School and classroom environments have an important impact on a student’s sense of belonging and overall mental health.
Maintaining positive relationships with students within a caring school community and safe, welcoming, inclusive classroom, contributes to students’ social-emotional wellness and readiness to learn. In addition, mentally healthy classrooms have a critical role in facilitating social emotional skill development – via instruction, embedded opportunities for practice and ongoing modelling.
Your knowledge of mental health is an essential part of creating a mentally healthy school and classroom. We cover mental health literacy and creating and sustaining a mentally healthy classroom in depth in our online course.
Make your efforts explicit
Many of the suggestions below are things you might be doing already. They come naturally to you as a caring educator. The goal is to use these practices consistently and with intention.
School and classroom strategies that support student mental health (Tier 1)
Greet students warmly, by name, as they enter the classroom.
Show an interest in activities that students are involved with outside of school.
If your school has a healthy food/breakfast program, allow time for students to get a snack before they settle down to work.
Check in with students who may need a bit more encouragement and support throughout the day.
Repeat instructions/speak more slowly for newcomer students and those for whom English/French is a second language.
Establish predictable classroom routines.
Provide flexible accommodations for students as needed.
Pay attention to student dynamics and intervene early if interpersonal problems arise.
Consider having different seating options available in the classroom (e.g., individual work areas, group work areas, informal seating areas, etc.).
Build a calming, separate space for students that allows them to take a step back from the busy classroom, as needed. You may consider having fidget toys available. Ask students for ideas to help you design the space.
Examine the materials in your classroom, such as posters on your walls. Are they representative of your students? Are cultural and faith elements appropriately diverse?
Consider including positive, hopeful messages around the classroom that inspire a sense of belonging.
At times, it might be appropriate to change the lighting, allow for music, and/or encourage movement in the classroom.
Often, when we think about mental health, problems in this area come to mind. While it’s important to have an eye out for students who may be having difficulty in this area, it’s also good to watch for signs of wellness among your students. Pausing to notice what is going well can help us to keep perspective. Remember, most students are mentally healthy most of the time.
This list below is not exhaustive, but offers a few indications to suggest that a student has good mental health. Noticing these signs can help you to maintain a wellness bias in relation to mental health.
can identify the source of a problem and think of ways to resolve it
Although most students are resilient and do not develop emotional distress, some will require additional support because of stressful circumstances, vulnerabilities, or experience of trauma. Learn what to do if you’re concerned about a student.
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