Positive mental health and well-being are important for all students in order to build resilience and thrive.
School Mental Health Ontario helps the province’s school boards to support them.
Focusing on positive mental health and well-being, within safe and inclusive school settings, helps all students to thrive.
Implemented in a culturally responsive way, it can perhaps prevent or reduce future mental health problems.
What does it take to generate positive and sustainable outcomes for students?
There are three key components:
- A mentally healthy, culturally responsive, school and classroom environment
- Evidence-based programming
- And training and implementation support
One of the most powerful evidence-based tools is social-emotional learning or SEL.
SEL is the process of learning and developing skills to recognize and manage emotions. Cope with stress. Strengthen identity. Solve problems. Enhance positive relationships and think critically.
Research shows that when students engage in high-quality SEL at school, those results are significant.
Moreover, participation in SEL leads to strong gains in academic achievement.
SEL also has a cumulative effect. When all students in a class or school learn and practice these skills, their sense of belonging within the classroom, school and community improves. Everyone tends to communicate in more positive and thoughtful ways, and they show respect for diversity of thought, culture, language, faith, identities and expression.
Educator reflection about the learning environment with opportunities for input from students and families is a critical part of culturally responsive instruction and assessment.
There are many approaches to support SEL at school.
One of the most well-known resources is the foundational work of the Collaborative for Academic and Social-Emotional Learning. We adapted it for easier implementation in Ontario schools
Consider how to weave these six SEL skill categories into everyday classroom practice.
One, self-awareness and sense of identity.
Two, identifying and managing emotions.
Three, stress management and coping.
Four, positive motivation and perseverance.
Five, relationship skills.
Six, critical and creative thinking skills, or executive functions.
When caring educators introduce and model these skills throughout the school day, students can be more equipped to manage their struggles.
So, how can you introduce SEL?
Just as other approaches to skill development, use a clear sequence, engage active learning, keep the focus, and name and reinforce the skills in an explicit way.
Ensure that you provide ongoing opportunities for learning and reflection, with a strong anti-racism antioppression stance guiding the classroom climate.
When you decide to introduce SEL, think about your students’ developmental stage, and the way skills are expressed across culture, gender and other diversities represented in your school and classroom.
That will help students to see themselves within SEL activities.
Parents, families and caregivers may choose to reinforce these skills at home. Students also may want to provide input to how social-emotional learning skills can be used to create a culture of inclusion and belonging across the school.
A school-wide approach ensures that:
- school leadership is fully involved as SEL is introduced and maintained
- staff participate in quality professional learning and model SEL in their instructional practice
- data and observations about SEL progress inform planning and practice
- SEL opportunities are woven into the fabric of the school’s culture and learning activities; and
- all partners work together to create welcoming, respectful, and safe learning environments
Together, you can demonstrate a commitment to mental health and well-being, equity, safety and inclusion. That’s what happens by building SEL into classroom and school life.
This powerful approach can help all students to be successful today and be ready for life’s challenges and opportunities.
For more on social-emotional Learning, and mental health promotion, visit the School Mental Health Ontario website.