Tasmanian Student Wellbeing Explored

“A strong sense of wellbeing enables students to explore, experiment and actively engage in their learning environment with confidence and optimism.”

The Department of Education Tasmania, as part of the state’s Wellbeing Strategy, engaged all Government school students from Years 4 to 12 in 2019 in its inaugural Student Wellbeing Survey. The survey results identify some strengths of students, both on a state level and in each school’s individual report. Schools in Tasmania are continuing to reflect on these results and how to build on these positive aspects of wellbeing.

The Survey is structured around the six wellbeing domains, developed by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) which shape the Strategy.

As with student survey tools used in other Australian states and territories, the Tasmanian Survey and its associated report aim to provide data, and to engage all stakeholders in greater understanding of wellbeing, so that future planning will further enable young people’s growth.

Some of the most notable strengths that Tasmanian students identified in the data are their sense of peer belonging (in Years 4-12, 82 % of students reported this as either High or Medium), and friendship and intimacy (88% of Year 4-12 students reported this as either High or Medium). The work of Peer Support Australia is founded on the important role that young people play for each other in providing help and advice. Hence it is significant that young people in Tasmania have such a strong sense of these positive connections, and it is a fertile basis on which schools can continue to develop their wellbeing approaches.

In conversations with us, schools in Tasmania have also shared some of the challenges and issues which the data has suggested about their students, and discussed their ideas about how they are responding to these.

We’re looking forward to continuing to work with communities in Tasmania as part of schools’ strategies to enhance resilience, support students in developing emotional regulation and improve school climate.

Best Practice = Best Possible Outcomes

A sense of possibility… what lies beneath and within this thinking has entertained great writers, thinkers and philosophers for centuries. For those in education it can provoke critical questions that go to the core of our beliefs and attitudes about the capabilities of young people and the importance of creating transformational learning experiences.

The start of a new school year is a great time to evaluate your school’s implementation of the Peer Support Program with this in mind. If you are currently implementing the Peer Support Program at your school, how effective is it? How do you know?

Do our beliefs and actions – both individually and as a school – really support students and their enormous potential and sometimes surprising possibilities? When a sense of possibility infuses our values and practices, we can enact a strengths-based way of thinking and acting with and towards students.

Sometimes changes to our recommended best practice may dilute some evidence informed elements necessary for effective social and emotional learning. Fixed mindsets can work against the purpose of the Program. Communication across the whole school community about the nature and purpose of the Program can help improve engagement and enable teachers for example to see the possibilities provided by the Program’s links to curriculum.

Another important factor in the Program’s success, is allocating to it adequate and effectively placed time, including for briefing and debriefing. This ensures students have a solid opportunity to learn and practise skills and build meaningful connections.

Take a moment to review a couple of our best practice tips for implementing the Peer Support Program. More helpful tips and resources can be found on our members’ Portal. 

  • School Community Awareness Raising: When understanding, concepts and language are shared amongst staff, students and parents, the possibilities for effective learning are enhanced. Videos and newsletter items are available on our Portal to assist with this.
  • Inclusive Leadership Training: Leadership training is best provided to ALL Year 6 or Year 10 students. Every student should be afforded opportunities to develop leadership skills such as effective communication, problem solving, demonstrating empathy and relationship building. Inclusive leadership enables schools to truly discover what is possible for their students.

Attending an Implementation Workshop is the best way to ensure familiarity with the best practice model of the Peer Support Program. Consultant support is available to member schools, including staff, student and parent talks to assist with your implementation.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid” Albert Einstein

What does the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration say about wellbeing?

The Australian Education Ministers endorsed the newly released Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians in December last year.

It builds on previous declarations, in providing guidance to Australian educators to meet the needs of young Australians, in both our national and global contexts. What’s different about it, especially regarding wellbeing?

As the title of the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration suggests, it features enhanced recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as integral to our story, with focuses on working towards improved educational outcomes, and also on ensuring that all Australian students learn about the diversity of First Nations peoples’ cultures.

Peer Support Australia is pleased to observe that the new Declaration recognises the developmental nature of growth and learning, and prioritises a number of skills and dispositions not previously acknowledged at this level. One of its two goals is that “all young Australians become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed members of the community.” To this end, it identifies as desirable such pro-social skills such as change management and creation, adaptability to new ways of thinking and the ability to engage in respectful debate.

The Declaration acknowledges the importance for young people of a sense of belonging, purpose and meaning, and of having empathy for the circumstances of others. It has an expanded emphasis on the importance of supporting effective transitions throughout the education process, as well as on enhancing middle years development. Peer Support Australia welcomes these features of the Declaration, particularly the explicit recognition that the middle years in particular require investment in emotional wellbeing, and that “developing healthy peer relationships should be encouraged, including a focus on student engagement and wellbeing.”

We look forward to continuing to work with Australian schools in the context of the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration, with its affirmation of so many of the principles which have long been central to our work.

Making Possibilities Real – How We Can Help You

Expanding the ability to recognise their strengths, think optimistically, interact positively and make considered choices are some of the skills which students practise in support of a Sense of Possibility. There are several ways in which Peer Support Australia can help you provide a course of action for your students to develop these.

The Peer Support Program’s Primary modules Living Positively and Moving Forward focus in particular on developing understanding and skills to support a Sense of Possibility, as does the Secondary Program’s Rethinking Challenges module.

Teachers often describe the positive, and sometimes surprising impact on their students of the inclusive and purposeful opportunities for leadership that the Program creates. Students who might not have previously considered themselves as leaders are able to experience the possibilities that arise as part of their involvement.

Similarly, when students have meaningful opportunities to contribute to and shape their community, their belief that positive outcomes can be achieved in the future is enhanced. Teachers interested in developing other student leadership structures are encouraged to contact us to find out more about our SRC Leadership Workshop for Teachers.

We invite you to reflect on and plan how you will help your students to see, create and act on a range of possibilities in 2020.

Seeing Positive Possibilities is a Skill that Can Be Learned

A strong sense of possibility involves an awareness and belief that positive outcomes can be achieved in the future. It empowers individuals to take responsibility for enhancing their sense of self, developing and maintaining positive relationships and turning challenges into opportunities.

Having a sense of possibility is related to several facets of social and emotional learning, as well as some key positive psychology concepts, each of which has well developed evidence bases to validate their importance and positive impact on wellbeing.

CASEL has been instrumental in the international promotion of social and emotional learning, and their model underpins the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities. Ongoing studies of social and emotional learning highlight the positive impact on learning and wellbeing of the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

Awareness of our thoughts and emotions, and the ability to manage them effectively, contributes to self-efficacy, motivation and confidence by supporting possibility focused practices such as goal-setting and striving. The ability to change perspective and entertain possibilities beyond our own experience supports our capacity for empathy, which is vital for both personal and community wellbeing. Identifying and analysing problems, generating a range of alternative solutions and making ethical and responsible decisions also hinge on a healthy sense of what might be possible. Importantly, these processes are all integral to developing resilience.

Hope and optimism are key concepts of positive psychology, and studies have shown that hope is positively related to academic achievement.  Schools support students in developing hope – which can be considered as goal-directed thinking – in their practices around goal setting and striving for example. As part of a growth mindset approach, schools support students’ sense of possibility by creating a supportive environment and enabling them to reflect on and identify next steps and goals for their learning. Teachers know that the engagement and agency that can arise from such processes has a powerful impact on students’ achievements.

The ability to think optimistically – seeing positive possibilities – is a skill that can be learned, and contributes to resilience. A recent Australian study of the experience of transition to secondary school, found that “students who expected a positive transition were more than three times more likely to report an actual positive transition experience.” (Waters et.al 2014)

As you begin the new school year it’s an ideal time to reflect on the power of possibility, and how you do and could ensure that your students use this gift for growth in 2020.