A Review: The Third Path

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Educators are busy. This is a fact. They are tasked on a daily basis with curriculum and non-curriculum demands while managing busy classrooms and meeting the unique needs of the individuals in their classrooms. When introducing new initiatives it can seem that the new expectations, no matter how well intended, can be another “extra” in an already jam-packed day.

Although educators have long been supporting the well-being of those that they serve, in 2014 in Ontario, the Ministry of Education released its Achieving Excellence:A Renewed Vision for  Education in Ontario document and well-being was one of the pillars of the document. Further supporting documents has formalized the importance of well-being for our students and brought the work that was being done to the forefront of board and school learning plans. Undeniably student well-being is key, but tension exists around how introducing well-being to students can be “fit in”  and “added to” to existing classroom structures against the overwhelming importance of meeting curriculum and achievement expectations in and amongst the many other things that compete for attention in our classrooms.

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The Third Path: A Relationship-Based Approach to Student Well-being and Achievement, written by Dr. David Tranter, Lori Carson and Tom Boland (tbayboland), is a timely read that addresses a growing issue for educators.

The Third Path supports educators by removing the perception that well-being (Path 2) is separate from achievement (Path 1) by making a strong case that these two key aspects of education are not mutually exclusive. By incorporating well-being into our practices, and by focusing on our relationships with our students, we are supporting their ability to achieve and to “…help young people develop into healthy and well-rounded adults who know themselves and are able to meet life’s challenges with a sense of purpose and self-efficacy.” (The Third Path, 21).  

In choosing the third path, we are integrating well-being into the classroom using the best tool that we have as educators: the relationships created with our learners. These relationships are key as the “the educator-student relationship has been found to be consistently among the highest correlates with academic achievement” (Hattie, 2011). (The Third Path, 23).

By outlining the 8 conditions needed for our students to fully develop as learners and individuals in our classrooms, the authors have provided educators with the skills to align their current teaching practice with our moral imperative to support our students to be the best that can be. According to the authors, to truly support our students and to get at the heart of well-being in our classrooms we need to look no further than the relationships we have with our students. By understanding our students, we can implement the 8 conditions that support well-being and achievement:

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The conditions are linear which means each one builds upon the other and help identify student needs. If a student struggles with one of the conditions, it may prove that the issue lies in the condition that comes before it. Thus, it is in knowing our students that we can successfully implement the conditions in a way that will allow each student to achieve success in his or her own way. The 8 conditions are briefly outlined as:

1)   Safety:

Students require more than physical safety; they need emotional safety too. They need to know that the adults in their lives truly care and are responsive to their needs.

2)   Regulation:

Stress is a necessary part of growth, and learning how to regulate—to successfully recognize and address stress—is a critical and lifelong challenge. School provides an opportunity to help students recognize their signs of stress, understand its impact, and develop successful coping strategies.

3)   Belonging:

The more connecting experiences students have, the more they feel they belong. Belonging can be strengthened by increasing the number and depth of connecting experiences that the student has with the school, their educators, and their peers.

4)   Positivity:

Positivity leads students to be motivated and open to discovery. For educators, positivity is about spreading the joy of learning and believing in the extraordinary uniqueness and potential in each and every student.

5)   Engagement:

Engagement is about being fully open to learning, connected to others, able to take on complex challenges, and reach conclusions that are thoughtful and accurate. Engagement doesn’t just lead students to make good decisions—it also provides them with a deeper sense of satisfaction and confidence.

6)   Identity:

School is important for students’ exposure to a variety of ways of being, and for them to develop a stronger sense of who they truly are. They begin to form an identity that is their own, as well as come to appreciate and support the similarities and differences between themselves and others.

7)   Mastery:

Successful learning and development requires a sense of self-efficacy. Students need regular and accurate feedback along the way. Recognizing the value of effort and experiencing success is critical to maintaining motivation to learn.

8)   Meaning:

Meaning: Meaning is a powerful force for ongoing motivation and personal fulfillment. Students are much more likely to commit to lifelong learning and personal development when they are able to experience the intrinsic value of the activities they engage in.


Educators recognize the need to support well-being not just for our most at-risk students but for all our students but they may not recognize within themselves the skills and strategies that they possess to achieve this goal. Given all the pressures that educators have on any given day in a classroom, it is reassuring to know that supporting student well-being doesn’t come at the expense of student achievement. The Third Path is an excellent resource for educators who are looking to develop their toolbox to engage in the well-being conversation and to support all their learners in their sphere of influence. If you are unsure of how to “get started” with supporting well-being, I recommend The Third Path as a resource to begin with. It will reinforce that educators are already on the right path when it comes to promoting well-being within their students.

To watch an overview of the Third Path click here.



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