Action, not words

Promoting wellbeing in schools through action

For Nicholas Chaddock, just talking about wellbeing in the classroom achieves little. Doing rather than talking is the key.

Curriculum change

Countries such as Finland and Japan have re-written their curricula to include what they call ‘sustainable well-being’ which puts happiness at the heart of education. As long as 10 years ago, the United Nations passed a resolution recommending that member states give greater attention to happiness and well-being in their national education policies. Yet the debate on how to transform education to meet modern world learning needs and the social and emotional demands on our children continues onwards.

You are what you do

Developing character strengths and positive human qualities is at the heart of initiatives like Martin Seligman’s PERMA model. Models like these are universal in their goals of measuring attributes that contribute to individuals flourishing with healthy levels of optimism, enthusiasm, emotional stability, resilience and physical health. However, as the saying goes, ‘You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do’.

The need for experiences

When it comes to wellbeing, our pupils need more experiences and fewer classroom-based discussions. Our pupils are becoming disengaged with the language of wellbeing. In some cases, they are dangerously aware of what they need to say to avoid the kind of meaningful conversations and actions they should be engaged in when they are struggling. To solve this, I believe linking the classroom and the outside world should be top of the agenda for school leaders across Asia, as we awake to a world that is moving on from the Covid crisis.


When it comes to well-being, our pupils need more experiences and fewer classroom-based discussions.

Real life adventures

By connecting the language of well-being to real life adventures gives our pupils  genuine, palpable experiences to discuss and relate to. The world has changed. Parenting has changed. For better or for worse it does not matter. What matters is we do everything we can to arm our pupils with the life skills to cope with human interaction and relationships, time management and health. Schools have to provide the experiences parents and life in general once provided for previous generations. Generation Z are simply not having the same childhood experiences we had growing up and it is severely impacting their well-being. Furthermore, they are growing tired and disgruntled with being asked to discuss the issues they face without any clear context or purpose.

Role of Outdoor Ed. Coordinators

The Outdoor Education Coordinator job traditionally brings to mind someone who organises ‘outward-bound’ trips. This is a narrow and dated vision of a role that now carries huge pastoral and academic responsibilities. The modern role demands provision of experiential education of all kinds. We have to connect the classroom to the real world, not just in terms of subject learning, but also in terms of well-being models used in our pastoral provision.

Empathy and action

For example, we know that effective empathy declines in boys aged between 13 and 16 years old. Empathy is traditionally learnt from the warmth and caring of parents, but in many of our schools there are alarming levels of affluent neglect. This is driving negative behaviour in some of our pupils. A study showed that children in South Korea spend an average of six minutes a day with their father, the least of any country in the OECD. When asked if there was a friend or relative they could turn to when they were having a hard time, the number of young South Koreans who said ‘no’ was the highest in the OECD. Other Asian countries we work in showed similar statistics.

Building relationships through shared experience

We cannot change this, but we can change our provision and understanding in school. We can provide opportunities for children to build stronger relationships through shared experiences that help develop mindfulness of others. Then when we return to the classroom we can use the language of well-being to analyse what we did, how we did it, what we learnt, how we felt, how we feel and what we would do differently next time. This gives our pastoral care real context and purpose.

The experiential foundation to wellbeing

In Korean there is an expression young people use to describe older people who give them unwanted advice – that expression is 꼰대 (Geondae).

Only when we give our pupils the experiential foundation they need to develop these character strengths are we truly qualified to discuss the language of well-being with them to the extent we do today in our tutor rooms, assemblies and PSHE classrooms.


Nicholas is from York in the UK, but is very happy to call Jeju island, South Korea home. Second language pedagogy and the acquisition of academic English, along with outdoor education and extra-curricular programmes, have been the main focus of his teaching career. Nicholas currently works at North London Collegiate on Jeju island.




Feature and Supporting images kindly provided by Nicholas