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Student success: A new definition for the U.S. Senate

4 min read

Career-Technical Education

What do we mean by “student success”?

The proposed Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, does not offer provisions for student well-being as a part of the definition of “achievement or student success.” The questions become, then, if the vision for our system of education is “every child succeeds” what does this mean? How are we defining success in the 21st century? Are there going to be effective measures of success outcomes and new teaching and learning methods and/or counseling interventions that produce these desired outcomes? With the overwhelming psychological and physical well-being needs of young people today, why does this major policy not include student well-being?

“The bill recognizes that states, working with school districts, teachers, and others, have the responsibility for creating accountability systems to ensure all students are learning and prepared for success” (Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 Summary). Is the assumption that if a child can read or meet proficiency levels in math and science that they are prepared for success in life, both personally and professionally? The Bill still requires the focus upon testing in three core subjects, with major changes being how to hold schools and states accountable for these academic outcomes. Where is the type of creative, new thinking that more accurately reflects the new methods for empowering student well-being?

The most direct student success pathway: Self knowledge

Our young people require additional support to succeed in school, careers and life. These supports are a combination of personal counseling for personal awareness about life purpose, dreams, and well-being; career counseling for career match or fit; and, academic curricula that supports the development of competencies. This view of student success that combines the personal, with the career, with the academic competencies represents a shift away from a system that still envisions learning about three subjects as the pathway to success in life.

As an expert in positive psychology and producing psychological well-being outcomes from schooling processes, I suggest that if Senators Alexander and Murray shift their focus to psychological attributes of students, e.g. purpose in life, dreams for their lives, happiness and awareness of emotions, intrinsic motivations, among others, then students will succeed at much higher levels and will be better prepared for a positive life course trajectory — one filled with well-being.

The breakthrough work being done in positive psychology, educational psychology, and mind, brain and education (MBE) certainly offers new definitions of success and pathways to achieve. The research overwhelmingly concludes that the most direct student success pathway is through greater self-understanding with all of the inner psychological attributions of the self.

The compelling need for well-being in education

The issue of child well-being is becoming more and more acute as life in modern society becomes more and more complex as evidenced by the American Freshman Survey, an annual report that is now entering its 50th year. The survey collected responses from about 153,000 full-time, first-year students at 227 four-year public and private institutions in 2014. When asked to rate their emotional health in relation to other people their age, only 50.7% of the students reported that their emotional health was “in the highest 10%” of people or “above average.” It’s the lowest rate since the survey began measuring self-ratings of emotional health in 1985, demonstrating that college and career readiness standards need to include well-being standards and measurement of well-being outcomes.

Academic skills or well-being understanding?

Self-knowledge is the number one protective factor for children’s mental health and a positive life course trajectory. Educating for well-being requires that we teach self-knowledge in order to produce emotionally, psychologically, physically whole children who are equipped with essential 21st century attributes and flourish in school, careers, and life.

To deliver on the promise of education in the 21st century don’t we owe it our students to consider their total well-being and positive life course trajectories as they pass through our classrooms? And not merely how well they do academically?

Henry Brzycki has more than 30 years of experience providing leadership to the fields of education and psychology. Brzycki founded The Brzycki Group, where he pioneered positive psychology and strengths-based counseling methods. He is the author of “The Self in Schooling: Theory and Practice –How to Create Happy, Healthy, Flourishing Children in the 21st Century”  and creator of the iSelf model.