14 SES 07 C JS, Conceptual and Empirical Perspectives on Student Wellbeing
Joint Paper Session NW 08 and NW 14
Context and topic/problem
This paper explores the problem of wellbeing and the possibilities of fostering wellbeing in schools today against the backdrop of intense uncertainty in the political economic and cultural spheres of life. Our understandings and perspectives on wellbeing informed by scholarship and current research must take serious account of the particular local circumstances inorder to foster real wellbeing (Sen 1995).
However, wellbeing as it appears in recent international education literature is often seen as a normative practice; it offers a prescriptive solution to living well and as such can appear eminently teachable and unproblematic. As the more critical scholarship and research on wellbeing bears out, the prescriptive approach is an over simplification of the terrain of wellbeing and the challenges associated with adopting and fostering wellbeing within contemporary schooling. In the context of such constant change and reform in education (which often means operationalising new magic bullets in the curricula), we seek to challenge the orthodoxy of ongoing reform and new solutions to problems of wellbeing or illbeing. We propose a more robust developmental approach to the issue of human wellbeing, and how it can be supported in schools which builds on our previous work on a wellbeing wholistic curriculum and approach to schooling (OBrien 2008 and O Shea 2011).
Since the very interchangeability of ‘wellbeing’ today with terms such as flourishing, resilience, self-efficacy, mental health, health among others, creates challenges and confusions for teachers and students, our research seeks to gain some conceptual clarity in relation to types of wellbeing models, their focus and their disciplinary/world view limits. And secondly, in gaining some clarity around the meanings of wellbeing and illbeing, it explores how we can orient ourselves in a space of wellbeing concern as teachers with our students.
In approaching both the question of conceptual tensions on the meanings of wellbeing, and also how to orient oneself in the space of wellbeing we address questions of competing values.
Sen faced this problem in developing the influential Human Capabilities and Human Development approach to wellbeing, but recognised that values and individual valuing of particular forms of self-realisation were inescapable challenges in developing a model of flourishing. In the field of education, Richard Pring directly confronts this issue of value differences and wellbeing in his introduction to The International Research Handbook on Values Education and Student Wellbeing (2010). He contends that differences in values are indicative of significant differences in understandings around what it is to be fully human, of human flourishing and of wellbeing. Pring advises that education and curricula that seek to support student wellbeing cannot easily dismiss the kinds of tensions that are inherent across different value systems and how they are expressed in particular approaches to wellbeing.
Our conceptual approach to the research draws on internationally significant disciplinary models of wellbeing and considers their contributions to the field of education while critiquing the values and world views which inform them (eg Allardt 1993 welfare approach, Sen 1995 capabilities , Seligman 2011 PERMA positive psychology, and broadly humanistic approaches). The second part of the research which considers questions of meaning making and illbeing is informed by the work of Charles Taylor in relation to an ethics of concern, and by Noddings on an ethics of care. These enable us to avoid falling into the trap of focusing only on the individual to the exclusion of the collective, and assists in gaining a depth-relational perspective of the problem of wellbeing for each person, one that is often neglected in welfare/social approaches.“ It explores the nexus where the social world meets the subjective world.
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