What's this all about?

Wellbeing has emerged as a hot topic across many areas of our social, workplace, and government ecosystems in recent years. While there is currently no agreed international definition for wellbeing, those who research the area agree that wellbeing is more than the absence of disease, it is a construct with many parts. In order to flourish people need to experience high levels of wellbeing.

In this trend key considerations relate to the significant influence that technology pervading every part of our lives, and the impact of exponential change, have on health and wellbeing.

The current New Zealand Government is introducing a tool to measure wellbeing as another way of determining our success as a nation. This way of viewing success is in line with calls from the OECD and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who are encouraging the idea of looking beyond the balance sheet, and locating people and the environment at the heart of policy making.

This focus also offers mental health much needed attention. Our New Zealand statistics, particularly for youth suicides, are shocking as a nation. We also have the second highest rate of workplace bullying in the developed world.

Some of the key findings from the 2016 Wellbeing and mental distress in Aotearoa snapshot were that 4 in 5 adults have personally experienced mental distress (from 15 years up) at some point in their lives and/ or know of someone who has; 15 to 24 years old reported high levels of mental distress and isolation. There is also a rise in anxiety in our young people that is being reported with psychologists not being able to meet the needs of and findings from the 2017 Kei Te Pai? report provides an overview of the state of the Mental Health of 1762 tertiary students studying towards bachelor degrees experiencing high levels of psychological distress.

Connectedness is another important dimension of wellbeing. Current international research indicates that building a more connected society builds population wellbeing and that connectedness can in turn prevent substantial mental distress.

The Youth 2000 survey series which measures key protective and risk factors in home, school / kura, and community settings has established how important it is for young people to feel connected, cared for, that they have opportunities, and feel that they can be safe and free of harm. Health and wellbeing outcomes in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and sexual health have also been measured as part of the series.

It is recognised that student/ākonga wellbeing is linked to learning, and is vital for their success. Support for a focus on students' wellbeing exists in professional frameworks including the Code of Ethics for Registered Teachers and the Practising Teacher Criteria. There is a stronger move by increasing numbers of schools and Kāhui Ako to explore what wellbeing means for their staff and students practically day-to-day.

Wellbeing is a concern of both learners and teachers. The burnout report of principal health and wellbeing 2017 comments that the most serious stressor for school leaders is the “sheer volume of work”. School leaders scored higher on the negative aspects of wellbeing (including burnout and stress) than the general population and less on the positive aspects of wellbeing than the general population. School leaders were also 1.7 times more likely to burn out than the general population. Work to family conflict is 2.1 times more likely than the general population, with female school leaders reporting statistically higher scores than their male counterparts.

What's driving this change?

Several factors are driving this change:

Exponential change 

We are living in an age of change that can be volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). Developing personal strategies and resilience to cope with this change is becoming an essential life skill, and contributes significantly to the notion of wellbeing in individuals. 

Workload issues

A 2017 workplace survey in New Zealand found that the economy lost 1.5 billion $NZ due to sick days, stress, and work-related mental health issues. Speaking in world terms this is perceived as one of the biggest threats to performance in business and health, and human functioning. 

Destigmatising of mental health

While misunderstandings still pervade our culture’s perceptions of mental health, the recent efforts to destigmatise this are helping to create more open and honest discussions around addressing mental health issues as a key aspect of our national wellbeing. 


Wellbeing is being used as a strategy by many employers to boost their workers’ productivity. For example, in-house wellness programmes for employees, diet, exercise and stress management tools are introduced in a bid to retain the workforce and also to be seen as socially responsible and caring.

Resource inequality

Wealth and income inequality have a drastic impact on the kind of society we have and how healthy and connected it is. Many New Zealanders struggle to live decent lives and so do over 400,000 children who live in poverty. Inequality damages societal trust and cohesion, access to health care, and contributions to open politics and the economy.

Environmental action

Environmental action involves caring for the environment we live in, providing clean warm homes for our families, clean transport, creating jobs in renewable energies, and looking after the wellbeing of our ecology and surroundings. The education of our young people in sustainable practices and responding with a long term sustainable vision is key to this.

What examples of this can I see? 

Wellbeing as a national strategy for productivity

New Zealand wants its politics to focus on empathy, kindness and well-being, as explained by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The current government has signalled to ministers they will need to show any new policies will improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders "across generations" if they want funding to implement them.

New Zealand Wellbeing Sovereign Index

This was the first index designed to measure the wellbeing of New Zealanders to provide a snapshot of how individual's fared both personally and socially.

Canadian Index of Wellbeing

Canadians identified a weakness in solely relying on GDP to measure how the country was faring. They developed the Canadian Index of Wellbeing to measure quality of life for the people, environment, democracy, and other aspects of wellbeing that Canadians value.

What is Positive Education?

Positive Education see’s the intertwining of the character, wellbeing science with teaching and learning. As part of the Christchurch rebuild, local stories of schools are emerging through Grow Waitaha, a programme that supports schools through the process of change happening in Canterbury.

Flourishing @ Avonside

This story describes the 2017 implementation of a schoolwide wellbeing programme.

Collaborative inquiry in a secondary school: Part 1

Christchurch Girls High School look at how they can improve student wellbeing by increasing personalised learning and greater student agency through digital technologies.

Hagley College - Wellbeing and Learning

Halswell School - Play based learning

What is positive education?

In Australia, Geelong Grammar School shares their journey of using the science of positive psychology with best practice teaching. The site includes a range of positive education film clips, framework models, and key concepts which are downloadable. 

Wellbeing for success - a resource for schools

Developed by the Education Review Office, Wellbeing for Success: A resource for schools has been developed to help schools evaluate and improve student wellbeing. It highlights the importance of schools promoting the wellbeing of all students as well as the need for systems, people and initiatives to respond to wellbeing concerns for students who need additional support. 

Wellbeing and Deep Learning: What we Know

report from the global New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL), a global collaboration involving 40 New Zealand schools, identifies links between wellbeing and deep learning. The researchers identified three themes required: students need to feel safe, they need to feel significant, and they need to feel a sense of purpose.

Educators’ Wellbeing Toolkit

The Educators’ Wellbeing Toolkit assists individuals to proactively manage their own wellbeing and provides strategies for professional communities to better understand and support each other. Highly flexible delivery ensures the Wellbeing Toolkit can be undertaken with minimal impact to existing staff responsibilities.

He Kākano - Live to Learn

This is a co-design framework to create learning environments that meet the needs and aspirations of Māori. It seeks to create a blueprint for change for a national education system that improves hauora Māori. He Kakano is also facilitating the re-design of curriculum and pedagogy, including alignment with current Māori-specific NZQA national standards.

The flagship has been developed in partnership between Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura, Manurewa High School and Toi Tangata.

All Right?

All Right? is a Healthy Christchurch initiative led by the Canterbury District Health Board and the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. The aim of the initiative is to help Cantabrians live brighter.

How might we respond?

Promoting the understanding of wellbeing
  • What does wellbeing look like and feel like?
  • Moving wellbeing beyond the idea of pastoral care
  • Having shared understandings of what mental health and mental wellbeing is
Taking responsibility personally
  • What areas of personal wellbeing do you need to work on? For example, do you need to make sure you get 8 hours sleep, eat well, get adequate exercise, move from reflecting on work to reflecting on yourself?
  • How do you choose to manage your energy throughout the day? 
  • How do you choose to experience moments in your day where you can really connect with someone? 
  • How do you find time in your day where you can receive feedback and positive feedback?
Responsibility with and for others
  • How might you create the space to connect with others, to cultivate relationships and get to know each other?
Improve systems support for school leaders
  • How might boards of trustees look after their school leaders and other staff? 
  • With the review of Tomorrow's Schools what could governance look like in terms of change to minimise the impact on leaders? 
  • What might more regular coaching or mentoring support look like for leaders?
Improved professional support for staff
  • How might workload be better distributed in your context? ie staff meetings, shared planning, and access to the resources?
  • What might employee’s job security look like?
  • What might more regular mentoring support look like for staff?
  • How might we support staff to better deal with the emotional demands in their work? 
  • How might we support our teachers to deal with the highs and lows of their students and parents?
  • What professional learning opportunities might you consider to ensure all staff are adequately informed and supported? (consider the CORE Wellbeing Toolkit here)