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School leaders and decision-makers need to explicitly “permit” a focus on wellbeing.

School leaders and decision-makers need to explicitly “permit” a focus on wellbeing.

WellAhead chose to start its first year in BC in part because of the province’s strong commitment and capacity to advancing student social and emotional wellbeing. However, despite this seemingly enabling environment, we heard many times that competing priorities made it difficult for people to make student social and emotional wellbeing a priority. In order for all members of a school community to prioritize wellbeing, we learned that it is important for leaders to explicitly support wellbeing as core to learning, rather than as an “extra” or “add-on”. 

“We need superintendents AND principals on board to support how wellness will improve things for teachers and staff and students. People need to be given permission to let some things go.”
– Jenny Mitchell, SD 67 Okanagan Skaha

This insight also led us to reflect on the need for buy-in at multiple levels of the system for change to happen. While targeting teacher practice at the classroom level is an important piece, principals and district-level decision-makers who shape school culture and policy also play an important role in developing enabling environments for advancing wellbeing. 

“People now feel they have ‘permission’ to go outside.”
– Laurie Morphet, Community Liaison, SD 70 Alberni

In SD 70 Alberni, the everyday practice prototyped was “Be in Nature”, which provided outdoor learning experiences during class time. Even though the district superintendent was vocally supportive and actively involved in the process throughout, there was a sense from principals and teachers that this might not be “allowed”. They became caught up in some of the perceived barriers, such as the need for parental permission or a more explicit mandate from the school district. Later, in planning for prototyping, participants discovered that in fact for short field trips on school grounds, there was no district policy requiring additional parental permission. After working through some of the risks and cautions, and confirming school and district support, Community Liaison Laurie Morphet was finally able to say “people now feel they have ‘permission’ to go outside.”