Creating the space for wellbeing in schools

By Rydr Tracy

Published 6 March 2024 18.18 PM

Last week, I had the absolute privilege to present a keynote to a wonderful group of middle leaders and school executives. As part of the day, I was following on from emeritus professor Dylan Wiliam, who needs no further introduction. 

Professor Wiliam spoke clearly and articulately (unsurprisingly) about concepts from his work on formative assessment and Making Room for Impact: A De-implementation Guide for Educators, the book he has co-authored with John Hattie and Arran Hamilton.

Watching this presentation 3 things struck me as particularly relevant for school leaders wrestling with leading wellbeing on top of everything else that is bearing down upon them:

  1. Keep sight of the big picture: It is easy to focus on what we need to do, rather than why we need to do it
  2. There is a cost to both action and inaction: Understanding the cost (resources, effort, cognitive load) of your action or inaction can be worth calculating as you decide what to prioritise
  3. Formative Assessment is not just the realm of teaching and learning: Formatively assessing (aka formatively evaluation) could and should encompass wellbeing.

As with all great presentations, this gave me food for thought to reflect about the wellbeing practices I had in place in my schools. I think I was guilty of focusing on the things I had to do rather than the things I needed to do. My wellbeing processes were mostly reactive, wellbeing was assumed fine unless there was a reason to think otherwise. 

Knowing what I know now, I would change my wellbeing focus to be proactive. I would measure the most important things; student emotions and readiness to learn. I would measure it frequently and create the space for executives, teachers and support staff to use the data to wrap support around all the students, not just when something has gone wrong but all the time. 

With student learning, particularly in literacy and numeracy, it is clear to all teachers that checking in with where students are at frequently is critical for mapping their progress and planning their next learning experience. It is only natural that we do this as part of our core teaching practice. 

I was therefore challenged when I applied this to my wellbeing practices. Did I do this with student wellbeing?

My professional pride makes me want to respond with an emphatic “Yes, of course. I know my students and due to the strong relationships and trust I build with them, I adapt their experience to provide them the support they need when they need it.” While in my heart of hearts believe this is true, I must confess that this approach was far from perfect. It could benefit from a truly formative approach to wellbeing.

An approach that:

  • Is built on relevant and reliable student data (student emotions and readiness to learn)
  • Empowers teachers to reflect on the point of need of each student and think about what they need to do to further develop their emotional literacy
  • Embeds space for this to happen as part of whole school processes, like planning days, stage meetings and learning support processes.


[ Rydr Tracy is the Head of Education at Life Skills Group and former Director Strategic Priorities at CESE. He is a specialist in evidence-informed practice in educational innovation, with a career focus on strategic change that improves student outcomes. He draws on a rare blend of successful experience in schools, system leadership roles and industry practice – experience that has given him deep understanding of the complexities of the education sector from the classroom to the boardroom and a demonstrated capacity to generate practical recommendations that are grounded in context and evidence. ]


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