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From the Deputy Principal – Students, Ms Gabby Smith

Deputy Principal - Students, Gabrielle Smith

Deputy Principal - Students, Ms Gabrielle Smith

Part 3 – Whole School Wellbeing and Head of Student Wellbeing

In our third and final part in our three-part series on the Wellbeing initiatives taking place at Waverley College in 2024 we will be providing some insights into our ongoing work with the Association of Independent Schools (AIS) in developing ‘whole-school wellbeing’ and outline our new wellbeing position, Head of Student Wellbeing. Here Mr James Horrocks (Head of Student Wellbeing) will explain what both of these will mean for Waverley in 2024 and beyond.

Whole-School Wellbeing:

Waverley College is working closely with the Association of Independent Schools (AIS) to implement a whole-school wellbeing initiative that promotes evidence-based, school-wide approaches to wellbeing. Through this we are aiming to refresh our current Wellbeing Framework, applying the learnings gained through this network and ensuring that what results is specifically tailored to our Waverley College context and needs.

This program allows Waverley to connect with a wide range of other independent schools, all looking to innovate in their approaches to wellbeing. The Waverley College representatives in this program include; Mr Matthew Barr (Head of O’Connor House), Ms Holly Medcalf (Acting Head of Conlon House), Mr Stephen Ghattas (Assistant Director of the Junior School / Mission & Identity), Ms Samantha Jessen (College Psychologist), Mr James Horrocks (Head of Student Wellbeing) and Ms Gabrielle Smith (Deputy Principal – Students).

This group of staff will attend a series of masterclasses over the next 12 months, as well as meeting with a dedicated consultant from the AIS, twice per Term, to support the implementation of this initiative.


A whole-school approach to wellbeing is part of a broad, school-wide commitment to embedding wellbeing into the school’s context, mission, values, processes and practices. The first of these Masterclasses was held on Friday, 23 February 2024 and was moderated by Professor Donna Cross, a leading industry voice in wellbeing. The day introduced school teams to the key components of a whole-school approach and a strategic implementation process to enhance student wellbeing outcomes. School teams considered the processes and tools available to collect and review student wellbeing outcomes.

It also served as an important networking opportunity, allowing the team to reinforce prior relationships, as well as establish new relationships with wellbeing teams from across the independent sector. Our Waverley team was able to gain great affirmation of the wellbeing initiatives that already exist within the College, and got some excellent ideas on where future possibilities could be explored in this space.

From here we are looking forward to starting our in-school consultancy work as we look to further enhance the wellbeing outcomes for our entire College community. We are looking forward to providing further updates on this initiative as it progresses throughout 2024.

Wellbeing Centre

Waverley College Wellbeing Centre

Head of Student Wellbeing:

This year we have also introduced a new position within our Wellbeing Team, the Head of Student Wellbeing. This role has been implemented to work in partnership with the Deputy Principal – Students to provide leadership in all aspects of student wellbeing and formation of students across Years 5-12. This partnership provides leadership to the Student Wellbeing Team.

Strategically, the role is responsible for working to enact the Strategic Plan of the College and the Wellbeing Framework. It works closely with the Heads of House and broader wellbeing team to create and implement targeted wellbeing initiatives across all aspects of the College. The Head of Student Wellbeing is also responsible for supporting the implementation of evidence-backed and student-focused initiatives and programs that model best practice in the field of student wellbeing.

Generic playground

In the day-to-day operations of the school the Head of Student Wellbeing works to support staff and students in catering to the pastoral needs of all students at Waverley College. This entails implementing targeted supports for students in need and working closely with the Deputy Principal – Students and Heads of House team to ensure that all individuals are known, valued and challenged, allowing them to reach their full potential.

The introduction of this role has been an exciting opportunity and I am looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunities it provides for Waverley to continue to lead the way in student wellbeing.

Thank you for taking the time over the last three weeks to read about the exciting new initiatives launching this year at Waverley College in the Wellbeing domain. We look forward to keeping you up-to-date with all things wellbeing throughout 2024.


Mr James Horrocks

Head of Student Wellbeing

Screens, Teens and Mental Health

On Wednesday, 28 February 2024 a group of Year 12 students participated in the Future Proofing Survey run by the Black Dog Institute. Launched in 2019, the Future Proofing Study aims to prevent depression and anxiety in young people. This ground-breaking initiative involves working with 6,388 students from 134 schools around Australia over a five-year period. The data gained from these surveys has helped to generate the largest longitudinal study of its kind into the mental health of young people in Australia.

The students who took part in the survey have been contributing to this study every year since Year 8 and will contribute one more time after they graduate in 2025. The results of this study are already beginning to create valuable insights into the current landscape of mental health in school-aged students across the country.  

The below excerpt of a recent report by the Black Dog Institute (Brown, 2017) provides insight into how we can support adolescents to thrive while navigating their increasingly digital world.


How can we support adolescents to thrive while they navigate the digital revolution?

So, how can we positively support adolescents who are living in a highly digitalised world and who may be struggling psychologically? Truth be told, we are all pioneers here because we don’t yet have evidence-informed programs available about the impact of technology use. We examined the latest research in order to identify successful strategies for working with young people. These included:

  • Acknowledging and valuing digital experiences for teens

According to research, when adolescents are not feeling defensive and judged about their screen use, they will talk about how social media and gaming serve as stress relievers, distractions from daily pressures, a central way to maintain friendships after school, an avenue for learning new skills like software coding and expressing their creativity via vlogging or blogging or posting

  • Providing targeted support to already at-risk adolescents vulnerable to the impacts of screens

Research shows that vulnerable young people who ‘come to screens’ with pre-existing mental health problems are frequently negatively affected by screens. And, according to research, adolescents recognise that the digital landscape presents significant challenges for young people, including exposure to disturbing content such as self-harm, negative online communication with peers, pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards, and gaming addictions, all of which can worsen existing mental health struggles. 

So we need to continue to work proactively with young people who are already vulnerable in order to protect them from the negativity that can be associated with accessing social media. These interventions need to be approached delicately, however, since the challenges these individuals face often mean that they also benefit from the support, information, help, community, recognition, and sense of belonging available online. 

Students on Senior School campus

  • Teaching digital technological literacy 

Starting in primary school, the school curriculum needs to consistently educate students about the profit-driven tactics used by major technology companies like Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. This is vital to enable children, pre-teens and teens to recognise persuasive techniques, algorithms, targeted advertisements, biased news, and addictive features, and to encourage them to engage with social media platforms critically. They can learn techniques to proactively shape the algorithms on their social media so that they are actively choosing content that adds to their lives – techniques like using the ‘likes’ and ‘hiding’ features on their social media apps; seeking out pages that positively influence them; and unfollowing pages that negatively affect them.

In this learning process, a nuanced approach that steers clear of the simplistic ‘helpful’ vs ‘harmful’ approach to social media and technology will land more effectively with adolescents – and, more accurately, also reflect the reality of the intricate and multifaceted nature of adolescents’ online interactions.

Beyond the formal curriculum, another approach to behavioural change is for senior students to engage with younger students about screen use. Studies show that social media use is more problematic for younger adolescents, with older adolescents able to demonstrate more self-control than the youngsters so older adolescents, senior students in a school, who are also digital natives, could successfully mentor the younger students at school in how to manage their social media use.  

  • Role modelling a balanced approach to technology and social media use

Leading by example is crucial: when adults prioritise quality time away from devices, adolescents are more likely to follow suit. And seeking opportunities for enforced offline stretches of time are possible – and very helpful.


  • Engaging in indirect prevention approaches

Indirect prevention in health entails focusing on addressing social, economic, and environmental factors to reduce disease risk and promote overall wellbeing. In our efforts to prevent adolescent mental health problems, indirect prevention strategies include implementing wellbeing education in schools, promoting healthy peer relationships, encouraging regular physical activity, providing balanced nutrition, creating safe spaces, teaching the importance of good sleep, funding family support programs, offering accessible counselling services, and focusing on building adolescent self-esteem. In particular, it is worth focusing our energy on sleep education, given all the evidence-based research showing that screens before bed is having a significant negative impact on the quality and quantity of sleep and hence on physical and mental health. 

Prioritising these strategies is essential for the prevention of adolescent depression and anxiety which will reduce adolescent susceptibility to the challenges of problematic screen use, especially social media. 


The digital realm has become an expansive network of opportunities for adolescents, who now not only live in an internal and external world, but also in a virtual world. Collaborating with them around screen and technology use is essential if we are to equip adolescents with the skills to navigate this landscape with their wellbeing intact and with the requisite technological skills that they will undoubtedly need in their adult lives. 

Brown, L. (2017). Screens, teens, and mental health: Findings from the Future Proofing Study + 5 recommendations. Black Dog Institute.

SchoolTV Special Report: Toxic Achievement Culture

Toxic Achievement Culture

Toxic achievement culture is a critical societal issue where an individual’s self-worth is entangled to their academic or extracurricular achievements. This culture is not merely about striving for success; it represents a deep-seated belief that a student’s value is solely dependent on their performance, often propelled by intense external pressures from parents, schools, and society. The concept of toxic achievement has recently been outlined in a book that sheds light on this phenomenon, highlighting the dark consequences of a culture obsessed with success.

Toxic achievement is becoming increasingly prevalent, characterised by excessive competition, unrealistic expectations, and a singular focus on results. This culture is also being aggravated by parental expectations, peer competition, a relentless comparison ethos, as well as being compounded by social media. It stems from a shift towards individualism where personal achievements are being equated with self-worth.

This relentless drive to excel is leading many students to prioritise accolades over genuine learning and personal growth, often at the expense of their own wellbeing and interpersonal relationships. Some students are overfilling their schedules with activities aimed to “get ahead”. However, the consequences are proving to be detrimental on students’ mental and physical health resulting in burnout and heightened stress levels.

As adult carers, we need to advocate for a more balanced and holistic approach to achievement, emphasising the importance of resilience, wellbeing, and the pursuit of diverse interests. There is nothing wrong with having ambition, but it’s crucial to ensure that this desire doesn’t push our young people into a toxic cycle of achievement and make them feel they must achieve in order to matter.

View this Special Report HERE.


Ms Gabby Smith

Deputy Principal – Students