Education – Preparing Young People for Life through True Well-Being – Part 2

INDERA, very concerned with the practical delivery of true well-being life skills in school, asked the following questions: “What does it actually mean to really prepare someone for life?” and “How to best move forward in that direction?”

First of all the school setting is not something fixed or a structure we are, it is a system we are organised in and it impulses a certain behaviour. This means any system exists due to its participants. People participate in it, it is the individual behaviour that sustains its existence. Off course we are brought up by the system that teaches us to behave in a certain way, but we all can choose differently, any time. The aspect of choice and the capacity to be aware of it and to choose is key to it. Therefore any school programme considering preparing young people for life has to take into consideration the fact of choice and with this it has to focus on building a quality or connecting the young to a quality within themselves that influences this choice.

Second we needed an explicit definition of well-being. The problem with defining well-being is that all attempts to define it refer more to the dimension of well-being than giving a definition. So the literature is offering many descriptions of the outcomes of a state of well-being which are all related to mostly certain accomplishments in life that are related to someone’s living conditions, state of health, happiness, prosperity, safety, belonging, etc.

Inspired by the ground-breaking work of Universal Medicine, a complementary health clinic in Australia, showing that even people with terminal illnesses and physical complications are able to feel a state of well-being as it is not related to outer achievements, living conditions, or even a person’s state of health, but to a way of life that is connected to the beingness, we looked at it from a different perspective and realized that true well-being has a dimension that has been widely ignored and not fully understood.

Well-being is a compound word formed by the combination of well and being[1]. Making sense of it requires to understand what each term that conform the word bring to it and how do they relate.

“Well-being is a term that characterizes a situation where someone is able to connect with an inner feeling of well-ness that opens the door to forever deepening the quality of its own being-ness in appreciation of the whole-ness he/she truly is”[2]

This definition has three building blocks:

  1. All of us have an intrinsic feeling of well-ness inside. This is independent to the fact that we feel it or not in our daily life. It is there ready to respond if we make appropriate choices.
  2. We can deepen the quality of our being-ness (how we are and how we hold ourselves in the world);
  3. By making the appropriate choices that bring our inner feelings alive and by feeling how the body responds to this and how this helps to deepen our quality as beings, we build appreciation for ourselves for who we are and what we bring to the world.

This definition is very simple and accessible: well-being is a quality that we can always work towards. The definition also gives a clear orientation on how to get there (deepening the quality of your being-ness through choices).

Consequently, preparing young people for life requires supporting them as beings and teaching them both that they are forever responsible for their well-being and that their choices matter a great deal.

Therefore, when we teach that our well-being is our responsibility and that our well-being is a direct consequence of how we choose to live, working on the choices staff and students make and how they affect their body is the best ground to learning about life[3].

For INDERA, offering programmes to schools and similar to what is proposed by Nicky Morgan, Julia Manning and Jon Paxman, moving forward in this direction required:

  • First, building consensus around the fact that these matters are important for everybody and the convenience of doing something about them;
  • Second, putting together an initiative to address these issues. Whatever the form it takes, since we are trying to reverse health and well-being grim global trends by defining what true wellbeing and health really is and we are talking of the people that tomorrow will make the important decisions of the place where we live, it has to be a whole-school level activity. It has to include activities to support teachers’ wellbeing and activities to support students’ wellbeing and builds a connection with the parents;
  • Third, creating space within the curriculum to work on these matters;

However action had to be informed by sensitive premises, which were set by the following key facts:

  • School is not responsible for the well-being of students and of staff. Ultimately, the responsibility of our well-being rests on ourselves[4]. Since this is absolutely crucial, it is the parents and school’s responsibility to teach the young responsibility.
  • School can either contribute to the ill-being of students and staff or can provide an invaluable support to students and staff in three different ways:

1. by teaching that we choose all the time; that our choices have consequences regarding our health and well-being and, that our quality -reflected in our behaviours- can affect other people as well;

2. by providing services that make a significant contribution to the daily experience at school[5];

3. by presenting them with some useful tools that can help them to change how they feel in their bodies and to make choices that will benefit them. These will help them for life if they choose to use them.

As can be deduced from these premises, this approach to well-being aimed at the following:

  • to provide short term support in case of need[6],
  • to educate the whole school community that through making responsible, consistent choices we can build well-being for us[7], and
  • to empower the whole school community for life via the delivery of elements that can help them to make good choices and to change the state of being in case of not feeling well. This is how this policy alternative prepares young people for life. Having well-being as part of our foundations we increase our capabilities to achieve things that for us are of value in life[8].

Important and needed as this support is, we also considered the risks and were very aware of the fact that it could be a drop in the ocean if everything else that happens at school and at home daily fights it. Building well-being is a 24/7 process. Everything counts for or against it. Building consistency is key and school can offer this consistency.

Hence, the construction of well-being is a long road that requires first, choices that allow us to stop the ill momentum we are in (that we constructed also through choices). Only this provides the space to start making other, more loving, choices.

However, staff and students may not be totally prepared or willing to assume the responsibility for their own well-being and the responsibility to how ill-being affects others. The choice of how far they want to go rests always upon themselves.

That is why a structured support from school is needed with external experts introducing this consistency into the school day and building it together with teachers, students and parents.

by Eduardo Feldman

 

[1] That is why it is meaningful to use a hyphen between the two words.
[2] By Eduardo Feldman, 2015
[3] As such, this activity helps to restore the original meaning of the word education. Originally, education designated the activity of raising (educare or bringing up) other fellow humans in a nourishing way so these could also live in a way that honour and reflect to others (educere or bring out, bring forth, draw out) the innate wisdom and qualities we all share equally. Thus, education was essentially educare and educere.
[4] To make it absolutely clear, even if there is a head of wellbeing at school, its duty is not to provide others with well-being (see Rachel Dodge, 2015, https://theconversation.com/all-secondary-schools-could-do-with-a-head-of-well-being-35874).
[5] We are aware that not everything we could offer as well-being support delivers the same real quality of support. This introduces a note of caution regarding the possibility of a Head of Wellbeing. What if what is delivered in the name of wellbeing and under the umbrella of a hierarchical position does not really support the people to construct well-being in their bodies?
[6] Like in the case of Head of Wellbeing.
[7] This is true education in character too.
[8] This reasoning goes hand in hand with Amartya Sen’s capability approach.

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