Build your mental health awareness
Regardless of your role within the school, it’s a good idea to have a general understanding of mental health and your school’s plan for supporting student mental health. Look for opportunities to learn about mental health through workplace professional development or read the about student mental health page to start to build your knowledge.
Take care of your mental health
It’s essential that you take care of yourself too—for your well-being, and so you’re better able to support the students and families 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 staff through your employee assistance program.
Role-specific tips for supporting student mental health
Many of these tips are things you’re probably doing already, but they may be good reminders.
Whether you work in the main office, student services, or another office space, you are often the first person a student and their family meets when they arrive in the school. The tone that you set can make all the difference in how the school is perceived. You help parents/families have confidence that their child will be cared for each day. You may also be the one a student first connects with after an absence for mental health reasons, or when seeking help for a problem they are experiencing. Your sensitivity and caring support at a time when a student may be feeling vulnerable can make a huge difference in their well-being.
- Greet students and school visitors with a smile and a friendly tone, in person and on the phone. Get to know students by name.
- Try to notice if a student is looking strained or upset, and take an extra moment to make them feel cared for if they approach asking for help.
- Create a welcoming space for families by having books or toys for young children, a space for brochures for families and information displayed in multiple languages, if applicable.
- Show kindness to students returning after an absence. They may be carrying more than it might seem as they push themselves to get back to school.
The care that you take in ensuring a safe and clean school building does not go unnoticed. Staff and students are better able to work and learn in a comfortable physical environment. And students are watching you! They notice when they see you working in the hallways, fields, and classrooms. Some students may make a special connection with you and your work, and talking with you may be the thing that helps them to feel they belong. You never know the influence you might have on a student.
- Greet students and school visitors with a smile. Get to know students by name if you can.
- Try to notice when a student may be taking an interest in your work. You never know how this connection might help them.
- Pay attention to the students in the hall. Notice if someone seems upset. You can acknowledge them and ask if they need help. Guide them to the main office, or student services, if they seem to need help.
Many students in Ontario schools count on bus transportation to get to and from school. For some young children, this can be a big new experience and may feel scary. For older children and youth, their experience on the bus can shape their school day. Having someone to sit with, and talk to, can make all the difference. Knowing that there is an adult who is there if there is a conflict or worrisome situation is very important to students.
- Warmly welcome students to your bus and help them to feel comfortable.
- Make a connection to parents/family members of young children to reassure them that their child is off to a good start each day.
- Notice if there are children who are sitting alone each day and invite them to sit near the front with you, if appropriate.
- Create a safe climate on your bus so that incidents of bullying are not tolerated.
- Report any concerns to school staff immediately.
Helping with school activities, field trips and events, supporting student learning, or lending a hand with day-to-day tasks – volunteers can be the glue that make things work in a school! And while you are in the building, you are part of the fabric of school life and you contribute to making your school a mentally healthy place for students!
- Greet students and staff by name and with a smile.
- Take an interest in students. Listen to them without judgment. Help them understand that they matter and they’re valued.
- Help to create a positive environment. Speak positively about the school to parents and community members. Don’t get involved in gossip or speculation. If you hear misinformation, you can help by correcting it, or by reminding people of options for sharing their concerns with the school.
- Encourage parents or community members to get involved in opportunities to provide input or to attend school events.
Sports and clubs are an excellent way for students to learn about themselves and their strengths, and how perseverance and practice can help them to get better and achieve their goals. Sports also provide great opportunities to work as part of a team and to experience all the lessons of winning and losing. As a coach, you have a very special role in helping young people to learn new skills and to nurture a student’s sense of belonging.
- Be thoughtful about how you set up teams and the tryout process.
- Get to know students who you coach.
- Help students to learn about the importance of physical activity.
- Encourage students to take healthy risks and to push themselves even when they aren’t sure they can do it.
- Show students that you believe in them, and that trying is as important as succeeding.
- Encourage teamwork and good sportsmanship.
- If you notice any behavioural changes in students you have contact with regularly, ask the student if they are okay. Listen. Check in with your school’s mental health leadership team and/or the student’s parents/guardian if the problem persists or if the student tells you that they need help.
Did we miss a role?
Your school may have people in other roles other than those mentioned above. If you are an adult in a school interacting with children and youth, you have an important role to play in promoting mental health.
Do you have another role in the school that we have missed? Contact us, and feel free to suggest any tips that would help you and others in your role!