Mental health in the hallowed halls.

Here’s a snippet from casual conversations playing out in school hallways everywhere.
Pick the lines you’ve heard or have used before.

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Photo Credit:
WFIU Public Radio

“How are you? How’s it going? What’s up? How’s it?”

“Good. Great. All good here. Meh. No worries. Busy. So busy. Cool. Not too bad. OK. Could be worse.”

What would you do if someone answered honestly saying; “Not good. I’m being bullied by a group of students. I don’t like my body. My parents are divorcing. No one likes me. I feel alone and sad all of the time”? Would you pull out the motivational clichés and tell the person to toughen up? Would you walk away saying, “hope you’re OK?” and “things will be better with time” or would you inquire further? Would you feel comfortable finding out the truth? Do you have enough emotional energy in the tank to make a difference?

Regardless of years of experience, many new teachers feel uncomfortable, even under-equipped when facing mental health issues in the classroom After all, we’ve been taught pedagogy, not psychology, in teacher’s college. That’s not completely true. We did learn about Maszlow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but that was so long ago, it was only a small series of lessons/readings, and  besides we have lessons to deliver.

In this post I want to share a side of education that Maslowdoes not get enough attention. I’m talking about mental health in schools.

Understanding and supporting students with mental health issues is as important in our classrooms as the curriculum we are instructing.

What keeps educators awake at night are the the same daily problems being encountered in classrooms around the world. I am a witness to how mental health issues are scarring education. There is a recurring generational amnesia in the hallways of educational institutions and it’s time we do more about it.

That may not seem like a light and lively subject for conversation, but discussion in all of these areas is crucial as it pertains to making our classrooms safe and inclusive learning spaces. How are you dealing with issues like this in your classroom? Here are a few ideas that have helped in my learning space.

In my classroom we have worked hard to develop a safe space for all learners. This means that we all try to support each other when times get tough. We try to use the idea of Ohana (family) where no one is alone or forgotten. We have instituted Mindfulness Moments as brain breaks. Students need time to consolidate their learning, and to be still/quiet for a few minutes. This little break in the action calms the mind, reduces anxiety and teaches students a valuable de-stressing skill.

In my classroom, there is always a little something to eat. It is amazing how a granola bar, a juice box, and some crackers can help a student who has not had enough to eat to start the day. During tests, quizzes or quests, as we call them, we have “test crackers”.  They’re tasty, crunchy, and important to helping students relax during assessment tasks. I have found that when a student has something to eat, albeit very small, they are more relaxed and perform better.*

In a follow up post I share some thoughts about mental health issues as they relate directly to educators. You’d be surprised how similar they are to those our students face. Or maybe not?

I need a granola bar.

* Maybe I’ve found a thesis to test for my M Ed?

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The Author

Will Gourley

Grade 5 lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, divergent, and modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 90 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at https://escheweducationalist.wordpress.com/

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