Mason Educators Help Shape the Future of Well-Being Education around the World

by Whitney Hopler, Communications Director

Mason Educators Help Shape the Future of Well-Being Education around the World

Mason educators represented our well-being university at the World Positive Education Accelerator Conference (WPEA) this summer in Fort Worth, Texas. They met with more than 800 educators from around the world to plan strategies for empowering students to thrive at schools and universities.

The conference was jointly sponsored by the International Positive Education Network and the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry. It included a diverse variety of sessions where participants shared their experiences and guidance with each other, and concluded with an appreciative inquiry summit on “Imagining Positive Education.” The event’s goal was to equip people with the well-being skills to flourish, and contribute to the flourishing of others, in ways that support and strengthen academic learning. Those well-being skills included discovering and working toward their purpose, developing their moral character, identifying and using their strengths, setting and achieving goals, focusing on positive emotions, building resilience to overcome challenges, thinking creatively, and growing healthy relationships with others.  

“A highlight for me was meeting with educators from all over the globe, who are committed to and making positive institutional changes at their school and on their campuses,” said Lewis Forrest II, Associate Dean, University Life

Rachel Wernicke, Executive Director, Counseling and Psychological Services, shared that, “It was inspirational to speak with and learn from educators from around the world who are all passionate about transforming education into a positive, holistic, well-being-focused endeavor that transcends classroom boundaries.”

A highlight of the conference "was being exposed to a new practice in education," said Sara Heming (Associate Director, Student Organizations, Student Involvement). "Learning the various ways that countries and regions approach their education and how we all have a responsibility in our communities to make an impact. I appreciated learning how individuals practice their own well-being and how there are a variety of ways to support each other on our journeys of being well." 

Other Mason educators who participated in the WPEA conference were Nance Lucas (Executive Director, Center for the Advancement of Well-Being), Pamela Patterson (Associate Vice President, University Life), Kathleen Clare (Assistant Dean, Undergraduate Academic Affairs, College of Humanities and Social Sciences), and Lauren Long (Executive Director, Student Involvement).

Well-being education is changing as more people worldwide recognize its value, leading to more widespread practice and research. Forrest pointed out, I think the way in which well-being being frames from a research and practical perspective is changing. There are now more examples of successful implementation and positive outcomes from the work that is being done.”

Heming noticed that, "Education systems seem to be taking a more holistic approach to the way we educate our students:  Looking at the variety of ways we can support our students and provide them opportunities that don’t fit the standard molds, but rather creating spaces where they can thrive based on their strengths."

Well-being skills are linked to strong academic learning outcomes in multiple research studies, so giving students an education that emphasizes well-being empowers them to learn and achieve more than they could otherwise, said Molly McGuigan, owner of Learning Link, LLC, who helped organize WPEA. She pointed out, “When schools measure success through academic achievement, those who struggle academically feel intrinsically less valuable and those who excel often pursue unhealthy levels of perfection – in both cases ultimately feeling never good enough. What if instead schools valued not only academic achievement, but also student well-being – their mental fortitude, the development of their character and unique strengths, their ability to weather adversity, having a positive relationship with themselves and their peers, and their ability to find meaning and purpose in their lives? We believe this value shift would empower students, not to mention teachers and administrators, to operate from a position of strength and hope, rather than deficit and despair – making them feel stronger, more capable, more grounded, and more valuable.”