Parents and Teachers Need to Focus on Whole Child Well-Being as Success: A New Toolkit of Practices

by Dr. Henry G. Brzycki

The Self in Schooling: Theory and Practice
The Self in Schooling: Theory and Practice

Children’s dreams and well-being can be empowered through their everyday schooling experiences.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015) does offer provisions for whole student development and well-being as a part of the definition of “achievement or student success” and alternative “well rounded education” measures.

We are proud to have influenced the new ESSA requirements and provisions through our research, publishing, consulting to the U.S. Department of Education, and advocacy work.

Whole Child Well-Being

Our young people require additional support to succeed in school, careers and life. These supports are a combination of: personal counseling for personal awareness about life purpose, dreams, and well-being; career counseling for career match or fit; and, academic curricula that supports the development of competencies. This view of student success that combines the personal, with the career, with the academic competencies represents a shift away from a system that previously focused upon learning about three subjects as the pathway to success in life. However, we have found that State Departments of Education policy makers and local school boards have been slow to understand and adopt the new and full vision of ESSA well rounded education provisions. Departments of Education have not adequately expanded its definition of holistic education to meet the growing requirements of ESSA or to meet the needs of today’s students. This is where parents can help.

Prevention vs Treatment

We are leading a national conversation about the importance of “prevention” versus “treatment” of health and well-being of our youth, families and society. It is critical in our view that all 50 state governors relay to students, parents, health care professionals and teachers, the interconnectedness among mental health and well-being to their success in school and in life.

Parents’ number one priority is to empower the full and unique potentials of their children; not merely academic achievement. However, schools historically focus upon children’s academic achievements as measure of success. With ESSA this balance shifts, thankfully. Now parents can express their voices to their school leaders and teachers to make certain that they provide programs and supports that demonstrate this shift—to the inner life of children—their emotional and psychological well-being.

Self- Knowledge

The research is conclusive and compelling that self-knowledge is the No. 1 protective factor for children’s mental health and a positive life-course trajectory. If self-knowledge is such an important factor in empowering people of all ages to a great life, why don’t we teach it to more people in more places, through our most trusted institutions: families, schools, and healthcare?

Educators know that students in modern society require additional supports from their schools, parents, and counselors, in that the acute well-being needs of young people today are at crisis levels.

Educators Tool Box

Educators have a larger toolbox than they realize; there are so many new developments over the past few years, including positive psychology, and mind, brain and education (MBE). However, educators have not typically been trained in how to impact the mental health and well-being of children, as this is usually reserved for school counselors, mental health providers, and other community partners. Further, there is much confusion as to what constitutes mental health and well-being, especially in a school setting.

Educators need a framework with a set of methods to be able to impact the emotional and psychological well-being of children in their classrooms – what is known as school-based approaches. What should educators look for to determine if their students are emotionally and psychologically healthy?

Student Development Programs

Schools are ideally suited to offer student development programs that consider the whole child and will actually be measured on how they do. There are multiple goals of programs designed to promote positive youth development: promote bonding; foster resilience; promote social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and moral competence; foster self-determination, spirituality, self-efficacy, clear and positive identity, belief in the future and prosocial norms; construct a healthy and positive self-understanding, and provide recognition for positive behavior and prosocial involvement.

The question parents, health care practitioners, educators and health and education policymakers should be asking is: How do we create people who are emotionally, psychologically and physically well?

A state of well-being consists of happiness, finding meaning, contributing to others, ability to form deep and meaningful relationships, cultivating unique talents and the energy and motivation to accomplish.

How do educators know if their students are well, or not?

Emotionally and psychologically healthy children possess these qualities or attributes:

Autonomy – children are self-determining and independent; able to resist social pressures to think and act in certain ways; regulate their behavior from within; and evaluate themselves by personal standards.

Environmental mastery – children have a sense of mastery and competence in managing their environment; control a complex array of external activities; make effective use of surrounding opportunities; and are able to choose or create contexts suitable to personal needs and values.

Personal growth – children gain a feeling of continued development; see themselves as growing and expanding; are open to new experiences; have a sense of realizing his or her potential; see improvement in themselves and their behavior over time; and are changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness.

Positive relations with others – children are able to have warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others; are concerned about the welfare of others; are capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy; and understand the give and take of human relationships.

Purpose in life – children have goals and dreams in life and a sense of direction; feel there is meaning to present and past life experiences; hold beliefs that give life purpose; and have aims and objectives for living.

Self-acceptance – children possess a positive attitude toward themselves; acknowledge and accept multiple aspects of themselves, including good and bad qualities; and feel positive about previous life experiences.

Self Esteem

To experience self-esteem is the height of socio-emotional capacity. The ability to experience emotions – this is the goal of teaching in the 21st century. Therefore, educators require a tool bag of approaches to impact the self of their students.

School-aged children with psychological well-being have a lower risk of mental health disorders and physical health diagnosis such as anxiety, depression, obesity, cutting, substance abuse and bullying, among others. As such, well-being is an important protective factor to impart in a child’s life in preparation for college and careers. Educators do have access to new teaching and learning tools just in time to meet the needs of today’s children.

iSuccess

We have developed the Integrated Student Success Toolkit (iSuccess), a visionary and comprehensive approach to student success through well-being and self-knowledge available to parents, teachers, and well-being counselors.

The Integrated Student Success Toolkit (iSuccess) provides frontline educators and parents with a new student success model based on the latest research in the psychology of well-being and student-centered learning. This model integrates five student success functional areas—social-emotional competencies, academic competencies, self-knowledge, life purpose and dreams, whole-child wellness—and helps parents and educators develop psychologically healthy and self-aware students as a part of their educational mission.

30 Years of Experience

Drawing upon over 30 years of professional experiences as K-16 education leaders, teachers, and counselors, Elaine and Henry Brzycki have developed the Integrated Student Success Toolkit (iSuccess), a visionary and comprehensive approach to student success through well-being and self-knowledge. The Toolkit provides three research-based, high-impact practices that empower students to create their own pathways to success in school and in life:

  • Integrated Self Model (iSelf) – a framework to understand the whole person through self-system and positive psychology attributes
  • Self Across the Curriculum (SAC) – a pedagogy to teach/learn self-knowledge through curricula
  • Success Predictor (SP) – a student success assessment instrument and intervention tool to impart life purpose and dreams

When the self becomes the lens through which students learn, students can balance cognitive with non-cognitive factors to become happy and whole people who are equipped to create a positive life and make contributions toward a better society.

Mental Health and Student Well-being

It is critical in our view that education leaders relay to students the interconnectedness among mental health and well-being to student success. The need is clear for a new integrated student success model that places wellness at the center, and moreover empowers students to define success for themselves.

Elaine Brzycki states, “Students have a higher purpose that is driving their thoughts, feelings and actions. A DNA of consciousness, if you will, that when learned transforms their quality of life and abilities to be successful.”

What is often missing in people who are not successful or able to experience wellness is the ability to take a deeper look at the inner self, to know who they are and want to become. Therefore, the focus of student success should be on each person’s needs across all domains: social, emotional, physical and psychological.

Treatment is not Prevention

Treatment is not prevention. While we expand the scope of our interventions and treatment options, we must also strengthen proven prevention strategies. As a part of an integrated, inter-agency, broad spectrum approach to addressing this issue, mental health prevention requires school-based models and teaching, learning, counseling best practices that empower young people to take control of their own well-being.

We have found that within most departments of education, the functional responsibilities for school climate assessments, safe and supportive schools, Every Student Succeeds Act accountability measures, mental health needs, expanding holistic measures of student success and social-emotional learning supports are not coordinated in such a manner to affect the health and well-being of children in local school districts. Even in forward thinking states such as California, where they are offering SEL practices to 18 school districts as a pilot, they are using a common SEL framework for improving academic and behavior outcomes, not health and well-being outcomes as is needed.

Mental Health Needs

Mental health prevention requires multitiered, school-based models of teaching, learning, and counseling best practices that empower students to take control of their own well-being, and that reach 100 percent of students. School leaders can equip front-line classroom teachers and counselors with research-based, breakthrough methods, while informing school board members, parents, and their community about acute mental health needs. Mental health prevention is not a widespread screening process for depression or comorbidity diagnosis. When students progress to screenings they are already in the intervention and treatment phases of support.

Schools are ideally suited to offer student development programs that consider the whole child and will actually be measured on how they do. There are multiple goals of programs designed to promote positive youth development: promote bonding; foster resilience; promote social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and moral competence; foster self-determination, spirituality, self-efficacy, clear and positive identity, belief in the future and prosocial norms; construct a healthy and positive self-understanding, and provide recognition for positive behavior and prosocial involvement.

The Program in Action

In Pennsylvania the Department of Education’s ESSA Accountability Work Group Meetings, conducted over the previous six months, have demonstrated, and key stakeholders have expressed a number of themes and recommendations to meet their growing needs in the 3,200 public and charter schools in Pennsylvania, as well as meet ESSA regulations for a holistic, well-rounded education. These regulations allow for up to 40 percent of school quality measures to include: comprehensive school mental health, drug and violence prevention, health and physical education, supporting safe and healthy students, providing students with a well-rounded education, social-emotional factors, culture and climate factors.

Therefore, leadership is needed to meet new ESSA accountability regulations and district stakeholder expectations and needs for health and well-being services and supports. It is critical to include schools and school-based mental health programs as a key component part of an integrated prevention strategy in Pennsylvania and all 50 states.

About the Author

elaine brzycki

Henry BrzyckiDr. Henry G. Brzycki is a positive psychology and education expert and president of The Brzycki Group and co-founder with Elaine J. Brzycki, of The Center of the Self in Schools. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The Center’s mission is to impact the psychological, socioemotional, and physical well-being of K–16 students through outreach programs, professional development, self-knowledge curricula, school-based mental health programs, and high-impact student advising assessments using strengths-based counseling methods. Elaine and Henry are also authors of two bestselling books: The Self in Schooling: Theory and Practice – How to Create Happy, Healthy, Flourishing Children in the 21st Century and, Student Success in Higher Education: Developing the Whole Person Through High Impact Practices. Both books are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble booksellers.

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