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Developing Wellbeing: A cluster approach

The Bays Cluster describe how they used a cluster approach to develop wellbeing practices in all of their schools. Explore the steps and processes they used to do this in a strategic, evidence based way. 

Why Wellbeing?

At the 2017 Positive Education conference held in Christchurch, former Sumner School Deputy Principal, Jill Pears discussed how the Bays Cluster worked collaboratively to develop staff and student wellbeing. This initiative was a pilot project supported by the Ministry of Education. It explored the ERO draft wellbeing indicators effectively across a group of schools to support learners and teachers. The indicators describe the values, curriculum and systems that help students experience a high level of wellbeing.

The Bays Cluster is made up of five schools – Heathcote Valley, Sumner, Mount Pleasant, Redcliffs School, Our Lady Star of the Sea. Supported by Dr Lucy Hone from the 100% Project, the cluster developed a strengths based programme run across five schools. They focused on the top tier of the ‘Promoting student wellbeing’ framework developed by the Education Review Office. This tier outlines the promotion of wellbeing in all students at all times, integrates with the New Zealand Curriculum and relates to/or acknowledges school values.

The cluster began by examining the rationale and evidence base to having programmes focused on wellbeing in schools. This highlighted:

  • that there is significant evidence that strong wellbeing improves student achievement; 
  • growing mental health challenges have been documented, particularly in the Canterbury region;
  • a focus on wellbeing is supported by the New Zealand Curriculum;
  • The National Administration Guidelines, Code of Ethics for certified teachers and Practicing Teacher Criteria all highlight the importance of providing safe emotional environments for students.

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The Wellbeing Pilot Project

The pilot project used ‘Wellbeing Champions’ – teachers, who are passionate about wellbeing. They were selected from each school to work with Lucy to develop their expertise. With acknowledgement of the culture and values of their own school, they shared this new learning and worked on building understanding and capacity in this area.   

The pilot project introduced Positive Education to support the initiative. This approach brings together the science of Positive Psychology with best practice teaching to encourage and support individuals, schools and communities to flourish. Jill outlines the importance of this approach:

 “To be able to teach Positive Education we need to, as a whole staff, look after ourselves and practise it in our own lives. A phrase used in the field is ‘Learn It, Live It, Teach It and Embed It.’ This is really important because Positive Education is not just about things we teach, but it is part of the school culture the ‘how we do things around here’. So before we try to include it in our classrooms and engage students in Positive Education it is important that teachers model a Positive Education approach.”

Wellbeing models that underpinned the pilot project included:

  • Mason Durie’s model of physical, social, mental, mental and emotional wellbeing - Te Whare Tapa Wha.
  • The PERMA Model - supports a wellbeing theory that positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment are key.

The Education Review Office has released key documents related to wellbeing. They outline guiding principles for student wellbeing. Other key resources include:

The Bays Cluster has generously shared their Pilot Project Outline here. This outlines their focus for each term, their key actions and the ongoing monitoring and evaluation during the pilot.

The cluster identified that their key learnings in the first year of the project were:

  • the importance of wellbeing and the need for it to be a priority for all;
  • how simple it is to introduce strategies and develop practices to promote  wellbeing;
  • how wellbeing integrates into all areas of the curriculum.

Next steps for wellbeing

In 2017 the cluster has continued to work with Lucy Hone and the 100% project. Wellbeing Champions meet and work together. A change has been reducing the number of cluster meetings in order to allow for more school specific development. This has allowed schools to develop programmes and pathways personalised to their community. An example of how Sumner School (in the Bays Cluster) has done this includes:

  • developing a school action plan for wellbeing;
  • attending the Positive Education conference for professional learning and building connections;
  • starting ‘wellbeing books’ with New Entrant students which will follow the students through school. These books feature learning stories of how the students show different character strengths and develop wellbeing strategies;
  • a strengths profile for each student
  • learning conference tracking sheets which track character strengths and provide discussion points with whānau;
  • using an appreciative inquiry model for Teaching as Inquiry – “Change occurs when we recognise our strengths”;
  • hosting a ‘staff wellness week’ with a range of activities that promote wellbeing and mindfulness.

The future direction for Sumner School will involve them refining the number of character strengths to those that are a key focus for the school. These will then be integrated with the school values. They are planning to consult with their local community around a school wellbeing model. There will be student leadership opportunities for development of student wellbeing champions.

For all schools in the cluster, the strong connections that have been formed during this project have provided a basis for collaboration and support and they have now formed into a Kāhui Ako. Their collective focus will be to continue to work together and support each other on their wellbeing journey and to focus on ‘living it’ and ‘embedding it’ – forming wellbeing habits for life.