Schools have always been an overwhelmingly positive force for our communities. They’re a safe space where students and staff come together to learn, teach, and grow together. As educators try their hardest to help the next generation prepare for and build towards a brighter future, the world is constantly changing in ways that are both expected and unexpected. Thankfully, schools are — like children — naturally adaptable. However, as the pace of change in society increases, mental health has emerged as a top priority for both students and staff.
How to Implement a Wellness Program in Your School
Increasingly, schools are being asked to support student and staff mental health in ways many never expected. This task can seem feel overwhelming for many school counselors and mental health staff who are already stretched thin. However, it’s important to remember that, in many ways, schools have been addressing wellness for many years. Schools don’t need to be torn down and built again — but there are some simple tweaks that can help. Here are a few suggestions on how schools can repurpose existing structures and resources to provide much needed wellness programs.
What is “Wellness,” Anyway?
According to The Wellness Council of America, “wellness is the active pursuit to understand and fulfill your individual human needs…” In schools, then, “wellness” is broadly defined as the state in which staff and students can function to their fullest potential. Wellness can be physical, emotional, social, and financial. It’s important to note that wellness applies to all aspects of life.
Four Tips for Implementing Wellness in Schools
Due in large part to the pandemic, wellness has been a challenging topic in recent years. In fact, the AAP, AACAP, and CHA declared a National Emergency in child and adolescent mental health in late 2021. With that in mind, it’s clear that some measures need to be adopted. How can schools effectively implement wellness programs? Here are four ways to think about the issue.
Tip #1: Pay Attention to Your Staff
Students aren’t the only ones struggling. In order for teachers to keep children healthy, they need to be healthy themselves. Teacher burnout is real, and staff retention is becoming an issue throughout the United States. The first priority schools should implement is a culture of awareness amongst staff.
Happy teachers are more productive, clear-minded, and ultimately effective for their students. Plus, staff retention is greatly improved where cultures of wellness exist. Once wellness is prevalent among staff, it’s only natural that wellness is passed to students, too.
Tip #2: Leverage Existing Wellness Committees
Schools need a coordinated plan to support both physical and mental wellness. Thankfully, many districts already have wellness committees — but if yours doesn’t, you should be able to create one relatively quickly. First, it’s important to obtain buy-in by reframing wellness to including mental health, too. We all know P.E. is regularly taught in schools. It’s time to emphasize mental education, too.
The next step is to assemble a team of trusted mental health staff. This can include counselors, teachers, administrators, nurses, wellness professionals, non-certified staff, and more. You’d be surprised how much wellness insight is already available in your co-workers. Take time to share ideas, suggest initiatives, and offer observations on a regular basis. It’s important to build a support system amongst staff and openly discuss how wellness can be increased among staff and students.
Tip #3: Research Other District Committees and Initiatives
What are other wellness committees doing in different districts? Take some time to do your research. Many schools already have wellness programs, suicide and violence prevention committees, social/emotional learning programs, mentoring programs, mental health support systems, and more. Take time to look into what’s working and how you can implement it in your district. Ultimately, all of these programs ladder up to the same mission.
Tip #4: Understand Your School’s Unique Needs
At the end of the day, every school is different — and so are their respective wellness needs. In order to discover where your school can improve, it’s important to engage in exploratory discussions with both staff and students. Try a mix of climate surveys and needs assessments to see where people are hurting most. Try to leverage metrics like school and staff attendance, disciplinary actions and procedures, and grades.
While data is helpful, human-to-human communication is still key. It can be hard to tell when students and staff are struggling by numbers alone. Schools should strive to provide both of these groups a space to talk through their issues. In order to find solutions, you need to fully understand the problems. Listening is both the most crucial — and often most effective — way to uncover areas of improvement and ways to address them.
Wellness is a Moving Goal Post
Wellness isn’t a box that can simply be checked off. By implementing some of these support structures, schools will be better equipped to boost physical, emotional, and social wellness. Learning never ends, and wellness is the same. We need to give our students and teachers the tools they need to be life-long advocates for wellness. By developing a plan, assembling a team, and identifying your schools’ unique needs, your staff and students will feel empowered to overcome challenges, think clearly, develop socially, and learn new skills.
Looking for more insight and perspectives on student, teacher, and school wellness? Make sure to check our Wellness Resource Hub.