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Student Wellbeing and Academic Achievement

School performance and student wellbeing have been widely studied in education and psychology, but most often separately or individually in connection to other factors in learning. Little is known about their reciprocal effect.

School Day focuses on the effect of wellbeing on learning. We give voice to students so that their wellbeing status becomes identifiable and actionable.

Worldwide, schools and districts are becoming more aware of the importance of student wellbeing for both quality of life and academic achievement. In the beginning of this new decade, we have more than enough evidence showing that students need both cognitive (such as academic performance) as well as social and emotional skills (such as resilience and collaboration skills) to manage in their future work life.

The Effect of Wellbeing on Learning 

In our new article that was recently published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, we report a longitudinal study on student wellbeing and academic achievement. We studied a group of 848 students during their sixth and seventh school year and asked students about school stress and their feelings of satisfaction during the school day. The framework in this study was adopted from our school burnout framework which also includes factors such as cynicism towards school and feelings of inadequacy as a student.

In our study, student wellbeing was measured by questionnaires collecting student reports on enjoyable and exciting learning experiences. The information about academic achievement was collected from the school database in the form of grades given by the teachers.  

Our study clearly shows that those students who performed well in their studies during the sixth grade, reported high school satisfaction six months later. Similarly, those students who reported high school satisfaction during the sixth grade performed well in their studies six months later. In the light of these findings, we conclude that student wellbeing has in fact a significant effect on academic achievement. 

The Effect of Supportive Relationships on Learning 

In the study, we also asked the students about their relationships with their parents, teachers and peers and compared the data with our findings about wellbeing and academic achievement. Our approach included both the positive aspect, meaning support for learning, and the negative aspect, meaning conflicts in learning contexts.

Our findings suggest that conflicts with teachers add to school stress and vice versa: school stress adds to conflicts with teachers, parents and peers. Academic achievement, on the other hand, seems to reduce conflicts with teachers.

Moreover, students who reported high school satisfaction were also able to grow their supportive relationships with their parents, teachers and peers. Similarly, a supportive relationship with parents and friends strongly predicts positive school satisfaction later in life.

Student wellbeing and academic achievement have a reciprocal effect, and it seems to be significant. A student who has no wellbeing issues to tackle with, learns better. Similarly, having the opportunity to learn and succeed makes us enjoy life. 

Katariina Salmela-Aro

Katariina Salmela-Aro is a Full Professor of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki and visiting professor in the Michigan State University, and University College London. She is previous President of the European Association for Developmental Psychology and Secretary General International Society for Behavioral Development. She has several large-scale grants from Academy of Finland, Business Finland, Horizon EU and NSF, and she collaborates for example with the OECD Socio-emotional skills study. She has over 250 publications (google scholar citation index 69). Her field of study includes e.g. school engagement and school burnout.

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