At the onset of this year, as I was navigating through the Regenerative Building Blocks of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll), I paused when I read, “People safe & healthy in their communities, rather than necessitating vast expenditures on treating, healing & fixing”. And in the definition of the health goal, it appropriately mentions, “both mental & physical.”
Being a mental health advocate myself – this resonated so very well with me. I am practising the science of Positive Psychology that focuses on what works well for people and how can we make it even better. This combination piqued my interest and paved my way to be able to contribute to the WEAll network in my capacity.
The Wellbeing Economy talks about Mindsets that, “…economies should have human… wellbeing” and this encompasses the mental and emotional states besides physical safety, therefore the need permeates through all humans, irrespective of their trade and beliefs. Considering the people who are working for employers, contribute to a substantial extent in strengthening the economy of a nation, therefore for the scope of this article, our focus will be on employees at the workplace, and even more specifically to the teachers in schools.
The reason I am focusing on teachers is that they are an incredibly special group of employees who are empowered with the unique responsibility of shaping the future of a nation through their everyday interaction with young humans, who in turn will become into adults and will be taking up the responsibility of adding value to the nation, themselves, their family, and their community.
Every interaction that we have with another person, has the potential to bring about a notable change in our emotions. This change in emotions further leads to the development of thoughts and subsequently into action. Every day at a school, frequent communication channels are established between teachers and students, among teachers, and among student peers. These collaborations are vital for the functionality of the stakeholders’ performance and behaviour – students and teachers – for the continuity of business as usual i.e., a day in school.
Now, with the current academic skill sets, it is not necessary that all such interactions can be resolved successfully at the teacher & student level for instance they can be non-verbal and observational (based on behaviour), technically speaking – psychological.
There are global reports on mental health that we have been made aware of and repercussions of which we are observing in our local contexts as well, with a radical shift in the psychological state of children, teachers, and families, and that the World Health Organisation has fully acknowledged as, “…there has been increasing acknowledgement of the significant role mental health plays in achieving global development goals, as illustrated by the inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Goals…”
With the advent of the global pandemic – COVID-19 – Vulnerability, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity – ‘VUCA’ – are adding fuel to fire. All of us, from a national level to an individual level, are struggling through it with our fair share of challenges currently.
However, with a solution-focused approach, I will want to see the silver lining in this dark ‘VUCA’ cloud.
We have surpassed the time where we put our resources to destigmatise psychological dysfunction and making efforts for it to be viewed in the light of normalcy. There are already events of systems, companies, collaborations that are disintegrating because they are unable to manage the emotional states of the employees – after all, the organisation comprises of humans. According to a recent news report, “Mental and emotional well-being are now one of the most important topics in many companies”.
Considering a school as an employer for the teachers, most of the psychological challenges either for teachers or for students pertain to emotions and anxiety. These non-verbal cues need unique skills and methods to tackle and address and at initial stages as a proactive mechanism. We are not in a situation to imagine a scenario where we see attrition of teachers in a similar proportion and events of school dropouts due to the negligence of mental well-being.
Therefore, it calls for:
- Accepting this emotional ‘Vulnerability’,
- Creating an ‘Understanding’ for each other and the ecosystem,
- All of us coming together for ‘Collaborative’ exercise with experts and within the system, and
- Doing what humans have historically always been best at – ‘Adaptability’, in the face of every adversity
Thereby creating a healthy and transparent environment where the teachers and students can freely speak about their psychological challenges to appropriate authorities – a psychologically safe ecosystem with the intent of finding solutions.
As a practitioner myself, below are few recommendations:
- Invitation by school management and principal, for teachers to participate in designing well-being policies and systems, in partnership with well-being service providers
- This will help in addressing the local pain points by customising the needs of the individual school cultures
- Create a transparent and permeable climate for open conversations around challenges in managing psychological distress – walking the talk
- Proactively recording and addressing instances of signs and observation by teachers of their students through this established well-being machinery
- Including vocabulary, integrating practices and interventions in school curriculum – this will have a double advantage, i.e., it will be an effective strategy to enhance the mental well-being of the current workforce, as well as it will equip today’s students (future workforce) with the skillset for managing well-being in their times of distress
- Working on changing definitions and popular beliefs around most widely misrepresented terms like success, failure, vulnerability, emotions, and the like.
- Appreciating meaningful and bigger picture initiatives taken by teachers and students
We know that we are cognitive misers and implementation of a schooling system with a psychologically safe ambience might sound financially unwanted and time-consuming, the truth is that there is no quick fix to it. It will not only save time and effort in the long run but also create a healthy systemic effect for a well-being economy to function automatically with enhanced belonging to the organisation and finding deeper meaning in education – both for students and teachers – and to the nation.
As I connect the dots backwards, I figure out that this is exactly what Goal Number 3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030 talks about i.e., Target 3.4 “…promote mental health and well-being”
Briefly, implementing a system of a psychologically safe environment in schools – the rise of a new world with ‘V, ‘U’, ‘C’, ‘A’ – a new normal – a flourishing world with ‘Vulnerability’, ‘Understanding’, Collaborative’, ‘Adaptability’ – informed by the Positive Psychology – ‘VUCA-PP’.
- American Psychological Association. Apa dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/cognitive-miser.
- American Psychological Association. Apa dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/positive-psychology.
- Brown Brené. (2019). Dare to lead: Brave work, tough conversations, whole hearts. Random House Large Print Publishing.
- Chuan, W. P. (2021, July 16). Commentary: The coming resignation tsunami – why many may leave their jobs in a pandemic economy. CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/resign-quit-new-job-office-remote-work-employer-hr-covid-19-2052156.
- Edmondson, A. C. (2019). The fearless organization: Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth. John Wiley & Sons.
- Singer, T. & Ricard, M. (2015). Caring economics. Picador.
- WEAll. (2021, March 18). Home. Wellbeing Economy Alliance. https://weall.org/
- What vuca really means for you. Harvard Business Review. (2014, August 1). https://hbr.org/2014/01/what-vuca-really-means-for-you.
- World Health Organization. (n.d.). Mental health. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health#tab=tab_1.