At NIS, we take the idea of our students’ Well-Being as paramount. It is defined by the International Baccalaureate Learner Profile and the UN Convention on Rights of the Child. It is realized through the work done in our Student Services department, guided by our Child Protection Policies, and reflected in our relational teaching methods. And it is so important that the school has incorporated a whole class curriculum around it. We recently sat down with Mr. Joe Seavey, the Well-Being teacher for grades 6-12 at NIS, to find out more about the class and why it has become an important part of the NIS curriculum.
Mr. Seavey is our first “official” Well-Being teacher, and since 2019, he has been here to help build a program that also places Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) at its core. It is not to say that the school didn’t value this as a part of the curriculum before he came, but just that resources were allocated differently, resulting in a less comprehensive approach taught by several teachers.
Expanding the curriculum and designating it as its own class came from active voices from many of the school stakeholders. This included students (the Nagoya Action Heroes being an integral part), parents, and teachers. All recognized that there was a need for a more consistent approach. In addition, there was the call to include CSE as the core of the program. Thus, a professional with pedagogical training and experience to approach the curriculum was the most effective way to deliver it. Having a dedicated Well-Being Class and qualified teacher has meant that the learning can be scaffolded for consistency in language and approach across the grade levels, effectively reaching the students with the knowledge and skills they need as they continue to develop and grow. As a result, for grades 6-12, the Well-Being class has become a regular part of their weekly class schedules at NIS.
Well-Being encompasses much more than physical health or learning about gender, identity, and sexuality. It includes a broader approach, spanning physiology and biology to psychology and philosophy. A good example might be how the students learn about “feelings” and what that word actually means. A term used at all levels of Well-Being class (even with Primary students) is the concept of “Red-flag” feelings - or the sensation of being uncomfortable. But in reality, it isn’t a simple sensation, but a nexus of feelings exhibited physically in the body as well as emotionally and cognitively.
Students learn to recognize those levels of sensation and learn how these signals can help them figure out what is happening around them. For example, in the realm of “Digital Well-Being,” a ‘like’ or comment might trigger a sensation that feels similar to disagreeing with a friend or even eating something that disagrees with you. Learning how and where those sensations show up can help students navigate the outside world more effectively.
Again, the concept of ‘comprehensive’ is key to understanding the curriculum. This includes looking at Well-Being in terms of physical, emotional, mental, digital, social, and sexual health. In practice, it is often teaching about concepts, for example, “relationships,” from different perspectives, depending on the age and development of the students. In grade 8, the concept of ‘intimacy’ would look at our relationships with our friends, while older students might consider intimacy in terms of a romantic relationship. “Identity” might look at sexual identity but might also be viewed from the concept of how a student feels about themselves as a friend, someone’s child, or even a learner. One of the primary goals of the class is to consider how the students can expand their emotional vocabulary to describe how they feel.
After that, students go through skill-based exercises to determine how to respond to situations they encounter and keep themselves healthy. So instead of instructing this is the ‘right way’ or this is the ‘wrong way,’ students are encouraged to think about their values, identify possible situations where their values might be challenged, and think through how to find the resources to help them create healthy outcomes. These skills are built over the program so that when students are ready to leave NIS, they have learned how to feel, think, and act to keep themselves safe and healthy.
Thoughtful systems are put into place to help students navigate embarrassing or uncomfortable subject matters - lessons on puberty are one of those! To help with some of the intense emotions that might be difficult to deal with, the classroom is structured for comfort. From soft, comfy seating and stuffed toys to hold on to, to flexible spaces allowing students to sit as close to or as far from their peers, the classroom is made to help students approach some difficult subjects as they see fit. Students are allowed to get up and take a ‘breather’ if need be and also have the right to ‘pass’ on a question if they’d like. Practices like using the anonymous “Question Box” help students ask difficult questions and learn that most of their concerns are perfectly normal.
Because of all of those built-in options, parents have been comfortable with the program, too. They also understand that these are essential life skills necessary for their students to learn (and difficult for parents to teach!) before they are off to a broader, more complex world to navigate with futures that will take them away from home. That being said, Mr. Seavey has always been open to questions or concerns from any parent.
It isn’t difficult to conceive that students who don’t feel good about themselves have difficulty being good learners. Children who can’t understand what they feel can’t build good relationships with others. Normalizing feelings and helping them recognize them is the first step in making healthy choices and is vital to help them develop as a person. Skill-building can create healthier, happier, more purpose-driven students.
And this is precisely why NIS values this aspect of our curriculum enough to incorporate it into the school's mission - Well-Being as a class being an essential part of the multi-faceted approach to caring for our students on all levels.