Why Student Wellbeing Is as Important as Academic Achievement

Originally published on The Huffington Post

Our children are our most loved and precious resource, and often our joy, purpose and renewal comes from our dealings with them. Sometimes they make us frustrated and occasionally even desperate but usually, eventually, they make us better people.

Children are each other's teachers too, and many life lessons are learnt well out of sight of parents, teachers and staff. The mental, emotional and spiritual health of students really matters, because they influence each other's levels of misery or confidence just as much as whatever is coming from their school.

As a society, we are beginning to take our mental and emotional wellbeing more seriously than we have done in recent years, both as individuals and collectively, and education plays an important role in this. At Cheltenham Ladies' College, we are unashamedly placing the girls' wellbeing on an equal footing with their academic achievement. In talking to many other Heads, I know we are not alone. Still, too often this is positioned as a binary choice - to be happy and fulfilled or to maximise academic potential.

Far from being a distraction which might jeopardise grades, finding what works for you and developing the self-awareness and tools to make changes if and when you need to, only improves performance both in and well beyond school.

It means hard-wiring the positive connection between wellbeing and outcomes, and in doing this, we are not finding ways to hide from stress, live in denial or create an artificial bubble of simplicity. Understanding the importance of wellbeing will help students to develop resilience, adaptability and flourish when faced with the unprecedented challenges, technological advances and as yet unimagined careers of the future.

These are skills and qualities that employers need and value. It is important that young people develop abilities in collaboration, forming and mending friendships, negotiation, and the self-regulation of physical wellbeing arising from healthy exercise, sleep, nutrition and a positive relationship with technology. Such are the new challenges of this generation that learning these skills is not something that can be taken for granted.

Social media is now a powerful factor in teenage social relationships, cutting right across socio-economic, cultural, state and independent day and boarding 'boundaries'. It allows young people of different ages to socialise in virtual space, with a scope that would never be seen in a real school environment, so it is no wonder we are seeing different patterns of social and emotional development associated with online activity.

Despite being the best informed generation that has ever lived, fully exposed and alive to the flaws and failings of adults around them, somehow they are emerging as idealistic and brave. They live within a relentless information media soundtrack articulating the overwhelming challenges of climate change, geopolitical and financial instability, energy security and the rise of fundamentalism, all of which threaten the status quo. Yet they surprise us constantly with their fresh perspective, hope, determination and care for each other.

We need to be ever more willing to share issues with them, to co-create solutions, to build their trust, and to make sure they know that we have inexhaustible faith in them for our shared future together.

Eve Jardine-Young, 
Spring 2016