Empowering teachers to improve student wellbeing

Empowering teachers to improve student wellbeing

This article was produced in partnership with Truwell, a comprehensive platform to monitor and enrich student and teacher wellbeing.

Truwell offers a comprehensive solution that monitors teacher and student wellbeing and gives staff and students a voice in recommending wellbeing improvement. Truwell’s directors are Adam Weber and Dr Timothy Hawkes – former headmaster of The King's School, Parramatta, who now produces wellbeing programs for teachers and students in schools.

A growing body of research over the past year has shown that students’ physical and mental health has been deteriorating to the extent that it is now described as a ‘national crisis’.

Since 2019, there’s been a 162% increase in serious mental health problems in teenagers and teachers are submitting more mental health Workcover claims than any other profession.

Amid these grim findings, one glaring factor is that the vast majority of teachers have not been formally trained in student wellbeing and mental health.

Recognising this, Truwell – a comprehensive platform to monitor and enrich student and teacher wellbeing – has created free check-ins that indicates the level of a students’ wellbeing in a quick yet meaningful manner, amplifies student voice and supports teachers in the care of their students.

Below, The Educator speaks to Truwell's director, Dr Timothy Hawkes, to find out more.

TE: What are some of the factors that hinder teachers’ confidence to improve the wellbeing and care of young people?

Teacher confidence in being able to cater for the wellbeing needs of their students is growing with the many training options available, but there are still too many teachers who do not feel well trained in this space. Most have been trained in a particular subject area and in the pedagogy relevant to the age group they are teaching. Their training was based on Piaget, Hattie and Gardner rather than on wellbeing and mental health. Adding further anxiety is the quality of training about mental health and wellbeing, because it varies a great deal. Many teachers are frightened about the legal risks if they intercede, and the legal risks if they don’t intercede. They are concerned about the ambiguous boundary between triage and treatment. With schools being seen as lucrative legal targets, with the growth in accountability measures and with the explosion of reporting requirements, the stress created in teachers by adding yet further responsibilities on them can be significant. Many clamour to add to the teaching role. No-one seems to be suggested what should be taken away from the role.

TE: I understand that Truwell has developed a free student check-in for schools that helps to address this. Can you tell us more?

The Truwell Student Check-in is a game changer because it is thorough, it is research-based and it is free. The Check-in is called UTAT (You to a Tee) and it asks students six questions relating to hope, happiness and capacity to cope, as well as questions about health, safety and relationships.  This results in a T-shaped graphic that gives teachers an immediate overview of how a student is travelling. Educators will recognise a touch of A H Maslow in these questions, but they have been tweaked to give better expression to circumstance and safety. The UTAT student wellbeing check-in is also AI empowered – a feature that guides teachers in the questions they should ask their students depending on their UTAT scores. This is a feature being warmly welcomed by teachers for it gives them guidance about the conversations they should be having with their students. It also gives students a voice – a means to express how they are feeling.

TE: What kind of feedback from schools, and outcomes, have you been seeing as a result of the check-in?

Feedback on UTAT has been encouraging. Schools are suggesting that the number of questions being asked by UTAT are just right. Any less and the Check-in would be compromised. Any more, and the Check-in would be cumbersome. The six questions asked are also receiving warm appreciation. The questions cover the vital area of safety, as well as health and relationships. Other questions relate to hope, happiness and the capacity to cope – all of which are key determinants of wellbeing in students. Teachers are expressing delight in the guidance given if the school opts to use the AI capacity of UTAT – a capacity that suggests the conversation starters teachers can use to feed into the wellbeing of their students. There is also appreciation of the dashboard which gives teachers a quick and easy way to track the wellbeing of their students and identify trends. Intuitive. Simple. Visual. The dashboard is being recognised as a powerful means for schools to monitor the wellbeing of their students. Talking of students, they too are registering a preference for using UTAT over other check-ins. They appreciate the “voice” it gives them and the capacity it provides to run up a red flag on wellbeing issues. Feedback from schools is also registering an appreciation that UTAT is clearly a resource that has been designed by teachers for use by teachers.

TE: What are some emerging challenges you see for student and staff wellbeing in 2022, and how will the company be helping school leaders address these?

A clear challenge is to resource schools with the means to tackle not just the wellbeing of primary and secondary students, but also the wellbeing of teachers and support staff. Too many schools are using expensive and piecemeal programs that fail to give an integrated picture of the wellbeing of the entire school community. The great advantage given to schools using ‘Truwell’ is that a ‘one-stop’ wellbeing resource is available that gives school leaders a simple yet powerful means to monitor the wellbeing of everyone. Another challenge is to move schools away from the habit of thinking that monitoring is all that is needed. We must do more than monitor the rate of fall down the wellbeing cliff. We must build a protective fence at the top of the cliff. This astonishing blind-spot needs to be addressed. At ‘Truwell’, we have sought to do this by making available over seventy 15 – 35-minute videos on various health related topics. Interactive, contemporary, digital and engaging, this library of videos is the largest of its kind being offered by any single wellbeing provider to schools in Australia. Teachers need to be helped. They are drowning in the rising tide of requirements made of them. Over 65 percent of teachers are registering unacceptable levels of stress. We must help our teachers so that they can help their students.