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 modeling.
Use our reflection tools to reflect on the practices used in your school or board and to identify strengths and areas for growth.
How to create a mentally healthy school and classroom
There is no one way to build a mentally healthy school and
classroom. The approaches can vary according to your preferences as an
educator, the needs of your students, and your local context. But at its heart,
a mentally healthy school and classroom is a learning environment where
everyone feels they belong. As you welcome, include, and understand students,
staff and families; promote skills and knowledge that build mental
health; and partner with others in support of student learning and
wellness, you are setting the foundations for this.
Build your mental health literacy
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 students who are newcomers 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.
Recognize that parents and families know their child best.
Include families as part of the team in efforts to enhance student mental health at school.
Provide parents and families with information about what students are learning about social-emotional skills and mental health at school so they can reinforce skills at home.
When you notice a student showing emotional/behavioural, clearly explain your observations to parents, without diagnosing or labelling the problem.
Connect with families regularly to discuss their child’s progress at school.
Show compassion and understanding for the well-being of families when students are struggling.
Provide opportunities for ongoing dialogue with students and parents to support mental health and reduce stigma about mental illness.
Know how to help students and families access mental health services.
Provide translated information about mental health services in the community.
Remain a part of the circle of support when a student is receiving more intensive care by board or community mental health professionals.
Everyday practices in mentally healthy classrooms
Be sure to check out the everyday practices resources for activities you can implement now that will help you create and maintain a mentally healthy classroom.
How to tell if a student is thriving
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 amongst your staff and students. Pausing to notice what is going well can help us to keep perspective. Remember, most of us 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 related to mental health!
Behavioural/physical signs of wellness
separates from family readily, confidently
participates enthusiastically in physical or learning activities
demonstrates developmentally appropriate self control (impulse control)
enjoys healthy active living, even if they have physical limitations or disabilities
makes friends easily or has at least one good friend
reaches out to help a peer in trouble
can resolve conflicts with talking and compromise
Social-emotional signs of wellness
shows appropriate range of emotion (e.g. sad when appropriate)
appears mostly happy and content
bounces back from failure or mistakes
shows empathy to a peer
enjoys interactions with peers
overcomes initial hesitations or fears with new experiences
seeks comfort from adults when appropriate
can calm down and regulate emotional state when disrupted
Cognitive indications of wellness
explores the learning environment with curiosity
completes assigned tasks
engages in creative play or group work
perseveres with challenging tasks
participates in learning activities
asks for and accepts help from the teacher
makes plans and follows through
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. Follow your circle of support practices if you’re concerned about a student.