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As an educator and health researcher, I have been doing a great deal of thinking about the well-being of our young people as we ease into an unprecedented school year. I see this time as an opportunity to go a bit deeper in our thinking about the role of education in our society and where well-being should be positioned. The world as we know it has changed, and so too will education; this is an inescapable reality, and perhaps it will be a good thing.

In his book Nuance, Michael Fullan (2019) invites us to consider the most important components of education to be;

  1. Helping students understand the context of their lives
  2. empowering students to create social change and solve big problems that will  increase well-being
  3. Teaching students to embrace difference and get along with others
  4. providing skill development, as well as opportunities for joy, beauty, play and playfulness

When I read these goals it was glaringly obviously that education should be so much more than just traditional subject learning. The world our young people navigate in the future will be complex; they will need an education of the whole person if they are to thrive and achieve individual success. This is especially true as we continue to reintroduce students into school, either in-person or virtually, after almost six months away. We would be doing our young people a major disservice if we simply dove straight back into curriculum without also providing ample opportunities for play, joy, connection, and unpacking some of the important social justice issues we are currently faced with.

Fullan’s approach to achieving these important educational goals is deeply rooted in a form of social justice education. With respect to our current educational reality, the magic here is that this approach to pedagogy is one that can be used  to get at citizenship and well-being simultaneously. Fullan calls this approach “deep learning”; or that “learning that sticks with you for the rest of your life” (p. 107). It involves a deep dive into character, citizenship, creativity, and critical thinking.

The Connection to Well-being: This deep learning gets at student well-being on a visceral level — it is something far more nuanced than the commodified well-being culture we can often find ourselves (and our young people) grappling with today. Monitoring, tracking and buying well-being is an easy trap to fall into, but it is far from what our students need, especially this year. So some important questions to ask ourselves, our schools and our children;

  • What does well-being mean to us?
  • How do we define it? What are the distinguishing features of well-being that we want to walk away with in the face of an uncertain world?
  • What matters most when it comes to how we guide our young people (and ourselves) towards riding the waves of a chaotic world?

Student well-being lives in deep learning; in deep connections to citizenship (and being a change agent for injustices), having opportunities to explore and develop one’s character, and a chance to be creative and ignite a light that may otherwise stay dark in some of our students — this light ignites a “positive contagion” in that young person who then links up with others, and it spreads (in a good way).

All of this checks out with psychology. If you recall Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as educators and parents, we have a duty to meet our young people’s physiological, safety, belonging and esteem needs. Deep learning gets at that last bit on the pyramid; one’s self-actualization. That magic in a person’s life when they discover who they are, their talents, their potential, their purpose. How great for one’s well-being to learn about oneself at this level in school. This is very close to the W.H.O.’s definition: “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” I think we have to sit back and ask ourselves if we are really doing this work, and how we can if we’re not; we owe this to our young people, and perhaps ourselves.


Image source: cruxfit.com

I find it a serendipitous twist of fate that a global and racial pandemic have collided in the same year and a way forward might be helping our young people be the change agents the world needs and also a tool to protect their well-being.

I would love your input about student well-being and the future of education.

Thanks for reading,


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