The Importance of Wellbeing in International Schools

Paul Main with contributions from other educators

Institutional approaches to encouraging student well-being should be implemented in international schools, but they can often be limited by unfamiliar cultural norms.

The Importance of Wellbeing in International Schools

Institutional approaches to encouraging student well-being should be implemented in international schools, but they can often be limited by unfamiliar cultural norms. This means teachers can overlook, underestimate or even neglect the factors that contribute to student wellbeing, placing international students at risk of developing mental health problems. Faced with increased challenges, we believe that teachers need to commit more time and effort to encouraging student well-being, and our recent research identifies ways that can be done. Our internationally-focused teachers in Dubai can only offer students the best educational experience, if they themselves feel at home in the city and have the chance to make friends with other people from different countries.

The importance of well-being in international schools

I have just returned from an overseas school where there is a focus on academic achievement, but there was also an emphasis on psychological wellbeing. There, students work together to manage their well-being in a communal space to gain a greater awareness of their emotional wellbeing. The aim is to develop a culture of wellbeing that creates a more active role for students in addressing their emotional health in the classroom. The support we offer is intended to equip teachers with tools to support and enable students to make healthy choices, enabling them to cope with social challenges and stay engaged and motivated. The pressure to excel in our current climate is understandable, but this might be causing many students to feel isolated and to prioritise academic attainment over their own health.

What does wellbeing mean?

In the international context, the main aim of our work is to provide a better understanding of how physical and mental wellbeing can be achieved and impacts on educational outcomes, teaching and learning.

At Structural Learning, we use a broader definition of wellbeing. For us, wellbeing is encompassing, interdependent and deeply contextualised, and includes social, emotional and physical components. At Structural Learning we understand wellbeing to mean that a child or young person has the capacity to cope with the overwhelming and varied pressures of life, and is able to achieve a greater range of learning outcomes, take up challenges and gain the confidence to overcome obstacles. The lens through which we see wellbeing is not simply what we want it to be, but what we need it to be, and for us, that requires a holistic approach to child development.

What should be considered when supporting students?

Responsibility for ensuring the emotional and mental health of students should lie firmly with schools. While not every student needs professional support, all students should have the opportunity to reach their full potential and be treated with respect and dignity. Most teachers will agree that supporting students to develop the skills needed to cope with the mental pressures of a modern and fast-changing society can have a positive impact on their academic achievements and well-being.

A study conducted in 2016 by the National Council for Pupil Insolvency (NCPI), estimated that around 1 in 25 of England’s 468,000 school leavers have a parent, grandparent or guardian in voluntary or statutory social care.

What measures can be taken to support senior leaders?

The ISC are currently investigating the emotional wellbeing of directors and senior leaders within senior leadership teams within various International Schools. They are also developing an online programme that will support students and staff at all levels and provide resources for senior leaders, including professional development and resources on managing team challenges and wellbeing in an increasingly competitive global environment.

They have launched a Mindfulness Teacher Training Programme to train school leaders on mindfulness, meditation and breathing techniques that can be used in classrooms. The course includes material to help you develop your own understanding and support for teaching children and staff in mindfulness.

What measures can be taken to support student wellbeing?

For the purpose of these key questions, we have defined the essential measures of student wellbeing as follows:

Managing stress

Providing opportunities for students to work productively in challenging situations

Understanding and developing the capacity for students to think and to act for themselves, with help and support when needed

Sustaining and maintaining well-being in students

Engaging in activities that enable students to think for themselves

Building mental resilience

Providing students with a sense of belonging

Help students to deal with and cope with difficult or stressful situations

Enabling students to communicate effectively

We need to talk about student wellbeing and define what it means. It is an incredibly complex issue and can encompass far more than most of us are aware of.


Why does all this matter? Well, we’re not the first generation of educators to think that the path to human development can be changed by small positive changes in children’s lives. There are many examples of schools and universities implementing a range of policies and strategies that support this goal, and now it seems that we have taken it to another level, embarking on a journey that could transform the way we all live, work and learn.

We have argued that this is not a topic just for specialists, but one that will require everyone to care about the wellbeing of young people. The majority of teachers now see themselves as change agents, people who can help others to understand the importance of mental health, well being and flourishing. As teachers, we need to question our own work and make the positive strides needed to support our learners.