Education Talks: Well-being and its application in schools

"Children can have a say in their own lives". In this interview, Jean Gordon of the Universal Education Foundation talks about well-being and its importance.

Jean Gordon, of the Universal Education Foundation, has a wide experience on education policies and systems. In this interview, she analyses the concept of well-being and its significant role in schools. 

When I think of well-being in school, I am thinking of something that it's important for everybody in and around the school. So, it is obviously for the children who are the pupils in the schools, but it is also very important that we understand it as the well-being of all the teaching staff, of the administrative, and management staff in the school.

Because you can't actually support the well-being of one group without ensuring that you are supporting the well-being of all the groups.

What is 'well-being', and how does the concept apply to schools?

When I talk about well-being, I am using the working definition of the Universal Education Foundation, which is that everybody can realise their development through physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects in relationship to themselves, to other people, the people around them, and to the broader society.

How is agency important as an aspect of well-being?

During the 2000s, some very interesting research was carried out in Australia by a group of researchers who talked to 8 to 15-year old children, quite large numbers, and found out from them what well-being meant to them, and it comes out that the dimensions that are the most important are: agency, sense of self, security, and safety.

Under agency we are usually referring to the fact that children can have a say in their own lives, that they can give their opinions, they can make decisions, and this goes back to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, where there are number of articles supporting children's right to participation, their right to self-expression. 

In the school context can be that the teacher is creating space for children to be able to make choices in the classroom, to be able to work together in groups as a form of peer learning, to be able to make some decisions about what the group is going to be doing. All of those are very important.

Sense of self and belonging as part of well-being

We need to be taking care that children have the opportunity for their physical, mental, social, emotional, spiritual development - not in little pieces that are cut up - but in a holistic process that allows a very well-rounded development. And we do know from recent research and particularly recent research in brain science, that emotions are an important part of taking new knowledge and making it your own.

Is developing well-being the responsibility of school staff? 

It is also the school as an institution, which is developing its collective and overall competence, and it is also at the different levels of governance, which in some countries will be the municipal level, in other countries will be regional or national level.