5 ingredients for student well being

5 Ingredients For Student Well Being: Help Students Be Healthy

Dive into Dr. Brian Smith's transformative approach to student well-being, exploring evidence-based strategies that promise to enhance academic performance, behavior, and overall student health.

In a world where the mental health of our youth is becoming an increasingly pressing concern, Dr. Brian Smith's podcast couldn't come at a more critical time. His enlightening discussion on ‘The Recipe for Student Well-Being' offers a beacon of hope, laying out a clear, actionable plan for schools eager to make a positive impact on their students' lives. But what exactly are these five essential ingredients for nurturing student well-being? From empowering educators with well-being skills to fostering safe and positive learning environments, enhancing positive relationships, providing direct instruction on well-being competencies, and implementing assessment for continuous improvement, Dr. Smith's formula is both comprehensive and compelling.

As we peel back the layers of his approach, it's evident that supporting student well-being goes beyond mere academic achievement. It's about creating a holistic environment where students can thrive, emotionally, socially, and intellectually. Join us as we dive into each of these ingredients, illustrated with real-life examples and practical ideas from Dr. Smith's podcast, to inspire and motivate educators, parents, and policymakers alike to champion the cause of student health and happiness.

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    This week's guest

    Dr. Brian SmithDr. Smith spent a decade working in schools as a counselor, social worker and high school drug counselor. He has been developing Social Emotional Learning programs for 15 years, has delivered training to educators, written research articles and book chapters, and is the lead author on the just published book The Recipe for Student Wellbeing

    Show Notes


    Podcasts Referenced in this Show


    Spot a mistake in this transcript? Help this teacher out and shoot an email to vicki at coolcatteacher dot com. Thank you for being helpful! – Vicki


    Vicki Davis (00:04)

    Today we're talking with Dr. Brian Smith. He spent a decade working in the schools as a counselor, social worker, and a high school drug counselor. He is the lead author on a new book called The Recipe for Student Well -being. Brian, what an important topic. I mean, this generation has been called the loneliest generation. The statistics on them in terms of their…

    relationships with other people and just how they feel about themselves is pretty scary, isn't it?

    brian (00:39)

    Absolutely. I mean, things were not great before the pandemic, but what people went through during that time, the amount of isolation that kids experienced really only made their challenges that much worse. And everybody knows that the last couple of years in education have been a huge challenge for everyone. And I think that we know that there is a mental health crisis and a wellbeing crisis amongst our kids.

    Vicki Davis (01:03)

    So we want to talk about your book, The Recipe for Student Well -Being. You have five ingredients. Do you want to start with the first one?

    brian (01:13)


    so just big picture. The question we were trying to answer, and I have two wonderful colleagues on this book, some co -authors. The question we were trying to answer is, what do we know from a science, from a research -based perspective, about how schools can effectively support student development in ways that result in better academic achievement, better behavior at school, and better well -being amongst kids, as well as more success in the future?

    So we combed through the research and we boiled it down to five ingredients. We call it a recipe because any one of these things is valuable or tasty in and of itself, but really it's the combination that ultimately has the most power. So.

    Vicki Davis (01:58)

    And we know that classroom culture, I mean, how kids relate to each other, how they feel about themselves is even part of classroom culture. We know that is such an important part of learning. So where do we start?

    brian (02:10)

    Yeah, absolutely. I mean, schools are a developmental context for kids, whether we like it or not. This is about how do we make it the most healthy, positive, supportive context as possible. And that has so much to do with classroom culture, you're right.

    So where we're starting in this book is the first ingredient is really well -being skills for teachers. And that comes from two places. One is that we know teaching is…

    literally tied in most surveys with nursing as the most stressful occupation we've got. It's incredibly difficult to be a teacher and you need to be able to maintain and support and build your own well -being in order to be there for yourself and for your kids. And at the same time, if you're going to support positive development for your students, it's helpful to understand some of what goes into that and some of what's behind that. So,

    So a lot of what we're talking about in the chapter on adult wellbeing is really a lot of skills and competencies that are just developmentally different versions of what we're teaching students in direct instruction, which is another one of the ingredients. So that's our first ingredient is adult wellbeing skills.

    Vicki Davis (03:18)


    So during the pandemic, I had a psychologist expert on this topic who talked about this very thing and the compassion fatigue that educators can get. And, you know, compassion fatigue is still an issue for us. And so if we want to, I guess you're saying is that if we want to help students be healthy and have a good wellbeing, that we should start from a place of wellbeing ourselves.

    brian (03:46)

    Well, it's a little bit like being on an airline and they say that if there's a challenge, the first thing you do is put your own mask on first, right? So our kids are only going to be as healthy and as well as the people that are supporting their development. And there's even good research that shows that teacher stress levels actually resonate out through their classrooms and result in more stressed kids. So it's important in a lot of different ways, but also,

    Vicki Davis (04:10)


    brian (04:14)

    You know, we have to support our educators and their well -being because it's an incredibly difficult job.

    Vicki Davis (04:20)

    So I know this is a 10 minute teacher, but I have to just ask you one more question. What kind of pushback did you get from educators when you speak at conferences, when you bring up teacher wellbeing? you know, some, I have been in situations, not of my own making, where I had just been given so many duties. I remember one year I had seven classes. There were days I had lunch duty and break duty. And I literally was working from 8 .05 to

    305 every day. And if you talk to me about teacher well -being at that point, you might've gotten an angry response from me.

    brian (04:58)

    Yeah, I'm so glad you brought that up, Vicki, because we certainly don't want the message to be that teachers just need to self -care their way out of all the stress that they have in their jobs. The reality, and we talk about this in the book, is that it's primarily up to administrators to focus on things like workload and initiative overload and a lot of the well -being factors at the school and staff level. That's really where a lot of this comes from. But at the same time, there are

    Vicki Davis (05:07)



    Mm -hmm.

    brian (05:28)

    ways that teachers can take better care of themselves as well as learn some skills that they can then support the development of in their students.

    Vicki Davis (05:31)

    Mm -hmm.

    as well as even just setting boundaries.

    I you know, I'm not going to reply to student emails after a certain time or staff emails after a certain time. And I'm not going to reply at 5 a .m. either. So those those kinds of things help and are very important. OK, that's our first ingredient. What's our second?

    brian (05:38)

    For sure.

    So again, this is in part a developmental process or focus. So safe, predictable, and positive environments is the second ingredient. And this is in the classroom, in the school, in the lunchroom, at recess. And we talk about a variety of ways to take action to make the school more of a safe, positive, reliable, predictable place. And this is one of the areas that we also get a little bit into trauma -informed practice because the reality is that's the kind of environment that

    everybody does best in, but it's particularly the kind of environment that kids who are struggling with difficulties or have had ACEs and other adverse childhood experiences, when they come to school, if they can come to school in a calm, safe environment where there's no surprises and they feel supported, it helps their brain function in a more normal way and it helps them be able to actually learn as well as grow and develop. So this is valuable for a lot of different reasons.

    Vicki Davis (06:52)

    And this is so important. This literally happened in my classroom today. I was teaching the history of computing and I talked about when I was first on the TRS -80 a long time ago, the 70s, those who listen, and I had typed something .exe. And when I got done, I had a student come up to me and say, you don't know what .exe does to me. And I'm like, what? She said, well, when she was young, that was when people were downloading games off the internet.

    and somebody in her family had downloaded a bunch of EXE files, executable files with jump scares in them. And that she had gotten traumatized as a child. And so when she saw EXE, she immediately had this upset response and she wanted to explain that to me. That is so random. I have never heard of that in my entire life, but because she felt comfortable talking to me about that.

    brian (07:27)



    Vicki Davis (07:49)

    I can be sensitive and understand that that, I guess, nuance about her, you know, and it was very real to her from the conversation. I know that sounds odd, but isn't part of this also being sensitive and understanding that we don't know what students have been through and they need to sometimes communicate that to us?

    brian (08:11)

    Absolutely, and that's a great tee up for the next ingredient, our third ingredient, which is positive relationships. And that includes positive relationships between students, but also in particular, it has a lot of content around and a lot of focus on positive teacher -student relationships because there is a ton of research showing that that is one of the things that really makes a difference in both student academic performance, but also student wellbeing at school. And…

    Your story is a perfect example of how if you have that relationship, it opens the door for you to learn things about a student that might be really helpful. And her being able to share that probably did her a lot of good. And it was only because of the relationship you'd cultivated that she had the opportunity to do that. So we have a model developed by my colleague and co -author, Clay Cook.

    called Establish, Maintain, Restore that walks you through the process with some very specific strategies for each step. So you have to establish a relationship before anything else, but once you make a connection, you've got to maintain that. Relationships that you build with students don't just last forever because you haven't done anything just like any of your other friends. You have to kind of keep it alive and feed it a little bit. And then inevitably,

    you're going to run into conflicts, you're going to have challenges that disrupt the relationship. So there's specific strategies that we provide around how to restore a relationship back to the point where you have a positive connection. So this is something that's super important. And I think that every student benefits and…

    It's hard for us to know who needs it the most. And so, you know, we actually have a system where you go through your class roster and you label each one of your students. Which phase are you at? Have you created a relationship with them or do you need to enter the established phase? Do you have one, but you need to keep it going and do some little things or actually have you run into a bump in the road with them and you need to put it back together so that you can continue to be supportive and have that connection. So I think that's a,

    That's a critically important ingredient. Your example really tees it up.

    Vicki Davis (10:26)

    And you know, that's something I learned from my mom when she mentored me about teaching. And I always say you have to relate to educate, which is just so true. Okay, what's our fourth, Brian?

    brian (10:37)

    We wanna talk in this recipe, we wanna talk about the ingredient of directly teaching kids about how to build their own competencies, their own well -being competencies. Oftentimes, this is through curricula that fall under the banner of social -emotional learning. I know that's gotten a little controversial, but I think that you can look at the content of programs, you can see if somebody has stepped over the line or not, but…

    There's a lot of research showing that if you use a good, well -designed, well -put -together, and tested curricula, it makes it possible for you to engage in skill -building instruction across the year with your students. And ideally, year after year, the programs kind of build on each other. So there is a role, we think, for direct.

    Instruction and direct support of skills for students. Of course, what that actually means varies a huge amount between kindergarten and high school. You have to look at it from a developmental perspective. But fourth ingredient is basically direct instruction.

    Vicki Davis (11:48)

    And the selection of how you're going to do that and how you talk, even many years ago, I went through some courses on the Olweus intervention method for dealing with bullying, been through several other things throughout my career as a teacher. And one thing that they teach is that it helps if a school has a common vocabulary. And that's one thing you get when you agree, okay,

    this is how we're going to talk about these particular things because you don't have the math teacher talking about it this way and the English teacher talking about it that way and the principal talking about it another way. You have a consistent vocabulary which can produce, which can send a consistent message to students about, okay, this is how we're going to treat each other and this is how you can build positive relationships with others and this is how you can reconcile a relationship. So it does make a lot of sense and we have to be

    not to, we get so on the buzzword bandwagon, right? The buzzword comes in, the buzzword goes out. This isn't about buzzwords, this is about children and helping them to relate to the world around them and doing it in the right way. So there are some tools that are out there that can be used for kids and you have to just choose the right ones that won't get you in the political hot water, I guess. So.

    brian (13:13)

    I think your point is a great one, which is that one of the advantages of everybody consistently doing the same program is that you do in fact get those common language tools because kids don't go from being exposed to something in a lesson to just becoming competent at it without practice. And the way they get practice is they need reminders. And in particular, they need, especially when they're younger,

    Vicki Davis (13:34)

    Mm -hmm.

    brian (13:41)

    They need reminders about how to use which skill in which situation. And so if you have a program that has consistent language that all the staff can learn, then all the staff can engage in this supportive queuing instead of, you know, everybody telling kids something different. So yeah, that's exactly right.

    Vicki Davis (13:58)

    Yeah. Okay, what's our fifth?

    brian (14:02)

    Finally is assessment, this is a data point. This one's a little tricky, but the idea is it's good to know how your kids are doing. It's good to know what the impact of any initiatives that you're using are and how things are changing over time. So there's easier and there's harder ways to do this, but it's important to try to do kind of a database decision making process where you're trying stuff out, you're seeing how it's working.

    and then you're improving from there. It's kind of a tool for continuous improvement process, if you will.

    Vicki Davis (14:35)

    You know, and there's evaluating the tool, but there's also, I always survey my kids when we come back from a long break or at the beginning of a semester, but in particular a long break. And I'll say, you know, just a quick Google form, you know, how happy are you today compared to last week or whatever and why to try to understand, you know, like, is there anything big that's going on that I need to know about as I build that relationship with that student? And very often,

    brian (15:02)


    Vicki Davis (15:05)

    I'll find out things that I really did need to know to help that child. So, yeah, so, but you're really talking assessing the program, which anything we do, we want to assess and be able to evaluate.

    brian (15:16)

    Well, or assessing how your kids are doing and whether the initiatives that you're engaging in around supporting well -being, what kind of effects they're having? Are you seeing improvements? Are you seeing kids feeling more connected and a greater sense of belonging at school? We know that's one of the most powerful things kids can experience for both academic and also personal development. So that's something that's not hard to measure and several of these ingredients all move in that direction. So I think it's a matter of…

    Vicki Davis (15:37)

    It's great. Excellent.

    brian (15:44)

    You know, you have goals, you have strategies, and then you want to check and see how we're doing. Can we fine tune this in some way?

    Vicki Davis (15:49)

    Yeah. Well, student wellbeing is so very important and let's finish up Brian with a one minute elevator pitch to all the educators listening to this podcast, just encouraging them about improving student wellbeing.

    brian (16:06)

    You know, we have a youth mental health crisis and I think that it's attempting to think that the answer is more psychotherapy and more treatment. But for most kids, that's probably not where they're at. And I think that we need to realize that wellbeing is on a continuum and you can support the wellbeing of students. You can support how well they're able to thrive and positive experiences they might be having, regardless of whatever challenges they have. And since…

    at a school level, we're mostly dealing with large numbers of kids and a kind of a universal approach. What we're saying in this book is that supporting student wellbeing in all the evidence -based ways that we've identified is actually an important way to get at supporting student mental

    Vicki Davis (16:53)

    Excellent. Okay. Dr. Brian Smith, the name of the book is the recipe for student wellbeing. Thanks for being on the show.

    brian (17:02)

    Thank you so much,

    Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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    Vicki Davis

    Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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