WellAhead (Child and Youth Wellbeing)


Helping integrate social and emotional wellbeing into K-12 education


Learn more:



Advancing Wellbeing in Schools

15 lessons about education, philanthropy & systems change

Read our year 1 report!



New opportunity:

WellAhead is seeking an individual or organization to conduct research into approaches to integrating wellbeing into K-12 education in Ontario.

Click here to read the request for proposal.



Social and emotional wellbeing is proven to support positive mental health, improve academic performance and contribute to favourable life outcomes. Given the amount of time young people spend in school, this setting presents a unique opportunity to reach all young people. Yet, in Canada, our education system does not consistently address social and emotional wellbeing as a core part of its role.

WellAhead aims to improve child and youth mental health by integrating social-emotional wellbeing into K-12 education. Our focus is on shifting culture, structures, priorities, and practices of schools and the education system at large. WellAhead takes an emergent approach to test different levers for change, scale what works, and share learnings.

Theory of Change

WellAhead serves as a national platform to capture, learn about and share a variety of approaches to integrating social and emotional wellbeing into K-12 education. We amplify the work of key stakeholders by providing funding and strategic expertise, enhancing learning and evaluation, and mobilizing transferable learnings across Canada.

Click the image above to see a full-scale version of WellAhead's Theory of Change


Learning: Better understanding of approaches that advance integration of wellbeing into K-12 education. We support partner organizations in capturing their learnings. Our focus is on how and why these approaches work - which is where the most transferable knowledge lies. WellAhead will leverage these learnings to inform work happening across Canada.

Relationship and Capacity: Increased capacity and connection to advance a focus on wellbeing at the classroom, school, district, and provincial levels. We help build capacity of organizations, institutions and networks working on this issue to enhance their impact. We also connect and convene leaders across Canada to learn from each other and generate new ideas.

Impact: Concrete changes to policy, priorities, structure, culture and practice to support integration of wellbeing in K-12 education. We fund organizations who have a direct impact on student wellbeing and are influencing changes at multiple levels, in addition to mobilizing knowledge ourselves.


Past Work:

WellAhead in British Columbia in August 2015. In our first year, we worked with six pilot districts to test an approach that involved three elements:

  • A community-led, participatory change process: drawing from the social innovation lab model as a way to create district ownership, buy-in and sustainability.
  • A strategic focus on everyday practices: sustainable, scalable approaches to advancing social-emotional wellbeing that are easily embedded into the school routine and don’t require significant resources or training.
  • Adherence to a core set of values: collaboration, mass participation, collective ownership, transparency, and emergence guided WellAhead’s approach throughout.

The WellAhead team supported districts through this process with tools and evaluation, while a Community Liaison (an existing staff person within the district) led the work at a local level. The process design, guided by MaRS Solutions Lab, had three phases:

  • Co-design (Aug-Dec 2015): Bringing diverse groups together to brainstorm everyday practices and decide which ideas to prototype in schools.
  • Prototyping (Jan-June 2016): A low-risk way of testing and improving ideas through rapid iteration. Educators implemented the everyday practices in their own way, reflecting on essential elements, ways to share them with others, and how to integrate them into their work.
  • Scaling (July 2016 onwards): Building on learning from co-design and prototyping to scale their everyday practices and embed wellbeing as a priority for their district.

Alongside this work with pilot districts, WellAhead played a role at the ecosystem level, listening to and learning from government, provincial organizations and networks, and other stakeholders to support existing work, make linkages, and catalyze action and conversations.

Visit the WellAhead website to learn more. You can also register for the WellAhead newsletter or follow @WellAhead_CA on Twitter to receive regular updates about our activities.

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation 1002 Sherbrooke W., Suite 1800, Montreal, Québec H3A 3L6