What does a healthy classroom look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like when you enter through the classroom door? I recently had the opportunity to be a part of our local ETFO’s Building Better Schools Forum in Kitchener. It is an initiative by our provincial office to engage parents, guardians and community members in helping shape the direction of elementary schools in our province (http://www.buildingbetterschools.ca/the_plan ).
I was part of a three-member panel that was made up of a social worker professor from the University of Waterloo, a school council chair and mother of students in the WRDSB and myself, a teacher in the board. We had a variety of questions that were asked of us that allowed the audience (including our local released officers, director of education, superintendents, board trustees and general community) to hear from this cross section of people about their concerns, their wishes and the areas that they felt satisfied with in the public education system.
The number one item that came across from the panel was the concern about mental health and how it permeates every area of our education system from students to teachers to parents. What was once overlooked, swept under the carpet or just ignored now is coming to light as a result of the courage of many people who are helping reshape our thinking.
The end result of needs not being met when it comes to mental health in the classroom is usually maladaptive behaviour that can range from withdrawal to violence to attempting suicide. What was clear in the conversation is that there is not enough supports available in our communities and schools to support the increasing demand.
As teachers, we are at the frontline to this growing epidemic and need to understand that our wellness will dictate the wellness of our classroom. Don’t tolerate violence, don’t just look at the behaviour component and don’t stop lobbying for change by our government. We must give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves, we must build balance into our lives throughout the school year and not just on holidays and finally we must have our voices heard in helping get the changes needed in our education system.