Putting Mental Health & Wellbeing First
Nicola Lambros, Deputy Head, King’s College, Madrid
Over the last few years the need to place mental health high on the education agenda has at long last materialized. Educators are waking up to the fact that students cannot become the best version of themselves if they do not have positive mental health. However, the sharp focus on grades in Western education remains a threat to our work in schools on promoting positive mental health.
The message we hear all too often in schools at the macro level is: study hard and get your academic credentials, your lifestyle will follow, and you will end up being healthy (and happy) in time. We must recognize that this is completely the wrong approach. If we are to reduce the prevalence of poor mental health and wellbeing in our young people and enable them to achieve their true full potential in life, it is crucial that we change our focus so that our primary aim in schools is to help our students be healthy (and happy), from where they will derive a good lifestyle, and then they will be on the right road to achieve academic success through a positive mindset and love of learning.
Schools are keen to support the mental health and wellbeing of their students. This has led to strategies such as mindfulness becoming very popular in schools, and in the UK, the government is investing in training teachers to become ‘mental health first aiders’ to enable them to recognize and effectively support students who may be suffering from poor mental health. However, these strategies only serve to support the symptoms of poor wellbeing and mental health problems; they do not prevent them from occurring. For me this is rather like taking a paracetamol every day for a constant headache rather than finding out the cause of the headache to prevent it from happening again. The good news is that many schools are now exploring how they can create an ethos and culture that support wellbeing in their students to support the prevention of mental health issues developing. This is where PASS becomes invaluable.
In most of our work in schools we gather data about our students – what is their cognitive ability, how much have they understood, how well can they perform in assessments. The PASS assessment is different; it is data from the students’ perspective - it allows students to give us information about how well we are doing in our work to create a culture and ethos in our schools which promote positive wellbeing and a love of learning. This data is indispensable as it provides the information schools need to determine how successful they are in developing positive mindsets in their students from the whole school level right down to each individual.
When drilling down to year group data, very often those year groups that have progressed academically, particularly those entering important exam years, have relatively low percentile scores for Preparedness for Learning. And just as the research tells us that English Language Learners have a lower self–efficacy, we see that these students show relatively lower percentile scores for Learner Self-Regard and Perceived Learning Capability than their peers. However, just as every student is an individual so is every school, and therefore PASS data varies from one school to the next, depending on the school’s ethos and culture.
This presents schools with a problem; as every school is different, there is no one program, intervention, or approach that should be adopted to tackle the areas of development identified through data analysis.
Luckily the theory and research underpinning PASS tell us that the three factors that determine self-efficacy for academic success - Learner Self-Regard, Perceived Learning Capability, and Confidence in Learning, in combination with the factor that determines self-efficacy for Self-Regulation, Preparedness for Learning - are key to driving improvements in other areas.
To illustrate this, I have put together the diagram shown. My extensive research and work in schools have given me an in-depth understanding of the research and theory behind PASS and self-efficacy, and this diagram summarizes the information below to help schools in their endeavors to improve student wellbeing and ultimately academic achievement. A student’s self-efficacy will impact their academic achievement, goals, aspirations and confidence and drive resilience and, therefore, their motivation. Ensuring the four factors that influence self-efficacy show a high percentile for cohorts and individuals means they have a robust self-efficacy and this in turn positively influences a student’s drive, resilience and confidence, leading to a strong General Work Ethic, Response to Curriculum Demands and Attitudes to Attendance.
All this in combination creates students who have a love of learning, positive wellbeing and mental
health, and increased motivation which, if true for all cohorts and individuals, will result in a positive school ethos, increased academic success and students who achieve their full potential in all aspects of their life, not just academic achievement. Furthermore, when students are feeling this good about themselves and their achievements, they want to be in school and a part of the school community, therefore the percentile scores for Attitudes to Teachers and Feelings about School will look superb!