Almost all first-year pre-service teachers at Avondale are living more happily after participating in an experiential wellbeing intervention as part of their course.
From the 127 students enrolled in the mandatory Foundations of Wellbeing unit, 103 participated in the study (74 females, 29 males). Grades were not linked to any outcomes to avoid reporting bias. The unit, offered over a 13-week semester, featured one weekly interactive lecture and individual assignments and incorporated a 10-week educational adventure called The Lift Project.
Authors Drs Jason Hinze and Darren Morton observed significant improvements in the physical health, mental health, spirituality and life satisfaction of the participants, who also reported reductions in symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. Ninety-two per cent reported the intervention having a positive impact on their wellbeing—they felt better prepared to care for themselves and more resilient. The findings are “encouraging,” write Dr Hinze, a senior lecturer in the School of Education, and Dr Morton, lead researcher in the Lifestyle Research Centre, in the most recent issue of the TEACH Journal of Christian Education.
Foundations of Wellbeing explores a variety of strategies to improve wellbeing, all of which are evidence-based, objective and experimental. Using the consolidated theory and practice for wellbeing, the unit shows how the things we know are good for us—such as resting adequately, eating healthily and exercising—are backed up with data, science and experience.
The goal of the unit is to equip future educators to care for and grow their wellbeing to give them the best chance for personal success, as well as giving them the tools they need to be agents of change in the lives of their students.
The pre-service teachers learnt more about wellbeing before beginning The Lift Project. Over the 10 weeks of The Lift Project, they completed small daily and larger weekly challenges, all of which connected to what they had learned during the week.
For example, in the first week, the students were introduced to the emotional brain—the limbic system—and learned more about its basic function and structure. They were challenged to speak positively for the week, offering genuine compliments each day.
Over the following weeks, the students were taught more about moving dynamically, immersing themselves in uplifting physical and spiritual environments, looking to the positive, eating healthily, sleep, de-stressing, serving others and flourishing.
The students reported enjoying the challenging nature of The Lift Project, engaging with the experimental sides of it and enjoying the opportunities to connect with others to share their experiences. The enhanced social interaction complemented the evidence-based and interactive aspects of the unit, making it more meaningful.
Each of the aspects explored in The Lift Project could be applied personally or shared with others.
In providing feedback, one participant said, “When I have my own classroom, I am going to try and adapt and incorporate this information into my lessons. I believe that it is important for young students to know this information when going through school.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a history of advocating for wholistic health—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Avondale, as one of the Church’s tertiary institutions, is mindful of this. Including formal wellbeing education in courses for pre-service teachers in their first year of study reflects the move toward providing wellbeing education for students at schools but emphasises the importance of overall health for teachers on a personal level.
Teachers suffer significant challenges to their wellbeing, with up to 30 per cent being affected by burnout and psychological distress (Milatz, Luftenegger and Schober, 2015), resulting in up to 40 per cent of teachers leaving the profession with less than five years of service (Acton and Glasgow, 2015).
This, according to Drs Hinze and Morton, makes the promotion of teacher wellbeing imperative. “Providing wellbeing education to pre-service teachers may not only better equip them to care for their own wellbeing, but also enable them to be positive agents of change in the school setting,” they write. “All educators should be wellbeing educators.”
Adele Nash is a writer, communicator and Avondale College of Higher Education alumna.