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Leading wellbeing efforts in Canadian higher education

    Session Title: Leading wellbeing efforts in Canadian higher education
    ​Speaker: Vicki Squires, Associate Dean, College of Education, University of Saskatchewan


    Short description: In the face of COVID-19, with myriad changes to the way PSE are delivering their teaching and student services mandates (all online teaching and telehealth platforms), wait lists for mental health services have spiked (Abrams, 2020). That is just one indication of the impact of the pandemic on our well-being. Leaders on campus need to galvanize efforts to support well-being efforts, now more than ever. Objectives: 1) To investigate the leadership practices on the campuses that have demonstrated significant progress in the implementation of the Okanagan Charter, a health promotion framework, at signatory campuses 2) To propose how the leadership model of the exemplar campus can support campuses in the well-being efforts as we move through the pandemic and beyond Research Question: What type of leadership model and what leadership practices are most effective in embedding a wholistic health promotion framework in higher education, and how can these findings underpin campus efforts to support well-being going forward? Perspectives/Theoretical Framework: Our study examined the implementation of the Okanagan Charter (2015) on 10 campuses. The Charter is a health promotion framework that exemplifies a systems approach to health promotion that experts in the field advocate for as an essential structure to guide well-being efforts (see Dooris, et al., 2014; Newton, et al., 2016). We wanted to determine what was working and why. Methods, Data Sources: For this qualitative multi-site case study (Merriam, 1998; Yin, 2014), we examined any pertinent, publicly available documents and the campus websites to determine how prominent the well-being efforts were. As well, strategic plans and mission statements were explored to determine the importance and visibility afforded to these efforts. We also conducted semi-structured interviews with key informants at each of the campuses (1 – 3 per campus); some participants emailed us other non-confidential relevant documents. All data were analyzed using qualitative data analysis techniques (Saldaña, 2014).

    A striking finding was the crucial influence of leadership, both at the senior administrative level and at the level of the leaders working within portfolios directly connected to the well-being efforts. The exemplar campus had employed a collaborative leadership model with intentional and systematic connections among leaders. Leaders at all levels meet regularly to determine progress and strategize future action; this approach is a key foundation to ensure the whole campus is galvanized around this priority. Furthermore, some campuses have embedded wellbeing as a pillar within their strategic plans, resulting in an elevation of this priority and signaling its importance to all campus stakeholders. Educational Importance: In the face of the pandemic, campuses need leaders who communicate frequently and make well-being a critical piece of the messaging. Through strong and collaborative leadership, campuses will galvanize efforts to support the well-being of their constituents and plan a way forward for everyone through this crisis and beyond.

    Bio: Dr. Squires is the Interim Associate Dean of Research, Graduate Support and International Initiatives, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Administration, and Director of the Saskatchewan Education Leadership Unit (SELU) at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Squires’ research interests include post-secondary students’ well-being and success, as well as leadership and organizational development in post-secondary education (PSE) institutions. She brings expertise in policy development processes, and teaches classes on governance and policy-making, teaching and learning in PSE, student services in PSE, and PSE administration and governance.