Student Wellbeing And Academic Benefits of Wellbeing

Sheeraza Ahad & Dr. Bilal A. Bhat

Student wellbeing is defined as a sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience, and satisfaction with self, relationships and experiences at school. Developing strong, supportive relationships in schools provides a safer and more inclusive environment for students to engage in their studies and learn. Childhood and adolescence are critical periods for developing attitudes, skills and knowledge for living a healthy life. The single-most influential factor within the schooling system for student academic growth is teaching. Teachers have influence well beyond their students; they play a vital part in the school culture as whole as well as the education system. Understanding what makes an effective teacher, therefore is essential for flourishing schools, the education system and the community as a whole. The quality of teachers is the most influential factor as teachers love for learning and increased engagement with others impacts students. The students academic performance (test score) are not always a reliable indicator of assessing teaching performance as there are various other contributing factors such as home life, peer groups and school attendance. The evaluation of teachers on academic performance only can lead to undesirable consequence as these might narrow the curriculum to focus on what is related to tests only. In fact, valuing student outcomes outside of academic achievement, is becoming more important in measuring teacher effectiveness. Great teachers use a variety of instructional methods that they feel comfortable with; within the same school, we find different teachers getting excellent results using such methods as mini-lectures and interactive lectures, problem-based learning, cooperative groups, and multiple intelligences approaches. No single teaching method or approach works best for every teacher with every student. We know, however, that research and experience strongly support some instructional approaches over others. The best teachers select from the methods that are well researched and widely practiced at their grade level or within their subject area, and become expert in several that fit their style and the needs of their students at that time. Teaching profession like any other profession undergoes constant change and in the past 30 years we witnessed a marked increase in education research and the emergence of solid information about teaching and learning. The great teachers remain intellectually alive and open to responsible change grounded in theory, research, and practice. Since the late 1970s, all areas of education have developed and dozens of specific and well-researched techniques are available today to help all learners—particularly reluctant learners and those with disabilities. The much-used phrase “lifelong learner” really does apply. Of course, content knowledge is an important area of growth. Great teachers are always learning more about math for elementary students, science for disabled students or Shakespeare for Advanced Placement students. In addition, outstanding teachers continually grow by taking college and in service courses, reading professional literature, and engaging others in serious conversation about school issues. Often, the finest teachers serve on education committees or become teacher experts who lead study groups or professional development courses. The great teachers may not necessarily be good performers but they hold students’ attention through subject mastery, skillful lesson design, actions that demonstrate caring, and an honesty that reveals their individual personality. The effective teachers are critical to the development and academic success of students. The qualities and characteristics of a good teacher are effective goal-setting, clear communication, acting as a role model, adaptability and flexibility, preparation, self-reflection, life-long learning and promoting a love of learning. Wellbeing describes a state of overall mental and physical health, strength and fitness to function well at work and personally. It was brought into educational domain by positive psychologists, notably Seligman (2011), and offers an alternative to the overall goal of ‘happiness’, which tends to describe a transient, short-term state which cannot logically be sustained for long. ‘Happiness’ itself _ that active emotion, ‘how I feel now’_ is highly reactive, depending on the right things happening to and around the person. Happiness is hard to control, being immediately dependent on both an internal mindset and external factors. A good state of wellbeing offers some protection against difficult outside events. One might say that wellbeing is background state, whereas happiness is temporary response to stimuli. Wellbeing helps cause success and good function; happiness is caused by them (among other things). It is a state of mind and body which is acquired over time and can be lost over time. It forms valuable part of curriculum of educational institutions because, it has direct effects on learning and performance, it explicitly affects learner attributes as students can better ‘understand themselves as learners’ when they understand some influences that directly affect their ability to learn easily. There is term called ‘victimisation or bullying’ that exist and it is targeted repeated intimidation which cannot be avoided or defended by victim and may be physical, verbal, social or cyber bullying. Student wellbeing and ability to learn requires that they feel safe and be free to attend school or college or university without being bullied. Children and young people who are bullied are more likely to report emotional and somatic problems, which in turn is associated with absences from educational institutions and lower academic achievement.
Feelings of wellbeing are fundamental to the overall health of an individual, enabling them to successfully overcome difficulties and achieve what they want out of life.
Stress is positive, life –enhancing and even life-saving biological response to threat or the need for peak performance. Its fundamental function is to respond instantly to physical danger and optimise ‘fight or flight’ response in the brain. It is not something to avoid or fear. It is naturally and healthy and facilitates best performance. In that case, why do we tend to frame it negatively? Why do some people ‘suffer’ from stress and become ill, under-performing instead of super-performing? Exactly what are the problems with stress? Clearly, people do suffer from stress. Stress-related illness lead to time lost from school and adult work. Suffering from stress is unpleasant and spoils our enjoyment of life. But we should be clear about exact problems if we are to avoid meaningless clichés and if, crucially, we are to understand and act on some solutions. The panic response and effects of cortisol build-up: An over-production of or over-reaction to adrenaline (stress hormone) makes the heart race to the extent that, instead of feeling focused and ready, we feel panicky, out of control. Most people will have experienced this. One feels overloaded by information and messages, while experiencing uncomfortable physical symptoms, such as shallow breathing, a racing heart or palpitations, sweatiness, nausea and even, sometimes vomiting. Usually this passes quickly once the anticipated event (such as an exam, or public performance) is over. However, the individual may feel so uncomfortable that he or she focuses more on discomfort than the performance. Sometimes, this leads to a panic attack. A panic attack is different from a more ordinary feeling in two ways: first, it is usually in response to something minor rather than terrifying. This means that it can be unpredictable and sufferers may be anxious about the possibility of a panic attack. Fear of a panic attack can trigger a panic attack. Secondly, the severity is such that the sufferer loses control; the need to get away from the stressful situation can lead to running from the room, failing to notice what one is doing; sufferers commonly really believe (falsely) that they may die. The factors associated with stresses leading to adrenaline build-up are: sleep problems, weaker immune system, repeated headaches and stomach-aches, change in appetite and therefore weight gain or loss, low mood etc. Extra stress for Introverts: Introverts are often particularly poorly catered for and undervalued in today’s noisy, busy, social, collaborative schools and many workplaces. We must note that the Introversion is neither ‘better’ nor ‘worse’ than extroversion; they are simply two different sets of personality traits and there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Despite popular opinion, shyness has little to do with introversion. Introversion describes an over-reaction to external stimuli, especially stimuli that include human interaction. Introverts may deal very well with strangers, have lots of friends and be adept performers. But every social situation, from a relaxed face-to-face chat with a close friend to walking into a room full of strangers or performing in front of a crowd, is mentally and physically tiring for an introverted person. An extrovert might be having fun, while the introvert is processing a number of potentially alerting and stressful thoughts. They can do it but it has a cost: mental exhaustion and a feeling of being overwhelmed. At educational institutions, many teaching methods and activities involve collaborative work. While collaboration cannot be ignored, teachers should realize that during these activities introverted students are unlikely to be doing their best work and may be more exhausted and more stressed, leading to poorer learning outcomes. When an introvert is asked to do a piece of work in collaboration, he or she switches out of learning mode and into social mode. The last thing on his or her mind is ‘How can I do as well as possible on this piece of work’. They pose specific problems and have specific needs if they are to fulfill potential at educational institute and having good wellbeing. So ensure that students are at place where they know they can find peace. Share understanding among students and staff of what introversion is. Ensure that no student think stress is weakness, encourage openness and respect. We mention few ways that schools and universities can support these transitions (a) prepare students from an early stage for practical and cultural changes. Also, talk with them about maintaining good mental health and seeking help when needed (b) Preparing students as early as possible, and well in advance of their move, is important. Some schools do this by holding student and parent sessions, and universities often arrange pre-orientation and summer programs for international students. These often address practical issues like paying bills, registering for healthcare, and changes in climate and navigating differences in application processes. It is important for these sessions to focus on issues like identity, resisting peer pressure, resilience in the face of adversity, maintaining good mental health and seeking help when needed. (c ) Provide opportunities for students to seek help at an early stage and strengthen your systems so that you can proactively identify students in need of support. Many universities provide excellent support to students who are proactive in seeking help. However, there is a concern that many students in need of support are not able to reach out proactively. These students often never come to university’s attention or only do so once risk has escalated to dangerous levels. We know, for example, that a significant proportion of students who commit suicide are not previously known to university student services. Further work is needed to look at how schools and universities can make easy for students to seek help. Efforts to do this should include building trusting relationships between staff and students, having a system where students have a formal and regular one-to-one or small group sessions with (non-academic) advisors or tutors, putting in place visible, accessible, high quality counseling services and helplines at university, offering multiple avenues for disclosure, using peer support programs, and removing the stigma around mental health. (d) Strengthen connections between schools and universities. In short, the more schools and universities collaborate to address student well-being, the easier the transition will be for students. Discussions around this topic are too frequently limited either to just schools or to just universities. Improving both groups can build connections, improve understanding of the other, generate new ideas and strengthen information sharing. Great cooperation between schools and universities will also increase in knowledge and understanding that each institution has of the other, which in turn will help to dispel unhelpful myths. It can be tempting to spend time living in the past, or looking to the future, but studies have shown that being aware of what is happening right now and living in the present can deliver real benefits in terms of mental wellbeing. Taking notice of our surroundings and taking time to enjoy both the moment, and our present environment can really help our mental health. In our busy lives we constantly have our heads full of what are we going to do next or what are we going to become or how well or badly we just did. This means we’re often not that aware of what is actually going on around us; what is happening here and now. Mindfulness is a proven approach that we can use to help us to live more in the moment and to practise being more aware, alert and centered. The practice of mindfulness has been shown to help in lots of ways including improving relaxation, creativity, learning, concentration, sleep, relationships, reducing levels of stress and increasing overall levels of satisfaction. In fact, the students’ academic performance depends on a number of socio-economic factors like students’ attendance in the class, family income, mother’s and father’s education, teacher-student ratio, presence of trained teacher in school, sex of the student, and distance of schools. Worldwide schools are introducing programmes aimed at enhancing the well-being of students and helping them flourish. Such programmes aim to teach students how to cultivate positive emotions and relationships, find meaning and feel a sense of achievement in their work – as well as look after their physical and mental health. But despite this progress, recent research has found that the well-being of students steadily declines as they progress through secondary school, up to their final exams. And the decline is sharper for girls than for boys. Clearly, there is a need for parents and educators to do something, rather than allowing students’ levels of well-being to deteriorate as they progress through secondary school. It is concluded that feelings of wellbeing are fundamental to the overall health of an individual, enabling them to successfully overcome difficulties and achieve what they want out of life. Past experiences, attitudes and outlook can all impact wellbeing as can physical or emotional trauma following specific incidents. The student wellbeing and academic performance are significantly and positively associated. In general students with higher levels of psychological and emotional wellbeing also show higher levels of academic achievement.
(Sheeraza Ahad is a student at the P G Department of Biotechnology at the Central University of Kashmir and Dr Bilal A Bhat is an Associate Professor at S K University of Science & Technology-SKUAST Srinagar. Views of the authors are their own)
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