Well-Being Discourses


Foregrounding the roles of health and wellness for learning

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … functioning
  • Knowing is … flourishing
  • Learner is … condition-sensitive agent
  • Learning is … meaning-making
  • Teaching is … orienting




Well-Being Discourses are concerned with the physical, mental, emotional, and/or social health of individuals. For the most part, these discourses are more concerned with the conditions of learning than the dynamics of cognition or approaches to teaching. Some consensus has arisen around the assertion that attending to learners’ well-being is integral to all aspects of formal education. Common themes, constructs, and associated discourses include:
  • Adaptive Coping (not to be confused with the Adaptive Coping of Organizational Learning) – strategies used to manage stress and stressful situations, which can include both positive tactics (e.g., resilience, problem solving) and negative tactics (e.g., denial, wishful thinking)
  • Balanced Education – a diversely interpreted phrase that is most often applied to educational emphases, curriculum structures, and teaching approaches that emphasize either balance-as-equity (e.g., of access, of choice, etc.) or balance of activities (e.g., academics, nutrition, exercise, etc.). Whatever the case, the intention is almost always about supporting the learner’s physical, psychological, and social development.
  • Biopsychosocial Model (George Engel, 1970s) – an attitude toward nurturing well-being that looks across biological, psychological, and socio-environmental aspects
  • Caring (Ethics of Care) (Carol Gilligan, Nel Noddings, 1980s) – Emerging out of feminist theorizing in the last half of the 1900s, Caring was proposed as a metaphor for teaching, placing the focus onto the teacher–learner relationship and casting teaching in terms of responsiveness and attunement to the individual learner.
  • Character Education (Ethics Education; Moral Education) – an umbrella notion that is most often encountered in discussions of the sorts of values, morals, self-images, behaviors, etc. that are hoped might be supported, both directly and indirectly, through formal education. The phrase has also been picked up by commercial interests, and many prepackaged programs are available for purchase.
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Non-Western Therapies) – strategies and therapies to support well-being that do not fit within the paradigm of modern, western medical science – typically departing around matters of both empirical evidence and foundational principles. On the latter, approaches to Complementary and Alternative Medicine often emphasize connectivity and interdependence among living forms along with the inseparability of mental (psychological) from physical (physiological). A partial list includes acupressure, acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy, reflexology, reiki, tai chi, touch therapy, and yoga, along with similar ranges of Mindfulness practices and dietary supplements. Related discourses include:
    • Integrative Medicine – a combination of western medical interventions and aspects of Complementary and Alternative Medicine that have been demonstrated to be safe (and, preferably to have some efficacy)
  • Conocimiento (Gloria Anzaldùa, 1990s) – a Spanish word, sometimes translated as “knowledge,” used to refer to an educational emphasis on coming to know oneself (and/or self-healing) in relationship with others. Conocimiento is seen as inner work that unfolds during social activity.
  • Deliberate Psychological Education (DPE) – educational experiences focused on personal, interpersonal, ethical, and philosophical matters that are intended to positively affect one’s well-being
  • Flourishing/Languishing (2000s) – Drawn into education from the mental health literature, these are presented most often as the extremes of a personal wellness continuum (and, less often, as distinct states of being). Flourishing is associated with optimism and positive self-concept within an ecosystem of supportive relationships and healthy activity. Languishing is associated with debilitating self-perceptions and/or contexts.
  • Health Promoting Schools (Comprehensive School Health) (World Health Organization, 1980s) – a discourse and movement aimed at establishing a holistic approach to health in formal educational settings, oriented by the assumption that health and learning are co-entwined. It promotes well-being through both the formal (explicit) and informal (implicit) curriculum while being attentive to influences on health that operate beyond the school. The discourse is structured around four inter-related emphases: social and physical environment; teaching and learning; healthy school policy; partnership and services.
  • Health Psychology (Health Care Psychology) – a branch of psychology concerned with the study and integration of behavioral, mental, physiological, social, and environmental factors for better health
  • Integration Theory (Mindsight Approach) (Daniel Siegel, 2010s) – a perspective on personal well-being that draws on Complex Systems Research, Psychotherapy, and Neuroscience as it foregrounds the role of integration of neural systems for managing and minimizing psychological distress. Several sites of necessary integration are posited, including between brain hemispheres, from body to brain, and between one’s narratives and one’s sense of identity.
  • Human-Potential Movement (Human-Growth Movement) (Frederick S. Perls, 1930s) – a holistic approach to Psychology and Psychotherapy that emphasizes well-being, growth, sensitivity, spontaneity, and freedom
  • Mental Hygiene – an approach to well-being that emphasizes prevention of mental health issues through education, stable home life, and early treatment. Once common, the term is becoming more obscure.
  • Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) (Kent McIntosh, 2010s) – a model aimed at supporting student well-being that is based on an integration of Response to Intervention (see Instructional Design Models) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (see Classroom Management). MTSS has three tiers: Tier 1 focuses on mental health promotion; Tier 2 focuses on supporting at-risk students; Tier 3 focuses on students diagnosed with mental illness.
  • Physical Literacy (Active for Life) – awareness of multiple aspects of physical well-being, including knowledge of health and emotional benefits, familiarity with appropriate activities and diets, developed skills, personal motivation, and so on. Associated discourses include:
    • Physical Culture (Body Culture) (Europe, late-1800s) – a broad movement concerned with physical development, most popular in North American and western Europe. Various waves are associated with different trends, which have included resistance training, diet regimes, and aerobic exercise – among many others.
  • Physical Therapy (Exercise Therapy; Physiotherapy) (ancient) – an approach to the maintenance and restoration of health and well-being through physical treatments – including, but not limited to, exercise, training, massage, manipulation, traction, hydrotherapy, electrostimulation, heat, cold, and sonics. Specific types include:
    • Feldenkrais Method (Moshé Fendenkrais, 1960s) – a type of Physical Therapy that is purported to improve mental and physical well-being by reorganizing and/or repairing brain–body connections
  • Posttraumatic Growth (Michael Haas, 2010s) – positive psychological shifts triggered by stressful or traumatic experiences – that is, effectively a label for Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1888) aphorism, “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger” (i.e., the popular translation of his “Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker”).
  • Salutogenesis (Aaron, Antonovsky, 1970s) – from the Latin Saulgenesis "health + origin," Salutogenesis began as a model of well-being that was focused on Holocaust survivors, and it that has evolved into a holistic attitude that is oriented toward health-ease rather than dis-ease
  • Self-Care – in the context of formal education, a responsibility shared by teacher and students to ensure learners’ Wellness needs are attended. (See Wellness, below.)
  • Self-Realization – a generic, diversely interpreted term that is encountered across very different worldviews and sensibilities – including, for example, Western Psychology (where it is typically used in a frame of “growing up,” as a near-synonym of Self-Actualization – see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) and Eastern Mindfulness traditions (where it is typically invoked in a frame of “waking up” to some manner of spiritual awareness)
  • Subjective Well-Being – one’s self-assessment of happiness and satisfaction with life. Formal self-assessments tend to split Subjective Well-Being into two components:
    • Affective Well-Being – a self-assessment of emotional status, typically summarized as a location on a scale ranging from “unpleasant” (i.e., depressed) to “pleasant” (i.e., happy)
    • Cognitive Well-Being – a self-assessment of specific and general circumstances in life, typically summarized as a location on scales ranging from “unsatisfactory” to “satisfactory”
  • Thriving (Posttraumatic Growth) (Richard Tedeschi & Lawrence Calhoun, 1990s) – positive changes, at either individual or collective levels, to harms that were brought about by traumatic events
  • Tough Love – a highly structured program aimed at supporting the well-being of an individual with a history of delinquency, especially when associated with substance abuse. Tough Love involves a consensual strict regimen of constraints, oversight, and reporting between a guardian and the individual.
  • Trauma-Sensitive Classroom (Patricia Jennings, 2010s) – a set of practices and other recommendations intended to support the educational experiences of trauma-exposed children. Prominent elements include establishing a safe environment, emphasizing self-awareness and self-regulation as means to develop Resilience (see Grit), and ensuring the conditions for successful learning.
  • Values Education (Value Education) – an umbrella notion applied to any process – formal or informal, explicit or implicit, deliberate or accidental – by which one develops one’s sense of what is appropriate and inappropriate. Subdiscourses include:
    • Explicit Values Education – any version of Values Education that is associated with formal and explicit programs, including religious education and citizenship education
    • Value Learning (S.H. Schwartz, 1990s) – the complex process of developing personal values that are sufficiently stable and robust to serve as guides and motivators
  • Values-Based Education – an educational emphasis that aims to support the development of strong personal values by integrating positive values across all aspect of one’s educational experience – both explicit/formal (e.g., guidelines for behavior, expectations when collaborating, etc.) and implicit/informal (e.g., modeled by teachers, structured into learning experiences and environment, etc.)
  • Wellness – often used as a synonym for “well-being.” Wellness is sometimes formally defined in terms of one’s effective management of four key factors: body condition; environment; lifestyle; health-care
  • Wellness Concept – the assertion that programs that address well-being should be proactive (i.e., promoting good habits and good health) rather than reactive (i.e., focused on prevention and treatment)
  • Whole-Person Learning (C.A. Curran, 1970s) ­– a phrase that is used in different ways in different contexts – most of the time to frame formal education in terms of addressing the many facets of a learner (e.g., body, mind, emotions, spirit, moral, social), and less often to contemplate educational systems based on conceptions of learners as arising in and contributing to networks of relationships and interdependent systems
  • Wisdom (Sagacity; Sapience) – Even though meanings of Wisdom vary considerably across eras and cultures, it tends to be associated with a relatively consistent set of core qualities – few of which are ever explicitly aligned with the sort of education provided by a modern school. Most conceptions are oriented toward individual and collective well-being, whereby Wisdom is understood as a capacity to draw on cultural history and personal experience in ways that enable actions and interpretations which enhance health and happiness without exploiting others or compromising their well-being.


In many ways, Well-Being Discourses might be viewed as reactionary, arising in response to deeply entrenched beliefs in the separations of mind from body and self from other. These dichotomies, which are hallmarks of Correspondence Discourses, are commonly cited as the sources of traditional schooling’s emphases on suppressing both bodily action and social interaction – moves that, if not directly compromising to personal well-being, certainly do not contribute to health and wellness.


  • Adaptive Coping (of Well-Being Discourses)
  • Affective Well-Being
  • Balanced Education
  • Biopsychosocial Model
  • Caring (Ethics of Care)
  • Character Education (Ethics Education; Moral Education)
  • Cognitive Well-Being
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Non-Western Therapies)
  • Conocimiento
  • Deliberate Psychological Education (DPE)
  • Explicit Values Education
  • Feldenkrais Method
  • Flourishing/Languishing
  • Health Promoting Schools (Comprehensive School Health)
  • Health Psychology (Health Care Psychology)
  • Human-Potential Movement (Human-Growth Movement)
  • Integration Theory (Mindsight Approach)
  • Integrative Medicine
  • Mental Hygiene
  • Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)
  • Physical Culture (Body Culture)
  • Physical Literacy (Active for Life)
  • Physical Therapy (Exercise Therapy; Physiotherapy)
  • Posttraumatic Growth
  • Salutogenesis
  • Self-Care
  • Self-Realization
  • Subjective Well-Being
  • Thriving (Posttraumatic Growth)
  • Tough Love
  • Trauma-Sensitive Classroom
  • Value Learning
  • Values Education
  • Values-Based Education
  • Wellness
  • Wellness Concept
  • Whole-Person Learning
  • Wisdom (Sagacity; Sapience)

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Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2024). “Well-Being Discourses” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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