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School-based initiatives should stretch beyond one year and fit with district calendars.

School-based initiatives should stretch beyond one year and fit with district calendars.

Schools are faced with countless initiatives that target student social and emotional wellbeing, be it from outside organizations or within the school or district. Within this context of initiative overload, it is important to recognize that one of schools’ most tightly strained and guarded resources is time: increasing workloads among teachers, administrators, and school staff limit the time they have available for additional commitments. 

Throughout the year, we heard from pilot districts that a key factor for sustainability and success is ensuring that the offering is more than just a one-off. In a context where “initiative-itis” is rampant, commitments of more than one year allow teachers, students and principals to see that the change is meant to stay and will last. 

Fitting with the natural rhythm of schools is also key. Planning for the school year begins after March break, and so spring is an ideal time to launch new initiatives that continue into the following year. Additionally, we learned that the best windows of time to take on something new are either early in the school year, or between the winter holidays and March break. Working outside these times made WellAhead’s work much more challenging, so we would advise others to be more flexible to local calendars. This may mean adjusting schedules and timelines to accommodate district planning cycles, major decisions such as school closures, and community-based cultural events.

The WellAhead team in SD 67 Okanagan Skaha had originally planned to host prototyping launch sessions in January or February. However, community-wide stress and anxiety caused by pending school closures minimized enthusiasm around the idea of everyday practices. The local Community Liaison, Jenny Mitchell, decided to adjust timelines to shift their prototype launch to after March break – doing so created greater than expected buy-in and engagement from high school teachers in particular. While prototyping was happening in classrooms, Jenny began planning for the following school year, forming the connections required to build on the progress from Year 1.