Student wellbeing is central to successfully implementing The New Zealand Curriculum. A focus on wellbeing ties together the curriculum’s vision, principles, values, key competencies and learning areas. Wellbeing clearly positions learners and their development as confident young people at the centre of what schools do.

Leaders who understood this had developed an aspirational vision for wellbeing in collaboration with their community that was reflected in the school’s goals and targets. They understood the need to deliberately design all actions according to multiple outcomes. They also made their wellbeing-related vision, goals and targets explicit in curriculum, resourcing and PLD decisions, and in their relationships with others. All decisions were based on multiple outcomes that ensured coherence of actions and thorough self review.

These school leaders had designed their learning environment and experiences to reflect the desired outcomes for Years 1 to 8 students. A challenge is to design for the future so students will have the knowledge, skills, competencies and belief in themselves to navigate their adolescent years.

Fragility of focus on wellbeing

There was evidence that some schools’ promotion and response to student wellbeing was due to a response to a particular event. Some schools seemed to be on a trajectory of rapid improvement. Triggers for the improved focus included a change in leadership, a negative ERO review or a need to respond differently to a particular event. How well leaders motivated teachers, students and their parents, family and whānau to make changes determined whether improvements were happening.

Leaders at these schools were focused on four factors. They supported teachers to develop strong working relationship with parents and the community, who said they had noticed a positive change in how they were consulted and what they were consulted about. The leaders also supported teachers to develop learning-focused relationships with students. At the same time teachers worked in teams and participated in initiatives to build capability, for example, PB4L 1 and Habits of Mind, 2 or PLD focused on effective practice, for example, assessment and the use of key competencies. The principal ensured the board was aligned with the leadership team in articulating goals, providing resources and demanding that the success of different approaches was monitored and reported.

In other schools, responses to events such as earthquakes, a teacher’s death, teacher performance issues or bullying, were detrimental to the wellbeing of adults and students. Again, leadership capability to support students’ wellbeing during and after the event determined whether the school as a whole promoted student wellbeing.

Capabilities that made a difference in school’s promotion of and response to student wellbeing

ERO found that the capability of teachers and leaders to integrate practice, knowledge, skills and beliefs influenced how they promoted and responded to desired outcomes for student wellbeing. A focus on wellbeing for success could include:

  • leadership capability to design and implement a coherent whole‑school plan focused on multiple outcomes to achieve success for all students
  • teaching capability to find and trial responses to the strengths needs and interests of individual students, that engage and support a culture of wellbeing
  • assessment and evaluative capability to understand and use data with students, so leaders, teachers and students know what works, when, and why
  • capability to develop relationships with students, parents, families, whānau, trustees, school leaders, other teaching professionals, community health and wellbeing organisations and the wider community that contribute to a culture of wellbeing
  • capability to design and implement aschool curriculum that encourages and models the school’s beliefs about education experiences, core values, key competencies, and valued student outcomes, in ways that engage students and promote their wellbeing.

A transformational shift in practice for many teachers and leaders about students’ ability to make and take accountability for their own choices was necessary if wellbeing goals were to be realised. Teachers and leaders needed to explore the opportunities provided for students to:

  • develop leadership skills and a sense of their own ability to successfully complete tasks and reach goals
  • participate with others and be resourceful
  • experience a high trust culture and stimulating curriculum.

The Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) inquiry and knowledge-building cycle for educational improvement 3 (shown in Figure 3) is a useful framework for the design and implementation of multiple outcomes. This framework ensures coherence from goals and targets, through curriculum, resourcing and professional learning and development (PLD) decisions, to monitoring and reviewing the outcomes of the approaches taken.

Figure 3: Inquiry and knowledge-building cycle for educational improvement

Figure 3 is the framework for Inquiry and Knowledge builing.  It is a rectangluar flow chart that flows through 8 boxes being, What educational outcomes are valued for our students and how are our students doing in realtion to those outcomes, How can we activate educationally powerful connections for all of our students, What knowledge and skills do we need as teachers to improve student outcomes, How can we as leaders promote our own learning and the learning of our teachers to bridge the gap for our students, Engagement of teachers in further learning to deepen professional knowledge and refine skills, Design or redesign of learning tasks, activities and experiences, Engagement of students in new learning experiences and What has been the impact of our changed actions on our students.

Using this framework to improve leaders’ and teachers’ capabilities would support more primary-aged young people to experience the goals valued by their community, be better prepared for adolescence,and be “confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners” 4 during their school years and beyond.

ERO has made recommendations to the Ministry of Education and to school leaders about ways to improve the promotion of and response to wellbeing by primary schools. These are outlined in Next steps.