Schools that work purposefully toward enhancing the mental, social, emotional and physical health of both their staff and students frequently report the results that principals want to hear:
• higher academic achievement from students
• increased staff satisfaction and decreased staff turnover
• greater efficiency
• the development of a positive school and ultimately
• the development of a school-community culture that promotes and enhances student growth
ASCD in the United States have undertaken a research project over three years to establish effective health programs in schools. Whilst I am particularly interested in the impact of staff morale their research looks at the close links between the health issues of students and their academic achievement.
I have long believed that closer ties between health and family services would be beneficial in some schools, especially in the 0 to 5 age group. If this is an area that is relevant to your school community the report from the ASCD will be worth reading.
A successful, sustainable coordinated school health program requires high-quality planning and implementation. However achieving that degree of support is difficult when school health is seen not as a systematic approach to addressing school improvement, but as a separate initiative. If seen separately a health initiative is at risk of being rolled back or tends to become the project of an individual staff member, which make them unsustainable if the staff member leaves.
What is required is a change in how we view health and education; a change in how the two operate, align, and integrate in the school and community setting.
One of the biggest changes must be in how education views health. The conversation needs to be directed not toward health professionals but toward education professionals. We must identify and define the education benefits of healthy students; healthy staff; and a healthy, effective school—for education’s sake.
This does not mean that the onus of health and well-being should be transferred from health to education in the school context. Health and education should work in tandem.
The ASCD team of evaluators found a series of nine levers that catalyzed significant change in the culture of the schools. Although all nine levers are crucial, several levers were determined to be pivotal.
The most important was the first: the principal as leader. The evaluation team deemed the role of the principal the most critical piece of the process in implementing meaningful school change and school improvement. Without principal leadership, which is distinct from principal support, the process was likely to stagnate; with principal leadership, it thrived.
Would better health intervention at age 0 to 5 in your area mean better learning outcomes in schools?