Many students will occasionally have difficulty paying attention, managing their impulses or completing tasks. Class-wide strategies and supports can help all students to maintain attention and optimize learning.
Additional supports may be needed, if
the student is frequently off-task, disorganized,impulsive, and/or can’t sit still
attention problems interfere with school performance and other activities
these problems persist over time
the level of problems observed is more than would be expected at their age or stage of development
Watch our tutorial: How to recognize and respond to attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity problems in the classroom
Our 30-minute tutorial introduces the concept of attention, explores signs and symptoms, when to be concerned, and reviews strategies to support students with attention problems in the classroom.
At school, we can help students to learn skills for focusing their attention, staying on task, waiting their turn, etc. And we can maintain classroom environments that help students to engage and self-regulate so they’re more available for learning. For most students, general strategies and supports will be enough to help them to maintain attention.
As an educator, you are well-positioned to observe early signs of attention problems because the classroom environment demands a high level of focus and organization. In some students, signs of difficulty in this area are easy to see, and are noticeable from a young age. For others, the difficulties can be quite hard to notice, but may be just as impactful, particularly when they are not identified until later grades.
Signs you may observe: elementary-age students
difficulty paying attention and following instructions
fidgety, excessive activity
acts without thinking
may blurt out answers
has trouble taking turns
difficulty with / avoids written work
easily distracted, daydreams
processes information slowly
acts younger than age
may have difficulty with friendships
Signs you may observe: secondary-age students
difficulty organizing self and activities
trouble starting / completing work
difficulty with setting goals
trouble maintaining attention to tasks and ignoring irrelevant information
restless, distracted, may appear to daydream
difficulty with multistep problem-solving and managing deadlines
problems performing under pressure
difficulty making decisions quickly
difficulty retaining information
may have more frequent negative moods (anger, anxiety, stress, sadness)
Remember, it’s not your role to diagnose mental health issues. But you can observe, document and work collaboratively as part of a team to provide caring support at school.
When to take action:
The student’s attention seems to be affecting their day-to-day functioning.
The signs of difficulty seem severe or prolonged.
The student or their family has expressed concern.
What to do:
Follow your school board’s protocol for accessing mental health support. This may include
consulting with your principal, vice-principal or member of your school’s mental health leadership team
discussing your observations with the student and/or their parent/guardian
a referral for professional mental health support from school board personnel (e.g., school social worker or school psychologist)
a referral for professional mental health support within the community
You are a critical part of the support process because you help with early identification. You will remain part of the student’s circle of support as they move to, through, and from professional mental health services.
Take care of yourself
It’s essential that you take care of yourself too—for your well-being, and so you’re better able to support the students you serve. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings and try basic self-care strategies. Learn to recognize when you need additional support. Help is available for you through your employee assistance program.
We will continue to expand our resources based on input. Please send us your ideas for topics to cover so we can meet your professional learning needs.
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Need help now?
We don’t provide mental health advice, counselling or treatment. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department. You can also reach out to Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.