Greater wellness through purposeful and consistent action

Mike Kuczala

It appears not a day goes by that doesn’t present another headline, article, social media post, or blog describing the tremendous stress and daily pressures of being in the classroom. These are often accompanied by the astonishing numbers of teachers who are leaving the profession. LinkedIn recently reported that, in November 2021, K-12 teachers’ separation rates surged to 66% above the levels reported 12 months earlier. There is also a decline in students choosing to become teachers. Those statistics, already dire before the pandemic, are now downright shocking. 

I am no longer in the classroom, but education has always been my life. I come from a family of teachers and coaches—wife, sister, both parents, three grandparents, an aunt, and a cousin. It’s just what we do in my family. I’m currently the Academic Director for an educational consulting firm. I’ve made a post-classroom life of designing graduate-level education coursework, writing books, and providing professional development, which allows me to be in contact with teachers daily. Education is hurting. I feel that pain as my own and desire to help in any way I can. 

What I can’t do here is solve the very specific issues that teachers face—less pandemic-related classroom support from paraprofessionals and parents, the balance between in-person and virtual teaching, students who have fallen behind, frequently changing guidance and decision-making, lack of substitute teachers, the politicization of K-12 education, and much more. These issues are evolving almost daily. 

What I can do is offer some food for thought about how you can elevate your own life to prioritize your most prized possession: you. By doing so, you give both you and your students a great gift: feeling your best when you meet them each and every day. 

The term “self-care” gets thrown around a lot these days. Honestly, when I was a young teacher, I would get frustrated when I heard direction to “take care of yourself” and move heaven and earth to ensure student success. What did not accompany this advice was any direction on exactly how to balance this directive. 

I’m advising you to act in a very selfish way in order to be the very best you can be—and not just in July. It will naturally pay many dividends for your students and career. 

The 5 habits I’m proposing can be accomplished quickly and simply, and you might choose just one habit to begin with. Before you do, I suggest you locate the most powerful tool you have in your possession to make this happen: a mirror. In it, you will find your greatest advocate for change, achievement, and living the best life possible. 

As you embark on this journey, remember that we are pain/pleasure creatures. We are constantly weighing the pain and pleasure of every decision we make. A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (Hardisty & Weber, 2020) essentially showed that we want to have pleasurable things as soon as possible and delay bad things as long as possible. For many, the pain of continuing in the education profession has clearly outweighed the pleasure of following their passion. Whether you decide to be physical, meditate, create a morning routine, or practice gratitude, these are all pain/pleasure decisions. The creation of a new habit can be difficult. Sometimes the pleasure of procrastinating far outweighs the pain of habit creation. But you need to understand that, when it comes to self-care, if you don’t take action immediately, it will be a cause of immense pain down the road. It could even cost you your life or take years off it. 

It many societies and cultures around the world it can be difficult to remain healthy. Between chronic stress, the availability of food that we can hardly call “food,” more screen time and becoming more sedentary, the deck is stacked against us. Make no mistake: you can beat the odds. It’s about putting yourself at the top of your to-do list. 

These strategies are probably familiar, but you are not implementing them on a regular basis. Consider this blog a reminder. These 5 habits won’t take much of your time, but they could be the first steps in being more consistent with self-care. 

Check in with your body. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed, check what you’re doing with your body, which usually reflects how we’re feeling. I like to say “our body will never betray our brain.” If you’re feeling, terrible you are most likely not in motion. It is also likely that your posture and facial expression represent what you’re feeling. Move immediately! Change your physical position. If you can only pull your shoulders back and put a smile on your face because you’re not able to be physically active, do it! Your physiology can change your psychology. By doing this, you are managing your own emotional state, which can instantly make you feel better. Turning to exercise can also help. Just eleven minutes of physical activity a day can boost your life expectancy (Ekelund et al., 2020) and counter the effects of sitting. 

Identify your fear. I often remind myself of this quote from Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” It is you, and only you, who creates the meaning around any situation through your beliefs, previous experiences, filters, lenses, and personal history. That “thing” that is creating great stress in your brain can be reframed. Cognitive reframing can help minimize anxiety and depression and enhance quality of life (Shambhaw, Rumas, & Best, 2021). What belies most stress is fear. The key then becomes labeling the fear and moving past it. The next time you’re feeling burdened with stress, try this simple but effective process:  

Answer the following questions: Is the fear realistic? This helps to reframe and create perspective. What is the worst possible thing that could happen? This also helps create perspective. How can I move past this? This creates action. 

Practice gratitude. From enhanced well-being and deeper relationships to improved optimism and increased happiness, gratitude can improve both our physical and mental health (Ackerman, C. 2022). In the face of stress, feeling sad, or feeling anxious, being grateful can instantly change your mindset and defuse a situation. It also changes your perspective regarding what’s bothering you. Look for things to be grateful for. The more you feel thankful throughout the day the more moments of joy you can feel. If you’re up for writing in a gratitude journal each day or even once a week, the process of “gratitude mining” can be a significant help. 

Create a morning routine. Research shows that coming to work in a bad mood can negatively impact your work (Rothard & Wilk, 2011). Mood affects performance. Start your morning in a positive way. Creating a reliable morning routine can help transform your day. For now, think about what gives you joy or contentment and takes less than 15 minutes. Next, set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than normal and do it. Trust me—it works! 

Meditate on your “why.” Begin to think about your personal mission. What excites you? What do you value? How do you want to be remembered personally and professionally? My hope is that you will explore writing a personal mission statement. It provides a values-based statement in which to compare all future decisions and actions, which can be stress relieving itself. It can also help put you in the right state of mind as you begin each day in front of your students. 

Good luck! Hopefully these steps will provide you with the momentum to create greater wellness through purposeful and consistent action. If you’re interested in learning more, please consider my new Corwin publication: The Peak Performing Teacher: 5 Habits for Success. 

A more concise version of this blog was originally published at Corwin Connect and can be seen here: 



Mike Kuczala has delivered keynotes, given presentations, facilitated professional development and taught graduate courses on 4 continents. His presentations, courses, books and videos have reached more than 100,000 teachers, trainers, corporate executives and parents. He is also the coauthor of the Corwin Bestseller The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning through Movement, a book and philosophy that has changed the view of teaching and learning around the world. Mike’s 2nd book, Training in Motion: How to Use Movement to Create an Engaging and Effective Learning Environment, was released in 2015 (AMACOM) and Ready, Set, Go! The Kinesthetic Classroom 2.0 (Corwin) was released in the summer of 2017.

His 4th book, The Peak Performing Teacher: 5 Habits for Success (Corwin) was released in February. President of Kuczala Consulting and Academic Director for the Regional Training Center, Mike’s SRO presentations have been experienced in such diverse settings as The Educational Collaborative for International Schools, The East Asia Regional Council of Schools, The Francis Marion University Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children of Poverty Summer Institute, The American Society for Training and Development, The Forum for Innovative Leadership, The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and the Society for Health and Physical Educators. For more information, please visit or



Ackerman, C. (2022). What is gratitude and why is it so important? 


Ekelund U, Tarp J, Fagerland MW, et al. Joint associations of accelero-meter measured physical activity and sedentary time with all-cause mortality: a harmonised meta-analysis in more than 44 000 middle-aged and older individuals. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2020 Dec;54(24):1499-1506. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-103270. PMID: 33239356; PMCID: PMC7719907. 


Hardisty, D., & Weber, E. (2020). Impatience and savoring vs. dread: Asymmetries in anticipation explain consumer time preferences for positive vs. negative events. Journal of Consumer Psychology. 


Rothbard, N., & Wilk, S. (2011). Waking up on the right side of the bed: Start-of-workday mood, work events, employee affect, and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 54(5), 969–980. 


Shambhaw, A. L., Rumas, R. L., & Best, M. W. (2021). Coping during the COVID-19 pandemic: Relations with mental health and quality of life. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 62(1), 92-100. 

Whole-School Physical Activity Programmes: A Culture of Well-Being

Dr. Aaron Beighle
Physical Educator, Professor, Author
University of Kentucky


School-based physical activity programmes offer a great foundation for building a culture of well-being. Much has been written about the importance of a wellness in schools, including its role in addressing physical, mental, emotional, and environmental health (WHO & UNESCO, 2021). Similarly, the evidence continues to mount regarding the impact of whole-school physical activity programmes on physical, mental, emotional and social health of the entire school community including students, faculty, parents, and stakeholders (Brusseau, Fairclough, and Lubans, 2020). It follows that whole-school physical activity programmes offer an ideal foundation to develop or solidify well-being in schools.


To best understand how physical activity serves as the foundation for well-being, it is important to quickly review the benefits of physical activity. The physical benefits of regular physical activity are well documented and established (USDHHS, 2018). These benefits include decreased chance of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and increased life expectancy. Physical activity can also provide social benefits such as personal growth, social integration, social change, leadership development, and empathy. The emotional benefits are less known but equally well documented. These include decreased anxiety, decreased depression, and lower levels of stress. In recent years, the cognitive benefits such as executive function, memory, focus, and problem solving.


Further, physical activity behaviours and experiences by nature offer endless authentic opportunities for conceptual learning. These concepts include relationship building, creativity, systems, and connections. For example, an afterschool adventure programmes offers an excellent opportunity to expose students to ecological systems while engaging in physical activity. Physical education lessons offer ample opportunities to address Social Emotional Learning. A simple task like finding a partner offers the chance to teach social awareness, respect, and empathy for others. Opportunities for teaching other concepts such as equity, diversity, inclusiveness, challenge, responsibility, and social skills present themselves regularly during physical activity. For all of these reasons it follows that “School-based physical activity programmess offer a great foundation for building a culture of well-being”.


Imagine the following scenario. It’s 7 am at The Berwin School. In the auxiliary gymnasium several faculty are engaged in an early morning beginners yoga class. Across the school, a group of students and faculty are learning traditional South American dances during a before-school multicultural activities programmes. The traditional school day starts with teachers greeting students and then leading groups in a five-minute “warm-up” for the day including stretching and movement in classrooms. During class time all students are afforded the opportunity to self-select breaks, including physical activity breaks, when they feel they are needed. Students learn to identify their personal signs of losing concentration or increased fidgetiness early in the year. Also, during the day some teachers use physical activity to teach concepts as needed. Recess is offered PreK-12. This is a time students select their own activities and often faculty engage with the students.


Early in the year, the physical education curriculum exposes students to the various activities possible during recess. This includes student governed “leagues” for non-traditional activities. Also at recess, a local company allows employees to serve as mentors and recess supervisors for students. Following the school-day the school is bustling with afterschool programmes including an adventure education/environmental education session for faculty and students lead by a local recreation organisation and an internal youth sports league for middle school students who do not wish to engage in competitive athletics.


Later in the evening, a year 3 literacy night is held with stations throughout the school. In the gymnasium, students guide their parents through that week’s physical education stations. Each station has instructional signs specifically designed in collaboration between the physical educators and the year 3 teachers to ensure alignment with classroom content related to literacy. Simultaneously, the high school basketball teams have their season opener in the high school gymnasium. And at 8 pm another physically active day at The Berwin School comes to a close. As this quick example demonstrates, the possibilities are truly endless with so many offerings to meet the needs of the entire community.


Globally, the role of schools in promoting physical activity and well-being are beginning to be recognised. Programmes in Bulgaria (BG Be Active), Ireland (Active School Flag), and the USA (CSPAP), to name a few, are working to develop this culture in schools. While the exact components of these programmes differ, in general these programs seek to provide a multi-faceted systematic approach to promoting physical activity. Components include physical education, school-day physical activity, out of school physical activity, staff involvement, and family/community engagement (CDC, 2019). Clearly these components are not new; however, a whole-school approach to physical activity is new in that it works to take these components from silos to a system designed to promote physical activity and whole-school well-being. While beyond the scope of this post to discuss the volumes of work associated with the components of whole-school approaches, below offers brief overviews of the components.


Physical Education: Physical education guides students on a journey of making physical activity an meaningful part of their lives (Pangrazi and Beighle, 2020). This includes learning psychomotor skills and strategies as traditionally thought of as physical education. But also, students learn about themselves. They learn what activities they enjoy, why they enjoy those activities, and how they can use activity to contribute to well-being. In addition, every lesson in physical education offers authentic learning experiences related to Social Emotional Learning, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice to name a few.


During School Physical Activity:  Recess is the portion of the day in which students select the activities they engage in usually on a playground, field or gymnasium. However, recess also offers an excellent opportunity for students to apply other concepts such as justice and empathy while engaged in activity. Classroom-based activity involves either engaging in physical activities designed to teach content through movement or providing physical activity breaks as a means of allow students to refocus. As mentioned in the above scenario this can be teacher lead or student selected and can take place in the classroom or in sensory rooms/hallways.


Out of School activity: As the name suggests this includes any activity outside of the school day. They key here is that the school is the central “hub” of the movement experiences. Examples includes after-school enrichment programmes, youth sports, clubs, leagues, and interscholastic sports.


Staff Engagement: Staff burn-out and well-being is central to whole-school well-being efforts. Thus providing staff what they want to improve well-being is essential. This approach also fosters staff engagement and increases sustainability. This can include staff classes, activity sessions, social events, or simple RAKE (Random Act of Kindness for Educators) throughout the year.


Family/Community Involvement: In many schools the families are the community. In other schools, local businesses and organizations are also involved. Regardless, this is an essential component of a well-rounded culture of well-being, particularly as it relates to physical activity. Family nights, family classes, open gyms, and open playground dates are just a few ways to incorporate families and communities in these well-being efforts.


School-based physical activity programmes offer a great foundation for building a culture of well-being. The possibilities for using physical activity as a tool for promoting well-being for everyone in a school community are endless. The beauty of this approach is that it can be tailored to the needs of each specific school, its students, its faculty, its families, and its community in their efforts to promote well-being for all.



World Health Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; 2021. Making every school a health-promoting school: global standards and indicators for health-promoting schools and systems. Authors. Geneva.

Brusseau, T., Fairclough, S., and Lubans, D. (2020). The Routledge Handbook of Youth Physical Activity. Taylor & Francis. New York.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (2018) 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Authors. Washington, DC.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Increasing physical education and physical activity: A framework for schools. Authors. Atlanta.

Pangrazi, R. & Beighle, A. (2020). Dynamic physical education for elementary school children (19e). Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.





Dr. Aaron Beighle is an internationally recognised scholar of physical education and school-based physical activity promotion at the University of Kentucky. Beighle regularly collaborates with schools and organizations interested in physical education as well as youth physical activity promotion. He has written more than 100 research-based and practical articles as well as six books, most notably Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children. Aaron recently contributed to make the widely used lessons plans for this book available via Dr. Beighle presents internationally on strategies for maximising the impact of physical education and other school-based physical activity promotion efforts.

Touch in International Primary Schools: A Practical Approach with a Cultural Lens

Touch in International Primary Schools: A Practical Approach with a Cultural Lens
Dallin Bywater, International School Counselor


An international school community breeds a complex system of influences on touch behavior, where each culture has its own unspoken rules about appropriate touch.  There is a spectrum of high and low contact cultures (Dibiase and Gunnoe, 2004), as well as high and low context cultures (Meyer, 2014) that often coexist in a single school.  Although complicated, it is both possible and necessary to develop touch guidelines and policies in international schools.


Touch between teachers and students has been a feverishly debated topic for years (Johansson, Aberg, and Hedlin, 2021).  Researchers have written extensively about touch in the early years context (Blackwell, 2000).  A robust amount of research indicates the emotional, physical, intellectual, and social benefits of touch (Owen and Gillentine, 2010).  For example, touch can decrease aggressive behavior (Diego et al, 2002), can promote positive behavior and social interactions (Dobson et all, 2002), and even encourage cognitive development (Hart et al., 1998).  However, there is a notable lack of research about the effects of touch in an international school community where touch is interpreted from many cultural viewpoints, and community members have a wide range of expectations about appropriate teacher behavior.


In place of this research void, some schools around the world have adopted “no-touch” policies in efforts to protect employees from accusations of abuse.  Some schools have left the issue up to teachers without giving guidelines, in a nebulous ignorance that renders teachers and students vulnerable.  Other school communities have embraced touch and even encouraged it during school in many forms.


Whatever school policies exist, many teachers believe or are aware of the research that indicates appropriate touch is positive for child development (Johansson, Aberg, and Hedlin, 2021).  Nonetheless, a significant number of educators, especially male teachers, are apprehensive about touching in school (Clyde, 1994; Piper, 2014).  Following a number of high-profile cases in the media, many educators are fearful of abuse allegations.  Fear of touch creates a significant chasm between research and practice.  An international school with teachers from various cultures will have some teachers who are afraid to touch students, and others who are oblivious to the risks because of their cultural or educational history.  The ambivalence, discomfort, or unawareness that many educators have could be alleviated by a clear understanding of the community culture in addition to explicit school expectations and guidelines.  With such diverse teacher backgrounds, and due to the ease by which misunderstandings can occur, school leaders cannot afford to be unclear or neglect to have guidelines and policies about touch.


Depending on local regulations and the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in the area, many schools may have no choice but to return to temporary “no-touch” policies in efforts to limit transmission of the virus.  In this case, teachers and educators must find other ways to appropriately express their support and affection for students.  Alternatively, this may be an optimal time to reevaluate touch culture at school, and thus the following recommendations are provided to assist international schools which are reviewing guidelines or entering a phase where touch would not put students or teachers at risk for infection.


Developing Guidelines by Starting with Questions

School leaders can concurrently avoid the paranoia of “no-touch” policies and the danger of nonexistent guidelines by finding a middle ground where children are safeguarded and teachers supported with clear boundaries of touch in school.


For School Leaders

School leaders must assess touch culture from multiple lenses: a community lens, teacher lens, and student lens.  The following meta-questions should be considered:

What is the host culture?

What are common touch behaviors in the host culture?

What is the cultural makeup of the school?

What are accepted touch behaviors in the cultures represented at the school?

Are there any host-country laws about touch in schools?

What has been the culture of touch at the school in the past?  Have there been issues with it?

Are there already some written school guidelines for educator-student touch?  Is the focal point student wellbeing or avoiding allegations?

Is the community aware of these guidelines?  Are all staff aware of these guidelines?

Do you model appropriate touch behavior for the school community?


For Teachers and Staff

It is essential as part of the development of appropriate touch culture in school teachers and staff are involved and trained regularly.  Teacher turnover can be frequent, and they may come from diverse cultural environments and training.  From an individual teacher perspective, the following concepts should be explored:


Before the School Year Begins

What is your personal culture, and how is touch between adults and children viewed in that culture?

What is your personal experience with touch?

What are your beliefs about touch in school?

Do you know the policies and guidelines regarding touch at school?

Do your touch behaviors differ depending on the gender or culture of a child in the class?

What are your school touch behaviors, and are these done for the benefit of the student in mind?

How do you protect yourself from allegations and misunderstandings?

How can you mold your touch behaviors to fit the school cultural environment, with the student’s welfare at the forefront?


 After the School Year Begins

What is a child’s reaction to and perception of touch from you in various situations?

Does the child seek touch or avoid it?

What is the child’s caregiver’s perspective about touch?

Does the child have any sensitivities to touch, or additional touch needs (ie: sensory integration differences)?

In the Moment of a Potential Educator-Student Touch Situation

What is the school guideline?

Is touch appropriate for the context, and is it necessary?

Is this touch done in the best interest of the child?

How did the child react?


Educators remain weary and afraid of touching students (Piper, Garratt, and Taylor, 2013), therefore in addition to knowing what is inappropriate (i.e. child safeguarding policies), it may be even more important for teachers to receive training that encourages appropriate, supportive, culturally sensitive touch.  Generally, physical contact might be appropriate if it is used to assist in skill development (educative touch), is required for a child’s safety (assisting touch), occurs in an open environment, and occurs with the student’s permission whenever possible (Bergnehr and Cekaite, 2018; “Physical Contact with Children”).  A culturally sensitive approach requires a teacher to be emotionally available to accurately interpret the effect of their touching and respect student body autonomy.

As common as math and writing levels are to a child’s cumulative file, educators should also be aware of how children respond to comforting, assistive, or educative touch.  Much like it would be counterproductive to place a student in a math level group that is too high or too low, creating an unfitting touch environment for a student can be detrimental.  Touching one student in a specific way could have a positive effect, whereas touching another student in the same way could elicit negative emotions and have negative implications.


For Students


School culture and guidelines about touch would be incomplete without student social and emotional learning (SEL) opportunities regarding touch.  Even the youngest students can learn to recognize safe, unsafe, and uncomfortable touches.  Shortly after, they can recognize and verbalize which touches are unwanted and nonconsensual.  All these ideas taught within a multicultural lens encourages rich conversation and deep thinking about their personal experiences and preferences of touch.  Schools have a responsibility to empower students by allowing them to decide what touch is comfortable for them in which contexts.  Crucial opportunities are available in school settings for exploring and understanding preferences for touch.


Policy Essentials


The information elicited from the aforementioned questions and perspectives can allow a thoughtful formulation of touch guidelines and policies.  There is no one-size-fits-all list of guidelines or policies for touch at international schools.  Each school will differ in the details, but the following general guidelines can be a starting point to protect educators from allegations, and concurrently provide a comfortable environment for staff to render caring and beneficial touch to students at school (Hansen, 2007):

  • Limit touching to safe areas of the body (shoulders, hands, upper back)
  • Avoid being alone in a room with a student, and not with the door closed
  • Before touching students, be an observer – see how students interact with peers and other adults, and what their touch behaviors are and what they are comfortable with
  • Ask for permission whenever possible


These guidelines go hand in hand with child safeguarding policies, which further delineate social and sexual boundaries.  Touch guidelines and safeguarding policies have congruent principles – to care for and protect children.


Children with pervasive coordination or physical needs will need a higher degree of personal touch to complete daily activities, and this also should be indicated in school guidelines.  In activities where touch may be necessary for the safety or teaching of students (i.e. PE, demonstrations for some Arts), differences should also be indicated in school documents.


With the welfare and body autonomy of children as guiding points, school leaders have a responsibility to teachers and children to help the school develop a healthy and culturally sensitive culture around touch, imbuing a caring, nurturing environment.  Taking time to wade through the cultural complexities can provide clarity and comfort.  The costs for developing well-balanced policies and guidelines are in itself beneficial to the community:  thoughtful evaluation, honest and open discussion, and professional growth.


About the author

Dallin Bywater is an international school counselor on hiatus.  He has presented for parent and teacher workshops, and has published articles on a range of topics related to student and parent mental health.




Bergnehr, Disa and Cekaite, Asta. 2018.  “Adult-Initiated Touch and its Functions at    a

Swedish Preschool:  Controlling, Affectionate, Assisting and Educative Haptic

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DOI: 10.1080/09669760.2017.1414690


Blackwell, Patricia. 2000.  “The Influence of Touch on Child Development”, Infants &

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People with Profound and Complex Needs:  A Review of the Literature,”  Journal of

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Struggles and Hurdles: Ending the Silence

Eleni Armaou, Student Oriented Services (SOS) and Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Coordinator
Metropolitan School of Frankfurt

We all struggle at some point in our lives, either for professional or personal, family, academic or other reasons. The pandemic has exacerbated the need to be resilient, to stand up after you fall, but such things are easier said than done! So what is the first, initial step we need to take? Do we just stay silent and everything will be OK? Do we need to speak up? If we speak up and voice our concerns, will we face the fear of stigma? Most psychology professionals, counsellors and psy-educational specialists in the areas of Learning Support, Psychological Support and Personal Coaching name the first crucial step: Name your feelings, put them into words, categorise them, analyse them, as by doing this, although you are far from finding a solution, you are on the first square of gaining control. When you know something, when you are aware of the hurdles and struggles and can identify them, here it is: you have moved to square two!

NAMI.ORG has a variety of helpful resources for students, families, and adults who are trying to tell the difference between what expected behaviors are and what might be the signs of a mental illness isn’t always easy.

There’s no easy test that can let someone know if there is mental illness or if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviors of a person or the result of a physical illness. Each illness has its own symptoms, but common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:

● Excessive worrying or fear

● Feeling excessively sad or low

● Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning

● Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria

● Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger

● Avoiding friends and social activities

● Difficulties understanding or relating to other people

● Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy

● Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite

● Changes in sex drive

● Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)

● Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)

● Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs

● Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)

● Thinking about suicide

● Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

● An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance Mental health conditions can also begin to develop in young children. Because they’re still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their most obvious symptoms are behavioral. Symptoms in children may include the following:

● Changes in school performance

● Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school

● Hyperactive behaviour

● Frequent nightmares

● Frequent disobedience or aggression

● Frequent temper tantrums

Where To Get Help

Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help. Learning all you can about mental health is an important first step.

Reach out to your health insurance, primary care doctor or state/county mental health authority for more resources.

Resource: Mental Illness: Warning Signs and Symptoms

Most Importantly, reach out to your ECIS school Support teams, your pastoral officers, your Learning Support specialists and your School Counsellors in order to voice your concerns.

Our SEN/LS SIG is happy to help and you can participate in our webinars on mental health support and mindfulness! Our Next SEN/LS SIG event:  Click here to learn more


What do you think about the points raised in this post? We’d love to have your thoughts below.





Eleni Armaou studied Psychology, Pedagogy and Philosophy ( major in Educational  Psychology) and holds a MA in Special Educational Needs from the University of Leeds, in the UK. She has worked in IB Schools in Istanbul, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt and is now the SOS and ALN Coordinator at the Metropolitan School of Frankfurt.

Eleni is passionate about AI, Robotics, Space Travel, Quantum Physics as well as Human Psychology, Inclusive Education, Leadership and Management Studies, Negotiation Skills, and Conflict Resolution.

She is a Member of ECIS SEN/Learning Support SIG. Visit the website here.

Personal Website

Better Than Before – 3 Practices That Should Be Part of Our New Normal


Jessica Werner, Ph.D.
CEO, Northshore Coaching & Consulting


It is summertime and there are currently a lot of conversations happening around what the new normal will be in schools come this fall. Clearly, the teaching conditions we endured for the last year and a half were decidedly not normal. At best it was innovative, and at times it was simply survival. COVID was a once in a century pandemic and teaching through it wasn’t always pretty.


Though we know there will be a ‘new normal’ for schools, it may take a few school years for us to feel comfortable in this, let alone thrive in it. Yet, it is important to remember – teaching is hard during non-COVID times, and our ‘new normal’ should reflect that. Here are the top three aspects of our new normal that I am advocating for:


Keep wellbeing a priority

For everyone in schools – administrators, office staff, teachers and students.  In many schools where I work, the focus on academic achievement shared an intentional space with a focus on wellbeing, social-emotional learning, and self-care this past year. Teachers were offered CPD opportunities for wellness, which came at a crucial time as many reported feeling burnt-out as early as mid-September. The schools that did this deserve to be commended, yet it would be a mistake to discontinue this type of support in the future. Schools must continue to nurture the health and wellbeing of their staff as much as they focus on the social and emotional needs of their students. We know from research that happy, engaged teachers are less likely to transfer schools or to leave the profession entirely, just as we know that these teachers report higher academic gains in their students.


Encourage continued innovation

When the pandemic forced immediate school closures in early 2020 everyone working in education was forced to adjust, more or less overnight. It was extremely difficult, and this cannot be understated. This sudden, unprecedented shift ultimately led to new thinking, cooperation, and innovation in almost every school I have worked in and visited in the last 18 months. Educators have flipped the way of doing business on its head and this should continue to be the way schools operate post-pandemic. School administrators must encourage continued innovation by investing in CPD opportunities for staff, particularly those that are personalized to meet each individual’s growth goals.


Continue appreciating educators

Early in lockdown, Shonda Rhimes, an American television producer, went on social media after one hour of homeschooling her six and eight-year-old children, and said “teachers deserve to make a million dollars a year. Or a week,” and many people expressed agreement. Teaching is hard work. We educators have always known this, but it was nice, for these months, to hear this sentiment expressed by our non-educator friends. Despite this hard work, educators often feel taken for granted. At my daughter’s school, the parent community provided at least 20 lunches for the school staff throughout the year as a ‘thank you.’ Teachers also received a small stipend to reward them for their hard work during this extraordinary time. These displays of appreciation were absolutely warranted, and they should not stop when COVID concerns are behind us. Roughly 50 per cent of educators leave the profession in the first five years, and nearly 10 per cent quit every year after that. That is significant turnover, even in ‘normal’ times. One of the top reasons teachers quit is due to not feeling adequately respected or appreciated.  Therefore, I propose that we must continue to show educators that we respect and appreciate their hard work. Let’s try our best to keep amazing people in this profession. Through lunches, stipends, or simply a kind word or note here and there, letting your child’s teacher or your teaching staff know you care can mean a lot and help boost morale.


As we transition to ‘post-pandemic thinking, let’s focus on what actually worked well during pandemic teaching and consider how we can integrate these positive outcomes into our future work.  No doubt, COVID was a challenge for all, and especially for those in education. Let us remember that during this challenging time educators rose to the occasion and continued teaching, an act of resilience that will not soon be forgotten by millions of grateful students and families.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.




Jessica Werner, Ph.D. is the CEO of Northshore Coaching & Consulting. NSCC partners with schools worldwide providing professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders that focus on both performance and wellbeing. Dr. Werner’s personal expertise lies in helping teachers establish a positive classroom culture, develop SEL skills, and improve their instructional practices. She teaches Assessment courses as a Professor of Education at the University of Notre Dame and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family.

Understanding the social and emotional impact of lockdown

Crispin Chatterton, Director of Education, GL Education


Understanding the social and emotional impact of lockdown


A few weeks into the coronavirus crisis, health experts and psychologists were warning that a tidal wave of mental illness could overwhelm children post-lockdown because of the problems they had stored up during it.


Those fears understandably persist, as the disruption to school life in some schools continues well beyond the time initially envisaged. The fears have, however, been tempered by more recent studies, including a survey of 10,000 parents and children by psychologists at the University of Oxford, which painted a much more nuanced picture.


Parents of children under the age of 11 largely agreed that they had noticed an increase in stress and behavioural problems in their children as lockdown went on. But parents of teenagers tended to report that on average their children’s behaviour and emotional wellbeing had continued much as before and they hadn’t noticed any deterioration.


Indeed, some parents – including those with children who had special educational needs or pre-existing mental health issues – said that their offspring’s emotional behaviour had tended to improve during lockdown.


Schools are rightly concerned about their students’ wellbeing after such a long absence. But the Oxford study reveals not only children’s fragility, but also their resilience. Some will have found the experience an ordeal – but many won’t. The challenge is to identify the students most in need of support and apply the right strategies.


Shining a light on student wellbeing


Some schools benefitted from having a clear picture of their students’ wellbeing before they went into lockdown. At Garden International School (GIS) in Kuala Lumpur, Michael Browning, then Head of Year 7, was in the middle of a year-long project to support students that they had identified as fragile learners using data from the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey.


The survey is a psychometric assessment that measures student attitudes across nine factors that are proven to be significantly linked to educational goals, such as a child’s perceived learning capability and their response to curriculum demands. The scores are accompanied by a series of practical interventions aligned to each of the factors to support schools in responding to their findings. These interventions have been updated this year to provide guidance to support students returning to school after a prolonged absence.


Because a significant number of the GIS fragile learner group were EAL students who had a significant verbal deficit, Michael worked closely with the Head of EAL as well as the school counsellors to devise a programme that supported students’ literacy as well as identifying and managing emotions.


At the end of term 2, things were going well; the school measured an increase in attainment and progress across the year group, and the level of increase was higher for the fragile learner group.


As the school went into lockdown the programme had to be adapted, with lots of emphasis on celebrating success and recognition of effort. As Michael explained: “As head of year, tracking the more vulnerable students has become more challenging during this period of online learning – but equally more important than ever!”


The data for the end of term 3 showed another increase in attainment and progress levels for the fragile learners. Despite the challenges faced during lockdown, the project has shown that using attitudinal data to target certain groups works.


Michael explains: “The project has given me a way to use the data in a smart way – shining a light on students who might otherwise get missed.” PASS has also made it clear that we don’t need to go away and suddenly re-learn how to teach or work with students – it’s reassured me that a lot of what we do in class is already going to be helping the students, but it’s prompting you as a teacher to be aware and to use these strategies consistently.”


Understanding attitudes as students returned to school


At Jumeira Baccalaureate School in Dubai, the Head of Secondary, Erika Elkady, was apprehensive about students’ social and emotional wellbeing as they returned to school after the long lockdown:

“Had they been able to process the ‘new normal’ which we as adults were still trying to come to terms with? How would our teenagers respond to be back in school after such a long time?”


To get the answers, the school carried out a PASS survey in the second week of the school year.


“The data gave us a wealth of information,” Erika explains. “We learned that our phase 3 students’ attitudes in all nine factors are now more positive than when we started to conduct regular PASS surveys in 2017.


“Our phase 4 data on the other hand shows a slight dip in students’ perceived learning capability and confidence in learning, which is not unsurprising as the lockdown and the uncertainty about exams in May 2021 will cause some anxiety in our seniors.


“Overall, the data is comforting as we learned that our students’ overall wellbeing is much better than we had hoped for. Moreover, we also know now who needs extra attention as we have been able to flag a number of students.”


So, while it may be obvious that different students will react in different ways to any challenge, including those set by coronavirus, having a way to identify and weight each group or individual’s feelings allows schools to prioritise and calibrate their response.


Erika Elkady and Michael Browning will be speaking about the social and emotional impact of lockdown on students at GL Education’s online Global Assessment Conference in November.


Find out more and register for free here.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear what you have to say.



Crispin Chatterton, Director of Education, GL Education



Forget Rote-Learning, Kids Can and Will Change the World If Given a Chance!

Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder: Riverside School, & Namrata Jajoo


Design for Change (DFC) was born in 2009 from the conviction that children are not helpless, the optimism that change is possible, and the belief that they can drive it. Here’s a look at what this initiative entails for empowering and equipping children! 

“I now know that I don’t need permission to change the world.” 

In a small village called Labana in the desert region of Rajasthan lives 10-year-old Bindi. While she comes across as a simple and shy student of Satya Bharti school, she and her friends showed extraordinary courage in taking on the centuries-old practice of untouchability (mandated by the caste system) through organising provocative rallies and hunger strikes. 

Students in Kolkata noticed that young children were starving on the streets while restaurants had a significant amount of food going to waste, so they designed and implemented a delivery system to collect unused food from hotels and restaurants, and bring it to undernourished children in the city’s slums. 

A team of 10-year-olds in Varanasi noticed that much of their community was illiterate and developed a series of solutions to “learn and develop the habit of reading” – from setting up libraries in elementary schools to teaching their peers about library management and setting up newspaper stands outside schools so that adults could develop the habit as well. 

These are just a few of the amazing 22,000+ stories crafted under the Design for Change (DFC) initiative by children from across the world! 

Source: Facebook 

My submission to you is that today’s ‘Superheroes’ are not from the Avengers or the Justice League, but rather they are these courageous children, who are unleashing their superpowers of imagination, creative problem solving, empathy, leadership, and collaboration. 

What could have inspired these children to become such amazing problem-solvers and change-makers? Let’s explore the origin of this ‘I CAN’ mindset. 

Consider this – In the first two years of our children’s lives, they tell us how amazing they are at exploration and finding solutions. They go about navigating the world from crawling to sitting to standing to running to speaking – aren’t they then, the masters of the art of problem–solving? 

Since these problem-solving capacities are innate to them, and they are engaged in such activity right from birth through adulthood, shouldn’t children simply become better problem solvers with age and experience? 

Now, take a moment to reconsider what happens when the child (with his/her innate problem-solving capacities) starts going to school. More often than not, highly enthusiastic parents and teachers aim to help children develop to the best of their abilities, but unfortunately also to feel, think, and behave in prescribed ways. 

The child is directed and advised about the many things ‘they can’t’ or ‘should not do’, thereby changing the child’s vocabulary from ‘I CAN’ to ‘CAN I?’ Across the world, so many children are told that they are too young to solve problems and should let adults take care of the issues they face. 

This narrative dis-empowers children, making them fearful of making mistakes and developing a lack of confidence in their own ability to make decisions and choices. 

Through this article, I seek to unravel the fabulous journeys of children who have developed creative confidence in their capabilities and capacities to take ownership of their world and also to take action towards building a more desirable and sustainable future. 

Here’s how it all began: 

It was the year 1996. After a long day at school, my six-year-old son Raag and I sat perplexed and confused, staring at the big red mark on his English notebook. Apparently, he had failed to memorise and write an essay verbatim as instructed by the teacher. 

He had used his own imagination and vocabulary to frame the essay and was clueless about the reason for the rejection of his work. I soon realized that something was clearly amiss and that it was actually the schooling system that I was up against. 

My conviction that prevalent education practices were failing to give my child an identity grew stronger by the day, so, I decided of taking my son out of school, and rolled up my sleeves to start ‘Riverside’ on the banks of the River Sabarmati, in the land of Gandhi. 

What inspires me most about the Mahatma is his amazing stamina, sense of humour, and shameless pursuit of his goals against all odds. 

These have also been the key ingredients in building Riverside over the last seventeen years. 

The Birth of Design for Change (DFC)

Design for Change (DFC) was born in 2009 from the conviction that children are not helpless, the optimism that change is possible, and the belief that they can drive it. 

I initiated the ‘Design for Giving’ School Contest in 2009, as a national challenge for school children to change some aspect of life in their communities. 

The challenge spurred young children to solve real-life problems in their immediate environment while building a sense of empathy, confidence and responsibility. 

Today DFC is a global movement with footprints in 65 countries and has helped to cultivate the ‘I Can’ mindset in more than 2.2 million children. 

With empathy at its core, this framework nurtures the problem-solving mindset via four steps of Feel, Imagine, Do and Share (FIDS). 

We call this FIDS for KIDS! 

This simple four-step framework helps schools foster a learning environment using the ‘both, and’ model, nurturing both Content and Character, both a Passion for work and the Compassion for the community. 

The DFC curriculum is accepted all over the world because of its flexibility and non-prescriptive nature. The most critical feature of Design for Change is that it is not only simple and practical but also open-source, accessible, adaptable, and replicable.

(see to know more and try out DFC in your setting). 


Time-tabling For Design for Change 



Today, student success requires skills for collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Many schools around the world still design and implement curricula with the premise of “one-size-fits-all”, with a disproportionate emphasis on subject excellence alone. 

The central tenet of this mindset is often that we are so hard-pressed for time to complete the subject content that we do not have the liberty to invest in any additional activities. 

This often leads to focusing on the transmission of theoretical knowledge but misses out on the development of vital capacities like empathy and creative confidence.
Change happens when design thinking is perceived as desirable and almost indispensable skill-set. 

By intentionally time-tabling on a weekly basis for DFC activities, our partner schools have been able to seamlessly integrate it into their mainstream curriculum. 


How DFC is Impacting Children 


  • FIDS helps to develop much-required skills and attitudes in children, builds their social and emotional competencies, and promotes employability skills.
  • DFC’s tool was evaluated by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and documents clear improvements in student empathy as well as in enhancing problem-solving abilities.
  • Research conducted by The GoodWork Project has reaffirmed the impact of the DFC curriculum on the development of skills like collaboration, creative thinking & empathy.

Our future will depend on how much we believe in the power of our children today. The only thing that we have realised is that sometimes we need a little help, a little magic formula to ensure that every child can! 


Thoughts to share about this article? Let us know below.



Kiran Bir Sethi is an Indian educationist, designer, and thinker. She founded the Riverside School in 2001 and since then has infected millions of students and educators with the ‘I CAN Mindset’ through her design thinking framework of ‘Feel-Imagine- Do- Share’ (FIDS). Learn more about the Riverside School.

At-risk affluence & school culture

Dr. Tara R. Campbell, Senior Manager, Jostens

“Extracurricular activities aren’t fun anymore; it’s just something that we do to get into college.” That statement was shared with my husband and colleague by a high-achieving high school student. Hearing this articulation repeated multiple times from multiple students in multiple countries elicited a journey into understanding how the pressure placed on adolescents affects the culture and climate in schools. Perhaps the most surprising realization from these investigations is that affluent students are now considered ‘at-risk’, a term no longer reserved only for students living in abject poverty. 


First, it’s important to understand that ‘at-risk’ does not mean an inability to achieve academic success, but instead signifies a student is less equipped to be successful which can result from a myriad of factors. In a recent report, The Robert Wood Foundation positioned adolescent wellness as not the absence of problems, but as having voice, thriving, and being socially aware and self-accepting. The report went on to name the top environmental conditions harming adolescent wellness – included in the list alongside poverty, trauma, and discrimination was an excessive pressure to succeed mostly tied to affluence (Geisz & Nakashian, 2018). 


Once we drop the preconceived notion that an abundance of material wealth brings forth wellbeing, it is easy to see how affluent students can be ill-equipped to thrive socially and emotionally. Affluence can bring about isolation, stress, and skewed competitiveness (Osherson, 2017).  Affluent students in environments placing importance on academic excellence experience a lack of connectivity that results in higher rates of mental health and emotional problems (Wallace, 2019).   


The intense expectation to perform and to be the best creates a pressurized environment where students are driven to out-compete their classmates, leading to a school culture ripe with peer envy, anxiety, and depression. The social isolation and self-comparison epidemic bolstered by the prevalence of social media only confounds the problem. Add in other issues present in international and privately-funded schools for affluent children — such as parents who either blatantly or subtly use their wealth to influence school policy, disciplinary reactions, or teacher autonomy; the frequency of student mobility making it difficult for students to forge and maintain lasting and supportive relationships; and the lack of organically grown resilience and self-reliance resulting from exposure to ‘problems’ that cannot be fixed by familial wealth and influence – one can see how school culture could easily become toxic. 


School culture is the shared behaviors, beliefs, and norms within a school or organization. Because school culture shapes the relationships between and among all school stakeholder groups and can affect learning and student wellbeing, school culture is not something that should be dismissed (Johnson et al, 2015; La Salle et al, 2014 


When thinking about school culture, it is important to first assess the current climate on campus. What do your school norms express as valued on your school’s campus? Is that fostering a sense of wellbeing in your students? Numerous studies on school climate have revealed a positive correlation between healthy and supportive school cultures to student motivation, feelings of connectedness, and student self-esteem (Hopson et al, 2014; Hoge et al, 1990). 


In order to foster a supportive and connected school culture, systems should be created that allow for dialogue among students, among faculty, and between students and faculty. Each of these stakeholder groups need to feel as if they have an avenue to express their emotions, concerns, life events, and be able to share coping strategies and dialogue about what affects them.  To help maintain a sense of balance and buffer against stress in high pressure environments, social down time should be built into school operations and schedules (Wallace, 2019).  


To equalize the pressure placed on academic excellence, schools should create formalized systems for recognition and reward for non-academic values such as citizenship, grit, compassion, leadership, advocacy, etc. Additionally, things such as how people are welcomed onto campus, how new faculty and students are embraced into the school community, and how support personnel are treated and respected by school stakeholders, all contribute to the overall sense of connectivity and wellbeing on campus, thereby setting an undertone to the school’s culture. 


Creating and sustaining a positive school culture can seem daunting, but assistance is available. The Educator Services division of Jostens has dedicated the past 36 years to creating resources proven to improve school culture through their Renaissance program. Jostens offers its schools access to over 168 episodes of character education and social emotional video series, titled The Harbor™. Through the Jostens Renaissance Leadership Curriculum, Jostens offers schools more than two years’ worth of classroom leadership curriculum that ties leadership principles to overall school culture and school stakeholder connectivity. Through Jostens’ scientifically validated Pulse survey, schools can capture stakeholder perceptions of student recognition. To assist schools with the professional learning offerings for faculties, The Green Room Professional Learning Series by Jostens provides school administration with professional development content that leads to more connected school cultures. Finally, through Jostens’ Idea Exchange, schools can access a database of best practices for building strong campus cultures, all submitted by other schools from multiple countries. Jostens makes these and other school culture resources available to its partner schools. Schools can contact their Jostens sales representative for access to these complimentary culture building resources. 


Geisz, MB & Nakashian M. (2018). Adolescent Wellness: Current Perspectives and Future Opportunities in Research, Policy, and Practice – A Learning Report. The Robert Wood Foundation. 


Hoge, D. R., Smit, E.K., & Hanson, S.L. (1190). School experiences predicting changes in self-esteem of sixth and seventh-grade students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 117-127. 


Hopson, L.M., Schiller, K.S., & Lawson, H.A. (2014). Exploring linkages between school climate, behavioral norms, social supports, and academic success. Social Work Research, 38(4), 197-209. 


Johnson, S.L., Pas, E., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2015). Understanding the association between school climate and future orientation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. DOI 10.107/s10964-015-0321-1. 


La Salle, T. P.L., Meyers, J., Varjas, K., & Roach, A. (2015). A cultural-ecological model of school climate. International Journal of School & Educational Psychology, 3(3), 157-166. 


Osherson, Sam (2017). The Influence of Affluence. Independent School, Fall 2017. National Association of Independent Schools. 


Wallace, J B (2019). Students in high-achieving schools are now named an ‘at-risk’ group, study says. The Washington Post, September 26, 2019. 




Dr. Tara R. Campbell is a veteran educator. She started her career as a high school teacher and has since served the field of education as a professional learning and development coordinator, a curriculum designer, an At-Risk Prevention Specialist, and a Career and Technical Education program manager for the Tennessee Department of Education in the United States. Dr. Campbell currently serves as Senior Manager of the Educator Services division of Jostens where she and her team create school culture and climate resources. She is the co-author of the book “Make It Reign: A Collection of Proven Ideas to Fund Renaissance in Your School.”