The Be the Best You Can Be (BtBYCB) program was launched on the back of the awarding of the Games of the Thirtieth Olympiad to the city of London as part of the legacy aimed at inspiring the nation’s generation of children (i.e., going beyond the buildings and infrastructure provided by the games themselves). Developed and refined by a team of educational experts, education specialists/policy makers, and university scholars, the BtBYCB program was designed to foster positive physical, psychological, and social development by encouraging pupils to take ownership over their own personal development (i.e., becoming successful, creative and resourceful learners who are capable of living safe and healthy lives, and contribute positively to society). Such overarching aims and objectives directly align with key UK education, well-being and health policies and directives e.g., [1–4].
Following a staff-development day designed to enhance the facilitation skills of those who will be leading the program, the intervention commences with an inspirational ‘launch’ , facilitated by a talk from an Olympian, Paralympian, or other exceptional achiever. The launch session is intended to provide initial motivation to the pupils by helping them to understand what it feels like to be successful, the journey of personal growth involved, and the skills and dedication needed to achieve one’s dreams. The program continues with 11 one-hour teacher-led classroom sessions which are scheduled to occur within Personal, Social, and Health Education (PSHE) (although the topics can be linked across the curriculum in classes such as Physical Education). In these sessions, pupils are challenged to identify their aspirations, values, and interests and through activities such as personal development planning, peer-mentoring, and self-coaching, raise their awareness and develop the learning, self-management, self-reflection, and interpersonal skills necessary to support their identified ambitions, goals, and objectives. The program culminates with a final session (i.e., the ‘celebration’) in which the pupils are invited to deliver short group presentations to an audience consisting of fellow pupils, school staff, and invited guests (e.g., the guest speaker, parents, and members of the community). This presentation provides the pupil with an opportunity to reflect upon their personal achievements, share with others what the program meant to them, and reflect on the life-skills developed through the intervention. To facilitate the delivery of the program, each school has a BtBYCB team consisting of year tutors, teachers, PSHE staff, and a senior staff member.
With the intention of changing how pupils behave, view success, function, and develop skills for lifelong learning and health it is clear that an understanding of the motivation of pupils to engage and persist in the intervention is fundamental to the success of BtBYCB program. A general theory of human motivation that addresses the quality of motivation as well as the explicit conditions that promote optimal engagement, growth, health and development is self-determination theory (SDT; [5, 6]). SDT is the product of a systematic and comprehensive program of inductive research spanning the past five decades, and proposes that the nature and focus of motivation that gives rise to action can vary greatly, and it is this variation in motivation quality that serves to predict the degree to which behavior is sustained, active, and effortful. SDT also provides explicit insight into how to foster improvements in (i) autonomous motivation and (ii) physical and psychological health. Broadly speaking, within SDT social conditions supportive of a person’s experience of three basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are argued to foster the most volitional and high quality forms of motivation. This in turn promotes engagement with activities, including enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity [5, 6]. In contrast, SDT proposes that the degree to which any of these three basic psychological needs are unsupported or thwarted within a social or cultural context, will relate to a measurable negative impact on an individuals’ quality of motivation and wellness (e.g., ill-being, passive engagement, and restricted development) .
The BtBYCB program is aligned with tenets embraced within SDT. To this end, SDT postulates that autonomous types of motivation result in positive consequences (e.g., optimal functioning, behavioral persistence, effortful engagement, eudaimonic and hedonic well-being), whereas controlling types of motivation lead to negative outcomes (e.g., school drop-out, elevated anxiety, and greater experiencing of ill-being). Considerable empirical work in education settings has shown autonomous forms of motivation to lead to a number of desirable outcomes such as academic persistence , higher quality learning , improved achievement , enhanced well-being , and greater levels of school engagement . Parallel findings have been reported in a wide array of contexts including sport, business, health-care, and exercise settings [cf. 12,13].
An appealing feature of the SDT framework is that it provides explicit insight into how to foster increments in (i) autonomous motivation and (ii) physical and psychological well-being. Within SDT a number of malleable antecedents to the satisfaction of the psychological needs that can be readily incorporated into the proposed intervention are specified. For example, prior research demonstrates that to support the need for autonomy, social contexts (e.g., lessons) need to provide choice, promote initiation, and understanding, while minimizing the need to perform and act in a prescribed manner. When the need for autonomy is supported in this manner, autonomous enactment in activities, well-being, learning, behavioral persistence, and adaptive health-related consequences are all enhanced . Such interpersonal social contexts are termed autonomy-supportive environments.
In addition to promoting autonomy-support, in this work we will also target the social conditions necessary to facilitate competence and relatedness. For example, to promote pupils’ perceptions of competence, many activities/tasks will have self-referenced (or task-involving) standards and indicators of improvement associated with them, and feedback will be provided in a similar self-referenced manner . This will provide informational feedback to pupils helping them to learn what is involved in making further improvements and how to notice and acknowledge their progress rather than focusing on their performance relative to other pupils. To facilitate relatedness, certain tasks/activities (e.g., peer mentoring) will encourage small group activities to promote cooperation and reciprocal relationships [13, 14].
A second line of research has shown goal content manipulations (i.e., framing “what” pupils may hope to obtain from taking part) presented in the form of text scripts to differentially predict pupils’ responses to desirable education outcomes such as persistence and performance [15, 16]. Specifically, previous research has shown adaptive outcomes to be a function of promoting goals that are intrinsic in nature as opposed to those that are directed towards external indicators of worth. As such, in this work the foci will be towards “inwardly-focused” goals such as personal growth, affiliation, community contribution, and maintenance of physical health.
Finally, because certain activities underpinning personal growth, achieving personal excellence, and accruing health benefits are not always appealing (i.e., albeit desirable they can be mundane, repetitive, etc.), an understanding of how to support an individual’s motivation to partake in such activities represents an important aspect of this research application. To this end, a process proposed by SDT (i.e., internalization) provides valuable information as to how to promote adaptive engagement in less appealing activities. Specifically, to facilitate the internalization process, Deci and colleagues e.g., [17, 18] have identified the following social conditions; (i) a meaningful rationale expressing why it is important to partake in the activity, (ii) the interpersonal context in which the behavior is performed to be supportive of the basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness so as to facilitate autonomous regulation and integration, (iii) an acknowledgement of the pupils’ feelings and perspective about the activity, and (iv) the use of language that conveys choice rather than control. Again, these principles have been incorporated into the BtBYCB program.
The present work: Research aims and hypotheses
The primary aim of this study is to provide an empirical assessment of the BtBYCB program via the use of a cluster randomized controlled trial (CRCT). Specifically, the following research aims and hypotheses will be addressed in this trial:
To statistically examine whether the BtBYCB intervention leads to increased levels of eudaimonic well-being, hedonic well-being, self-esteem, self-perceptions, and adaptive learning strategies.
In view of the healthy lifestyle messages embedded in the program, statistically examine whether the BtBYCB intervention leads to desirable changes in reported modifiable health-risk behaviors (i.e., physical activity level, dietary intake, tobacco use, and alcohol consumption). Further, in a subsample we will test whether changes in objectively assessed physical activity levels occur as a function of participating in the program.
Using (i) qualitative methods; and (ii) a mixed-methods approach, describe, analyze and explain the differing experiences of participants engaged in the BtBYCB program.
Engagement in the BtBYCB intervention will lead to increases in markers of eudaimonic well-being, hedonic well-being, and self-esteem.
Engagement in the BtBYCB intervention will lead to desirable improvements in reported modifiable health-risk behaviors (i.e., physical activity level, dietary intake, smoking, and alcohol consumption). Further, and in a subsample, we hypothesize that objectively assessed physical activity levels will increase as a function of participating in the program.
It is hypothesized that pupil improvements on markers of health and well-being will be mediated by increases in their perceptions of an autonomy supportive teaching context, satisfaction of autonomy, competence, relatedness, and also by improved autonomous motivation scores.
In addition to the main CRCT, we will conduct two supplementary elements of work. Combined, these phases of work will provide rich information of the lived experiences of participants and provide greater insight and understanding of the program experiences and user needs.
The first segment of work involves focus groups (or individual interviews in the case of headteachers) with participants to explore how the underpinning principles within SDT can be/have been integrated into the BtBYCB program. This aspect of work will also build an in-depth understanding of the “active ingredients” of the program, will explore ways in which the participants’ need-satisfaction and motivation could be further enhanced, and look into ways in which the user-group (i.e., pupils, teachers and headteachers) think that the program and its content and appeal can be improved.
The second component of work pertains to a simultaneous mixed-method approach encompassing qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Specifically, this approach will go beyond the ‘elaboration’ stage used in the focus group work to a ‘complementary’ perspective cf. . Indeed, the purpose of the mixed-methods element of this study is to gain an in-depth account of the differing experiences of the program for particular groupings. The quantitative data will be used to identify pupils in each of the five intervention schools with different experiences of the intervention (i.e., those for whom the program was most effective, those who gained little, if any, change from the program, and those for whom the program had inverse effects). Informed by the quantitative data (thus, a QUAN + qual notation), this approach will seek to gain an in-depth account of the program experiences of participants with contrasting profiles. This approach will provide an enriched account of the data in a synergetic fashion as quantitative methods are suited to specifying relationships and qualitative for explaining and understanding relationships .