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Innovation and Scale-Up Lab

In the field of school mental health, there are a variety of innovations developed by researchers and/or by practitioners to support students’ mental health and wellness. For busy educators and school clinicians, the volume and range of offerings can be overwhelming. It can sometimes be difficult to decide which interventions and approaches should be selected to address local needs. And, once an evidence-based approach has been chosen, it can be challenging to introduce, scale, and sustain the new practices.

School Mental Health Ontario has been trying to take the guesswork out of this process for many years by encouraging uptake of evidence-based practices, and shining a light on the importance of tending to issues of implementation and sustainability early on when considering new approaches. More recently, we have been searching for and introducing mental health programming that is, by design, both evidence-based, and implementation-sensitive.

These resources and interventions may be universal in nature, designed to promote mental health for all students. Or, they may be more specifically created to serve students who are at risk, or already struggling with emerging or existing mental health problems. In school mental health, we often use a Multi-Tiered System of Support framework to think about services for mental health promotion (tier 1), prevention and early intervention (tier 2), and more intensive clinical care (tier 3). This helps us to organize and coordinate innovations to support students across this continuum of services.

The Aligned and Integrated Model or AIM is a triangle that shows the three tiers of student mental health support in Ontario.

Over the past few years, we have engaged with partners from across North America who are working on innovations that attend to both research and practice simultaneously. These partners share a passion for developing and introducing innovations in school mental health that suit the real-world context of schools and school boards. Because this evidence-based, implementation-sensitive area of work is relatively new, there are many questions about how best to do this.

  • Does the innovation work under ideal conditions?
  • Is the innovation feasible and scalable in real school environments?
  • Is the innovation as effective as proven manualized programs?
  • Can the innovation be contextualized for different settings / populations?
  • What factors contribute to successful engagement, uptake, and sustainabilty?
  • What are the benchmarks for effective implementation of mental health programming in schools?

The generosity of partners listed in the initial projects below allowed us to begin to grapple with such questions. But as we moved deeper into this area, the team realized that more questions were emerging (like, What does “implementation-sensitive” really mean? How do manualized programs that are sound and proven fit in when we are thinking to scale?). And we recognized that learning a project at a time was less optimal than learning across projects. There is much to be gained in considering common learning across initiatives, and in inviting more project partners into the thinking, as this area of work evolves and expands.

And so, we reached out to experts at Western University’s Centre for School Mental Health to compare notes and to begin discussions about what might be possible when joining across organizations, given similar interests in advancing the uptake of high-yield school mental health innovations in Ontario. Through productive dialogue, and seizing the opportunity for complementary and connected work, School Mental Health Ontario and the Centre for School Mental Health have partnered to create the Innovation and Scale Up Lab (ISU Lab).

The ISU Lab’s mission is to examine and advance evidence-based and implementation-sensitive approaches within school mental health, and to mobilize both research and practice evidence to enhance quality, consistency, scalability, and sustainability in Ontario schools.

To move this agenda forward, through the ISU Lab we:

  • Seek – Seek out promising research and practice examples
  • Partner – Partner with key stakeholders to ensure that proposed innovations meet a clear and specific need
  • Study – Study innovations to ensure that promising approaches are evidence-based and implementation-sensitive within the context of Ontario
  • Share – Share lessons from promising approaches and engage in related knowledge mobilization and dissemination

Projects at tier 1 – Universal mental health promotion

The Everyday Mental Health project includes a series of classroom resources designed to support educators by offering a selection of high-quality everyday mental health practices that can be easily applied into daily classroom routines.

Resources include:

  • Everyday Mental Health Classroom Resource
  • Faith and Wellness – A Daily Mental Health Resource
  • Everyday Mental Health for Secondary School Classrooms

Partners

  • ETFO/FEÉO – Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario/Fédération des enseignantes et enseignants de l’élémentaire de l’Ontario
  • OECTA – Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association
  • OSSTF/FEÉSO – Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation/Fédération des enseignantes-enseignants des écoles secondaires de l’Ontario
  • AEFO – Association des enseignantes et enseignants franco-ontariens

Research collaborators

  • Brock University
  • CAMH – Centre for Addictions and Mental Health

Let’s Talk in the Classroom (LTIC) aims to better prepare Grade 7 and 8 teachers to effectively and confidently teach and talk to their students about mental health. More specifically, the LTIC program is comprised of an interactive, online guide containing background information, resources, and supports to prepare them to teach three specific lessons. These aim on destigmatizing mental health information, teaching students how and where to find reliable mental health information and to enhance their help-seeking skills if students find themselves facing for mental health concerns.

Partners

  • Bell
  • CAMH – Centre for Addictions and Mental Health
  • Kid’s Help Phone/Jeunesse, J’écoute

Research collaborators

  • Western University
  • Queen’s University

Skills for Life is an 8-lesson resource that was developed to be integrated into the Grade 10 Ontario Career Studies curriculum. It is informed by scientific research, co-written by Ontario educators and school mental health professionals, and designed to support students’ success in their chosen career pathway. This resource aims to teach students about skills for resiliency, caring for their mental health, noticing signs of difficulty, and to effectively seek out help when in need.

Partners

  • OSSTF/FEÉSO – Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation/Fédération des enseignantes-enseignants des écoles secondaires de l’Ontario

Research collaborators

  • SRDC/SRSA – Social Research and Demonstration Corporation/Société de recherche sociale appliquée

Projects at tier 2 – prevention and early intervention

The Brief Intervention for School Clinicians (BRISC) is a tier two, assessment, engagement, brief intervention (4 sessions), and triage strategy that is well suited to respond to the need of students with mild to moderate mental health problems.

This intervention was co-developed by the SMART Center faculty at the University of Washington, school leaders and school mental health providers in order to actively address known issues faced by School mental health (SMH) providers. These include, carrying large caseloads, experiencing significant time constraints, and needing to serve youth with a broad array of needs. Therefore, BRISC aims to be brief, evidence-based, flexible and to fit the school context.

Partners

  • University of Washington

Research collaborators

  • School Mental Health Assessment Research and Training (SMART) Center

The welcoming of large numbers of refugees over the past few years is a point of national pride for most Canadians. However, the majority of these newcomer families experienced significant trauma before arriving to Canada. Thousands of children in these families are now in Canadian schools, and many continue to struggle with symptoms of distress and trauma. The Centre for School Mental Health (CSMH), partnered on a new initiative led by School Mental Health Ontario to bring appropriate school-based services to these children and youth.

The STRONG program (Supporting Transition Resilience of Newcomer Groups) is a 10-week, school-based intervention developed by experts from the National Center for School Mental Health in Maryland and their colleagues at the Center for Childhood Resilience in Chicago. The program was initially piloted in spring 2018 in two Ontario school boards and has broadened its scope since then, extending to 9 school boards in the province, including two French-language school boards. The ongoing evaluation of the intervention focuses on feasibility, implementation, and preliminary student impact.

Partners

  • National Center for School Mental Health (University of Maryland)

Research collaborators

  • Centre for School Mental Health (Western University)