Dr Helen Street

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Contextual Wellbeing recognises the fact that staff and students will only flourish in a school social context (environment and culture) if that context is healthy, equitable and inclusive.

The Contextual Wellbeing model divides the school context into four interralated domains: the people in the school community, the physical space, the ingrained policies and practices, and the social norms embedded in the school culture. It then addresses the healthy development of each of these four domains so that 'Contextual Wellbeing' is supported throughout the entire school community.



The philosophy of Contextual Wellbeing, along with the Contextual Wellbeing model, is not another add on program or initiative, rather it is a framework for educational improvement from the inside out.


It doesn’t matter how great a school's wellbeing program’s ideals are, their impact will be severely diminished if they are not supported within the social context in which they are delivered.

It is great, fantastic even, that schools around the world are becoming so proactive in the pursuit of wellbeing for their students. The rise of interest in Positive Education and whole school wellbeing signifies a time of great positive reform for education.

However, our well-intentioned efforts to support staff and student wellbeing will ultimately fail to be the success we want them to be if they focus soley on individual development; and do not consider the creation of a positive school context in which wellbeing reform is embedded (Street, 2017).

Without consideration of context, well researched wellbeing programs and initiatives do not produce the positive impact that is expected, and needed (Weare and Nind, 2011). It is time we understood that schools are not collections of individuals needing individual improvement; they are social systems needing contextual development and contextual reform.

Educators really do get the fact that there is some unprecedented ‘mental health crisis’ threatening the lives of young people, and they really do want to do something about it. But, we have to ensure that our desire for change is not so overwhelming, it blinds us from looking at the process by which we are attempting to implement that change.

Schools and colleges have to ensure that they are not so caught up in the latest program ‘teaching’ kids to be cheery; that they fail to see beyond the social norms, the ingrained processes and misguided practices ensuring they are anything but…

It is little wonder that modern day wellbeing programs are having little impact when they are delivered in contexts that encourage competition, control and a normalization of stress and anxiety. Contextual factors shape us and make us.  They predict our behaviour far more accurately than good intentions...


The development of 'Contextual Wellbeing' within a school or college involves careful consideration of all the PEOPLE in the school, the social NORMS, the POLICIES, and PRACTICES and the PHYSICAL SPACES that create and reflect the school culture (Street, 2017).

I firmly believe that if we can get the social context right, then student wellbeing will start to improve with or without the support of add-on wellbeing programs and initiatives. If we can put educational reform into context, students have the best chance of flourishing at school and in the rest of their life.

It is not enough to simply ask “how can we better support young people’s mental health and wellbeing in our schools and colleges?” If we want to make a sustainable, positive difference, we n eed to ask: “how can we create a context that better supports young people’s mental health and wellbeing in our schools, in our colleges and in life?”


Schools and colleges around the developed world have never tried to do so much to support the mental health and wellbeing of their students. Yet, current research tells us that nearly 25% of young people are experiencing distress across the developed world. When it comes to the support of wellbeing, schools may be trying to get it right, but, even their best efforts are not working well.

Simply put, unhealthy educational context is creating problems that well-intentioned wellbeing icing simply can’t fix. Our schools and colleges are brimming with overloaded and struggling teachers, unhealthy physical spaces, and an over-riding emphasis on competition, outcomes and inequity. The contextual wellbeing model offers a concrete usable framework for building a healthy, equitable social context in your school or college.

If we are to effectively support wellbeing and self-determination in young people we need to create school contexts that offer equitable education, prioritise cohesion, build mindfulness, intrinsic motivation, and a love of learning, and normalize trusting and compassionate relationships. It is time that we changed education from the inside out, so that young

people flourish from the outside in.

“Dr Helen Street is a trail-blazer in the development of wellbeing and social and emotional learning programs in education in Australia and the Asia Pacific Region.  Her significant contributions to the field include publications which share innovative, creative perspectives and valuable strategies. The Positive Schools Conferences hosted by Helen and Neil Porter showcase outstanding educators and luminaries in many fields to inspire, challenge and support teachers.”
Janet Etty-Leal, Mindfulness Educator

E: Helen.Street at UWA.edu.au 
T:0011 61 (0) 8 – 9388 8843  F:0011 61 (0) 8 – 9388 8848