The benefits of a values-based approach to student wellbeing

The benefits of a values-based approach to student wellbeing

A growing body of research has highlighted the connection between a student’s wellbeing and their academic outcomes

While this finding is recognised by many educators, there are concerns that services dedicated to improving mental health are lacking. For example, a recent study found that while children most commonly seek mental health support from their families, friends and schools, these networks are often poorly equipped to provide appropriate help, leaving children vulnerable.

Cognisant of this, some researchers have been looking at ways in which schools can improve wellbeing in-house, so that external services aren’t needed.

Terry Lovat, Emeritus Professor at the University of Newcastle’s College of Human and Social Futures, worked on the government’s National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools.

He says that when the Australian Values Education Program rolled out between 2003 and 2010, he and his colleagues came to see that this approach to everything that happens in and outside of the classroom impacts on student wellbeing in a myriad of ways.

“First, it assists in developing values literacy, as one might expect, a language that directs and behaviour that follows overt values around respect, tolerance, care, responsibility, etc,” Professor Lovat told The Educator.

“Second, and not coincidentally, it impacts on the ambience or school climate, demonstrated in less behaviour management problems, enhanced cohesion, or “togetherness”, and what was referred to often as ‘student resilience’.”

Thirdly, said Professor Lovat, the approach impacts on students’ academic achievement levels, which he added “was something of a surprise at first”.

“The initial surprise about achievement levels is really no surprise if we understand how human beings function, how social and emotional factors influence and determine intellectual factors,” he said.

“The latest neuroscientific evidence offers many insights in this regard, showing how the brain responds to social and emotional experiences and the overarching role of imagination in impelling optimal cognition.”

Professor Lovat said the overall pedagogical effects of the program became so prominent in the findings that he and his colleagues coined a new term – ‘values pedagogy’ – to capture them.

“The lessons learned through this approach are more important than ever today.”