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Bring People Along Through Mental Health Learning and Self-Care

As a school or system leader, you have a role in helping school staff to grow in confidence so they can take action in support of student mental health.

This begins with building your own mental health literacy and being aware of offerings that your staff may be accessing through School Mental Health Ontario and elsewhere. You may also wish to enhance this with additional, aligned in-person learning and training in your context.

In practice

Design a learning plan that builds on skills, knowledge and confidence over time. Avoid one-off presentations from outside experts. Instead, use embedded learning that is closely linked to school and classroom practice.

Mental health learning in Ontario uses the RAISE principle. It is:

  • Role-specific
  • Action-oriented
  • Iterative and Implementation-Sensitive
  • Selective
  • Evidence-informed.

Role-specific – Different roles require different information when it comes to mental health. Teachers need different knowledge than principals, who need different knowledge than trustees, who need different knowledge than bus drivers, and so on.

Action-oriented – Rather than simply providing descriptive information about mental health (e.g., what is depression), mental health learning in Ontario features strategies and ideas that can be used in schools and classrooms right away (e.g., everyday mental health suite)

Iterative and implementation-sensitive – One-off speakers and conferences have limitations when it comes to uptake of evidence-based practices. Educators learn best when knowledge is acquired systematically over time, ideally with opportunities for dialogue and coaching. Learning is not an event, it is a process. Ongoing implementation support is critical for enhancing confidence in school mental health.

Selective – Education professionals do not need to know everything about mental health in order to perform their role. For example, educators should be aware of tier 1 practices and be aware of when to be concerned, while mental health professionals have a more diagnostic and intervention based scope. Mental health learning in Ontario is focused more on upstream mental health promotion and prevention, and much less on mental illness.

Evidence-informed – Mental health learning in Ontario is carefully vetted to ensure that it aligns with research and with current thinking in school mental health globally. Materials are reviewed by school mental health professionals, practicing educators/leaders, and researchers to ensure quality and relevance. Learning methods are also evidence-informed, and align with preference modeling research.

If you are considering mental health learning in your board or school, keep the RAISE principles in mind. Not all speakers, workshops, or conferences are helpful. Consult the Decision Support Tool, and/or your mental health leader If you’re not sure.

In partnership with Mental Health Leaders in Ontario school boards, and practicing educators, we have been developing resources to assist with RAISE-principle mental health learning for several years. This learning has been rooted in Supporting Minds: An Educators’ Guide to Promoting Students’ Mental Health and Well-Being.

Mental Health Leaders have used these resources to create in-person facilitated learning sessions for school and system leaders, school staff, and school mental health professionals.

This work will continue, but to further enhance access to mental health learning, we have developed a number of new online educator mental health literacy offerings so that more education professionals can access this information on demand. Check out these new offerings, and key learning messages, so that you can reinforce this in your daily work in schools.

Current Offerings

  • Show commitment to school mental health as a key priority.
  • Appreciate the need for ongoing learning and reflection in this complex area.
  • Coordinate systematic professional learning about mental health that is consistent with RAISE principles.
  • Draw on school mental health expertise within the board to support mental health learning.
  • Facilitate educator inquiry, collaboration and sharing.
  • Recognize that mental health is a complex topic and may be personally challenging for some staff members.
  • Model practices that encourage and model self-care.
  • Support and encourage educators as they try strategies to promote mental health.
  • Consult with your board’s Mental Health Leader if you are unsure.
  • Educators are not mental health professionals, but they have a role to play.
  • Mental health and student achievement go hand in hand.
  • All students can benefit from developing social-emotional skills.
  • Mental health problems are common, and getting help is important.
  • Being aware of signs and symptoms can help with early identification and support.
  • There are simple classroom strategies that when used regularly, can enhance student mental health.

The Aligned and Integrated Model or AIM is a triangle that shows the three tiers of student mental health support in Ontario.

As with all aspects of mental health support in schools, it’s helpful to think in tiers about mental health learning.

Tier 1 – AWARENESS – Mental health awareness for all staff and school volunteers

  • basic information about student mental health, including how it connects to student achievement
  • understanding of common language
  • understanding of the role of schools and staff

What to try

  • Post information in staff areas, including the staff room, staff offices and on the inside of staff washroom stalls.
  • Include information in your regular email updates to staff.
  • Make time on staff meeting agendas to provide targeted information.
  • Involve all staff in planning for school mental health by providing opportunities to provide input.
  • Correct misinformation when you hear it.
  • Make sure staff know where to access support for their mental health.
  • Talk openly about mental health.

Tier 2 – LITERACY – Focus on mental health literacy for classroom teachers and other staff who work directly with students

  • build mental health knowledge
  • learn strategies for creating and maintaining mentally healthy classrooms
  • learn to recognize the early signs of difficulty and get support
  • understand how to support students at higher risk for mental health problems

What to try

  • Encourage staff to take the MH LIT Online Course.
  • Train your staff on school processes and make sure they know what to do when they’re concerned about a student.
  • Provide regular updates on your school’s plan and ask for input.
  • Share links to information on our site or other helpful sources in your regular updates to staff.
  • Tell teachers about the Everyday Practices resources and encourage them to use the activities.
  • Check-in and provide face-to-face feedback and encouragement to individual staff members.
  • Be available to support staff who are facing a challenging student situation.

Tier 3 – EXPERTISE – Mental health expertise for school mental health professionals and key school staff

  • focused training on evidence-based structured psychotherapy techniques
  • ongoing professional development for school mental health professionals on the latest research and approaches for supporting students with specific needs
  • training and tools on how to guide school-based staff who are supporting students at risk, or students who have been diagnosed with a mental illness

What to try

  • Make sure SMH professionals are aware of the training offered through School Mental Health Ontario.
  • Provide additional training for members of the mental health leadership team who may be involved in intervention.
  • Ask for feedback to help you identify any gaps or local challenges.

Suggest a topic

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.