Webinar series: Lessons on advancing wellbeing in schools, social labs, and systems change

In our first year in BC, we harvested some important lessons, and fostered partnerships with some inspiring leaders in the field. Advancing wellbeing in schools is a complex process that involves engaging students, parents, educators, administrators, and diverse community partners together in defining a better future for schools’ culture, policy, and practice. With the aim of sharing this collective wisdom, we’re very excited to partner with some of our friends on the following webinars, each aimed at shedding some light on key considerations in educational and other change processes. Just click on the webinar title to register.

What we need is scaling!

There are many innovative practices happening within classrooms, schools, and districts in BC. Go to any education conference or website and you’ll see a whole range of ideas on how to promote wellbeing. Want more great ideas? Gather any number of parents, students, administrators and educators together and you’re guaranteed to get even more! WellAhead learned this lesson in our first year, when we asked six communities to brainstorm ideas for ‘everyday practices’ – and we heard hundreds of them.

What we learned is that it’s not a lack of good ideas that stands in our way. We have the knowledge on how to support the wellbeing of our students. What is needed is not new ideas, but ways to spread or share promising ideas between schools. We need to find ways to build on what works, share that with others in a similar context, and ultimately shifts district and/or provincial systems to truly embed this way of working into K-12 education.

Report: Advancing Wellbeing in schools

In Year 1, WellAhead worked in British Columbia to support six school districts through a participatory change process that focused on “everyday practices to support wellbeing”. In this report, WellAhead shares 15 lessons about education, philanthropy & systems change we picked up along the way.

4 principles for fruitful learning and evaluation design

In the 2015–16 school year, we asked educators and school district staff their opinions on the value of data. Their answer was simple: data collection is both a blessing and a curse. 

In reflecting on our approach to data collection for WellAhead, I’ve developed four guiding principles to try and shift the pendulum to favour the blessings of learning and evaluation processes, and limit the burdens or ‘curse’.

In July, Paul McArthur and I had the pleasure of taking a course with Zaid Hassan called “how to design a social lab.” Zaid is the author of The Social Lab Revolution and considered a key expert in the field. After a year of leading WellAhead’s process in BC (during which time we fiercely debated whether it was a true ‘lab’ or more of a lab-inspired process), I was keen see how we fit with Zaid’s definition.

Falling into the “program” trap

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the person who falls into a hole in the street. He walks along the street, falls into a hole, and climbs out to the same spot where he started. He walks back along the street and falls into the hole again. In fact, he continues falling in the hole, climbing back out, and returning back to where he started, until finally someone shows him a parallel street, a different way to get where he’s going.

 In reflecting on WellAhead’s past year of work, we have begun to see how we may have fallen into some of these habits ourselves.

How do you think your work on wellbeing has impacted your students?

I think that being intentional about wellbeing creates space for children to feel relaxed enough to be themselves. When they are relaxed, they can show those qualities such as empathy. When they feel relaxed and expressing themselves, they become more confident. And they laugh more.

This question gets into good discussions around “What is Learning?” and “What is engagement?”. Engagement is supposed to be fun! When students are relaxed, they naturally enjoy the learning process. This inevitably improves learning outcomes.

As a counsellor, I see youth struggling every day. Many kids are tuned out, disconnected, tired, and live with constant low-grade stress. Adding to that, our teachers are also exhausted, over-worked and often under-supported and under-valued. However, from experience, I know that when our teachers are connected, mindful, emotionally intelligent and happy, a ripple effect of positive learning can occur for our students. I believe that when we put as much focus on wellness, social-emotional learning and connection as we do on academics, our students, teachers and staff will all flourish within the school system.

It’s Not About the Practice… or is it?

Earlier this year we shared a list of ‘everyday practices’ that are currently being prototyped. The concept of an everyday practice came from two places: the research around ‘kernels of practice’, as shared by Dennis Embry and colleagues, and a survey. In the spring of 2015, WellAhead asked over 1,400 people two questions: “What does your school do to support students’ social and emotional wellbeing” and “what do YOU do to support students’ social and emotional wellbeing” Everyday practices are one way to frame and understand the responses to that second question: the many things that we do day to day to support our children and youth.

Prototyping Everyday Greetings: Lessons from Kenya

Hello!! Good morning!!

Each time I've gone back to visit Kenya, I've been struck by the cultures of greeting there. One of my favourite morning interactions in Kenya was anytime after 6:30am on a weekday, when elementary school students in blue and white uniforms would call out an enthusiastically repeated “how are you? how are you? how are you?” to the mzungu (foreigner).

Co-Design: What exactly happened?

In August of 2015, most people we talked with said we were quite likely crazy. Well, not all said it exactly that way: ‘those timelines are ambitious’, ‘schools move very slowly’, and ‘did you say first even in September?!!’ were other versions of what we heard. Internally, our team wondered the same: was it completely unrealistic to aim for some kind of ‘ideation’ sessions early in the fall?

And yet last fall, in 6 school districts across British Columbia, six amazing WellAhead Community Liaisons, with the support of their planning teams, moved ahead with visioning, planning, and implementing a process that did amazing work in record time. In each district, we’re preparing to ‘prototype’ new ideas.

Where I grew up, on Northern Vancouver Island, there was a memorable marker on the road past Holberg, on the way to the West Coast. As you rounded a corner on the dusty gravel road, on the left of the road was a 2-metre-wide old growth log with a large sign hammered into it:

Expect the Unexpected

And beneath that sign, underneath the log, was a station-wagon, completely crushed.

And yet the message was clear: on the road ahead, you just don’t know what to expect. Waterbars, forest, bears, floods – anything was possible.

Bringing WellAhead to Life: Launch Week in British Columbia

If you’ve been following the development of the WellAhead initiative, you’ve probably asked yourself the very reasonable question, “what will this actually look like?” We, too, have struggled at times to bring this concept – using a social innovation lab approach to integrating wellbeing into schools – to fruition. Thanks to a stellar team, some great advice from experts across the country, and incredible passion and interest on the ground, it has finally happened.