Almost all first-year teacher trainees at Avondale College of Higher Education, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia, are living more happily after participating in an experiential well-being intervention as part of their course.
Of the 127 students enrolled in the mandatory Foundations of Wellbeing unit, 103 participated in the study (74 females, 29 males). Grades were not linked to any outcomes to avoid reporting bias from the students. The unit, offered over a 13-week semester, featured one weekly interactive lecture and individual assignments and incorporated a 10-week educational adventure called The Lift Project.
Authors Jason Hinze and Darren Morton observed significant improvements in the physical health, mental health, spirituality, and life satisfaction of the participants, who also reported reductions in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Ninety-two percent reported the intervention as having a positive impact on their well-being — they felt better prepared to care for themselves, and more resilient. The findings are “encouraging,” wrote Hinze, a senior lecturer in the School of Education, and Morton, lead researcher in the Lifestyle Research Centre, in TEACH Journal of Christian Education (Vol. 11, No. 2, 2017).
Foundations of Wellbeing Unit
Foundations of Wellbeing explores a variety of strategies to improve well-being, all of which are evidence based, objective, and experimental. Using the consolidated theory and practice of well-being, the unit shows how the things we know are good for us — such as adequate rest, healthy eating, and exercise — are backed up by data, science, and experience.
The goal of the unit is to equip future educators to care for and grow their well-being in order to give them the best chance for personal success, as well as give them the tools they need to be agents of change in the lives of their own students as they become teachers.
The teaching students learned about well-being before beginning The Lift Project. Over the 10 weeks of project itself, they completed small daily and larger weekly challenges, all of which were connected to what they had learned during the week.
For example, in the first week, students were introduced to the emotional brain — the limbic system — and learned about its basic function and structure. Their weekly challenge was to speak positively for the week, offering genuine compliments each day.
Over the following weeks, students were taught about moving dynamically, immersing themselves in uplifting physical and spiritual environments, looking to the positive, eating well, sleeping adequately, de-stressing, and serving others.
Students reported they enjoyed the challenging nature of The Lift Project, engaging with the experimental aspects of it and appreciating the opportunities to connect with others to share their experiences. The enhanced social interaction complemented the evidence-based and interactive aspects of the unit, making it more meaningful.
Each of the aspects explored in The Lift Project could be applied personally or shared with others.
In providing feedback, one participant said, “When I have my classroom, I am going to try and adapt and incorporate this information into my lessons. I believe that it is important for young students to know this information when going through school.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a history of advocating for wholistic health — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Avondale College is mindful of this, according to the project organizers. Including formal well-being education in courses for future teachers in their first year of study reflects the move toward providing well-being education for students at schools but also emphasizes the importance of overall health for teachers on a personal level.
According to a study by Milatz, Luftenegger, and Schober (2015), teachers suffer significant challenges to their well-being. In another study (Acton and Glasgow ), up to 30 percent of teachers were shown to be affected by burnout and psychological distress, resulting in up to 40 percent of teachers leaving the profession within the first five years of service.
It is the reason, said Hinze and Morton, why the promotion of teacher well-being is essential. “Providing well-being education to future teachers may not only better equip them to care for their well-being, but also enable them to be positive agents of change in the school setting,” they wrote. “All educators should be well-being educators.”