co-design wellness lessons. They provide educational services to children in orphanages. Their curriculum covers STEAM while growing their wellness and life skills offerings.

After meeting at their office last spring to learn about their wellness program goals, I began to work on the Wellness@Kidspire resource website. The plan was for me to design the first draft of Positive Psychology activities on the PERMAH pillars, digital wellness, and the character strengths of emotional intelligence, grit, growth mindset, proactivity, self-control (self-regulation), and social intelligence. The target audience would be high school students preparing to transition to an independent life outside the orphanages.

Ms. Ai Nguyen as the lead designer, would then draw from the resource site to develop a slide deck while getting input from the Kidspire team and the teachers in the orphanages. Ms. Ai has recently shared the slide deck with me, which is in Vietnamese, but you can get a feel for the lessons through the images. The teachers will now teach the lessons giving feedback to Ms. Ai, who will refine the lessons for the next time they are taught. She will also provide me with insights and to-do’s to take the first draft of the Wellness@Kidspire site to the next level.

My reason for sharing our efforts is to point out how an instructional coach for wellness works with teachers and administrators. The process of gathering information as to the audience and the goals starts the process. The design and draft creation come next on the part of the wellness coach. The lead designer and teachers then add their distributed expertise to craft the learning activities to best meet the needs of their students.

New iterations come about as the teachers and the design lead see what works and what doesn’t while adding their own ideas to improve the lessons. This information returns to the wellness coach to enhance the original resource materials.

One big gap in this process is that I am not in Vietnam co-teaching some of the lessons to work directly with the teachers and Ms. Ai. The reality is that I don’t speak Vietnamese, so this isn’t feasible, but it is what I would be doing as a wellness coach in an international school. I have written about the roles of the instructional technologist and wellness coach in which I attend the elementary school grade-level team curriculum meetings to co-design in person. The collaborative and creative sessions are followed up by my co-teaching to fine-tune lessons to then share with the other team members to teach independently. And note that many lessons are not standalone as they are activities integrated into the LA, social studies, math, etc. curricula and classroom practices using the PRIME integration strategies pulled from the Wellness@ES website.

I do want to highlight the role of what I call the wellness lead, which in this case is Ms. Ai. I have written a few times about the elementary teaching teams having a wellness lead who looks at the team’s actions through the lens of wellness to find ways to support its integration. As an instructional technologist, I had a tech lead on each team. Something tells me this is the norm, with team members being the literacy, math, etc., go-to person to lead out in their respective areas of expertise.

Instructional Coach for Wellness – Standards and Job Description

I am revisiting my blog post on Instructional Coach for Wellness with this offering.

I was updating the standards section of my portfolio the other day when I remembered something interesting about the ISTE coaching standards. The standards are for K-12 instructional technology coaches. They have been updated over the years to the point that they really are pretty flexible, applicable, and accurate to the role, in my opinion. I am no longer a tech coach, but my takeaway is that the ISTE standards fit nicely in my role as a wellness coach in K-12 schools.

A Captain Obvious moment, yes, as the standards are all about coaching, but as I don’t know of any organization coming up with school wellness coaching standards, it seems like a good starting place for wellness coaches working with admin to design their job descriptions. I searched for wellness coaching standards to find companies that provide courses to gain certification, but their focus is mainly on life coaching/counseling for clients. I did not find any organization with information on wellness coaching in schools.

I can say from speaking with an international school recruiter that schools are, in fact, hiring wellness coaches.

I’ve written a great deal about this in this blog and through my Wellness@ES site. As I unpack what being an instructional coach for wellness might entail, I see a significant portion of it being connected to my vision of the school wellness program being integrated into the regular curriculum and school culture. I see the primary focus for wellness coaches to be similar to that of tech coaches, with the job being to coach the teachers to bring wellness principles into their regular classroom instruction. This can involve co-teaching, but the primary instruction is from the classroom or advisory teacher. The role also consists in designing professional learning opportunities for teachers.

A portion of this coaching involves lesson design and finding opportunities to highlight learning opportunities pulled from the wellness program. I previously shared the integration similarity between TPACK and my WPACK (Wellness-Pedagogy-Content Knowledge) approach that I bring to the collaboration table. For me, the WPACK descriptor helps paint the picture a bit more of how the character strengths and the PERMAH pillars of Positive Psychology can naturally fit into one’s teaching.

My bias and vision might not fit with what schools are doing as I suspect many are buying a SEL – wellness curriculum that the wellness coaches teach in each division. This, in my mind, looks like the old-style elementary guidance counselor rolling into classrooms periodically to conduct the prescribed lessons from the purchased curriculum. In middle and high schools, the wellness curriculum might be delivered through advisory by the advisory teachers, or possibly it is taught by the health/PE teachers during their classes. I don’t know the standard approach, especially in international schools.

My bottom line is that I am curious to learn how school leaders are finding ways to enhance their students’ wellness and, hopefully, their staff members. With international schools, I see this effort being extended to the greater community, including parents. If international schools are hiring wellness coaches, what do their job descriptions look like, and what standards are in place to guide them in fulfilling their job description? And, of course, how do they measure how successful their efforts are?

As I didn’t follow up in my original post to list the ISTE coaching standards and how they can fit a wellness coach, I will do so here.

4.1 Change Agent – The ISTE focus on improving instruction definitely means bringing about change in teaching and the classroom culture. I see the wellness coach also being a change agent, but to a lesser degree if one’s school follows the old model of the guidance counselor being “in charge” of wellness/SEL by providing the instruction and possibly not collaborating with elementary teachers and MS/HS advisory teachers. The WPACK model I mentioned previously has the wellness coach co-designing aspects of unit plans to integrate the character strengths and PERMAH via PRIME Integration Strategies into the units of study and culture of the classrooms. This approach leads to change, with classroom teachers leaders in wellness implementation efforts.

4.2 Connected Learner – ISTE tech coaches network through PLCs and PLNs to stay on top of innovations in pedagogy and technology. I see wellness coaches doing the same though the world of wellness coaching is relatively new compared to efforts to bring technology innovations into our schools. I wonder what networks of K-12 schools sharing information on Positive Psychology are out there. I am reaching out to Character Lab now to see if someone will speak to me about their network of schools if they have one.

4.3 Collaborator – This is the biggie! Like tech coaches, I see wellness coaches sitting at the collaboration table to find ways to naturally embed wellness learning opportunities into the regular LA, social studies, math, etc., curriculum. There are many possibilities for integration, as in how about some strength spotting characters in book studies? What was the “shadow side” of some strengths presented by some historical figures? When talking about scientific relationships and connections, how about connecting to the R in PERMAH to hook the interest of your students? 🙂

4.4 Learning Designer – Take what I just wrote for collaboration and add personalized to the ISTE call for student agency. Active learning to have your wellness coaches help co-design student-centered and constructivist lessons. The biggest draw for students to learn about wellness is that the main topic is themselves! What a connection and interest builder. 😉 Wellness from a PosPsych perspective is about learning, engaging, and practicing character strengths within the life domains of PERMAH. So once your program moves past the first stage of teaching the character strengths and domains,  you get to move into full-on experiential learning as students consistently practice and apply their knowledge in their lives. I am currently working with a Vietnam-based non-profit that provides educational services to students living in orphanages. We collaborate to design and teach a curriculum that hits this ISTE standard with students immersed in discovery learning activities. Note that the curriculum website is messy, with some translations and few graphics. It really is a workspace and “sandbox” for my Vietnamese partners to work with.

4.5 Professional Learning Facilitator – This standard is a differentiator between what conventional school counselors do and what a big part of an instructional coach for wellness does. This is not to say that guidance counselors do not provide professional learning opportunities. But I wonder how many counseling graduate school programs offer complete courses in instructional design and adult learning to teach counselors how to collaborate with classroom teachers to integrate the ASCA standards into the regular curriculum. This is where counseling and instructional technology intersect so well for the role of the wellness coach. I have mentioned in previous posts about the Geelong Grammar School’s approach to wellness program development in which the school goes through learning, living, teaching, and embedding the principles of PosPsych into the school’s culture. The first three stages involve adult learning first to learn and practice the principles to design ways to bring them into one’s teaching. This means lots of planning for personal and professional learning. As mentioned in previous posts, my approach would be to personalize and differentiate adult learning as much as possible. This involves the creation of a wellness resource website for adults to choose when, where and what they want to learn.

4.6 Data-Driven Decision-Maker –  Yes, of course, use data to drive your initial wellness program design efforts to guide your plan’s adaption throughout the implementation process. Where the technology coach is helping with academic achievement in which we have many assessment tools, we do not have many significant group ways to measure the well-being of the students and adults in our communities. There are some instruments out there, but this is an area where I have limited experience. And I can say that in listening to a couple leaders from Geelong Grammar School and the Institute of Positive Education a couple years ago, they didn’t have much information on assessment and general measurement either. Their Positive Education Enhanced Curriculum (PEEC) for early and primary students did not have any assessments, if my memory is correct, from reading through it a year and a half ago. But perhaps they have a measurement component now. My point isn’t to point fingers but to say that they are natural leaders in wellness education, and they were very upfront about how difficult it is to measure well-being in children. I get excited at the possibility of working with MS/HS students and adults to design a personal wellness inventory based on the idea of everyone having a wellness plan. This inventory could look similar to the program with the PERMAH construct and how one rate the use of specific character strength applications within each pillar. Working to do the same with elementary students could be challenging. Still, the more effective we are in teaching the character strengths and the pillars, the more the students will use wellness vocabulary in their language to the point of being able to self-evaluate their well-being to some degree. The struggle with all age groups is trying to construct a pre-assessment of one’s well-being when the students don’t have a language yet to describe their well-being. The folks at Character Lab offer a Student Thriving Index, and Dr. Duckworth has a grit scale.

4.7 Digital Citizen Advocate – I show my age and time in the tech field when I say we need to stop saying “digital” citizenship. It is just “citizenship,” as our students live in the analog and digital world with the fluency of movement, so they are one world. Moving on… the wellness coach’s prime directive is to help students with their personal development to build out their wellness toolkits to thrive in their lives. So yes, this also means helping them become good citizens. My take on digital citizenship efforts is that much of the focus is on assisting students in seeing how their actions affect others. Many character strengths and PERMAH pillars come into play to help students make healthy decisions when interacting with others. I also see the need for an internal focus to help students and adults learn about how they can engage their strengths within the PERMAH pillars to positively affect their digital wellness.

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Wellness Program Development and Implementation

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,” and my interview with Dr. Reese on the EdTech Co-Op podcast to help guide my thinking on implementation strategies. Another helpful implementation article from the Harvard Business School is “5 Critical Steps in the Change Management Process“.

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 fourday 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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A Community Wellness Program – Now More Than Ever

Time for another Captain Obvious moment. Boy, howdy, do schools need school and community wellness programs more than ever! 🙂 CASEL and other SEL organizations are filling my inbox with messages pointing to the need for SEL support in schools and how education and government leaders now understand just how vital student well-being is for personal development and academic success.

I have written much about the need for school wellness programs to include staff and the greater community (families). As my world is international schools, I am sure that schools worldwide are all in on student and staff wellness, but I wonder how many have outreach programs for family wellness support.

My going forward thought is that if schools do not have a community component to the wellness programs, they need to put a plan together to bring parents and interested staff members together to design one. Some of my previous posts have a few ideas and structures that could go into one’s community wellness program.

And from a practical and competitive viewpoint, I think prospective families looking at schools might just start expecting school websites and promotional materials to list ways that the schools support community wellness through a variety of ways (e.g., a parent portal filled with wellness resources, community wellness blog, family wellness plans, on-campus parent center, family needs assessment survey, weekend sports, and activities, etc.)

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