Teachers play an integral role in taking care of students throughout their time in school. Research validates teachers are the biggest influence for students, you are the part of the school system that has the strongest impact on student lives. Therefore, you play the most important role in supporting students with their social-emotional and mental health well-being along with academics. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do/say and how to help. Here are 5 things teachers can do to help students with mental health.
1. Build a healthy environment together
- Ask students for ideas of how to make the classroom a safe, welcoming, comfortable space for everyone.
- Encourage students to listen to each other and check-in with each other. Most times they’re the first to realise when someone is low and most able to relate and help. Looking after each other is an integral part of building a strong community.
- Include activities with the purpose of getting to know each other better, creating a sense of understanding and shared belonging.
- Establish structure by creating predictable routines and expectations. This helps students feel calm, increases positive behaviours and learning engagement.
- Along with academics, encourage students to socialise, engage in hobbies, take breaks from social media.
- Help them build healthy habits related to sleep, nutrition, exercise.
2. Listen to them
Oftentimes, students want to be heard and feel seen more than anything else. If students approach you for help, they probably trust you and feel comfortable with you. In these situations, teachers need not worry about solving problems or giving the perfect advice, you can solely focus on giving the student your full attention to listening to their experience and feelings. Sometimes in large schools, and packed days, it’s difficult to remove time to spend with students even if you really want to. In these situations, you can try some of these:
- Ask them to write in a journal which you can read later.
- Offer lunch together on certain days. Offering it only on certain days makes it manageable and not too overwhelming for you too.
- Offer time before school or after school.
3. Check-in with students
- You might already know of some students who struggle with their emotional and mental health. Check-in with these students often. This can be quick 2min checks at the beginning and end of the day/period, asking them how they are doing and if they need some additional help. It can be done daily or even once a week, the frequency depends on the student’s needs.
- Some students might display disruptive behaviours such as shouting in class, getting into fights, teasing peers etc. Often we try to support this by potentially harsh disciplinary actions. It’s helpful to think of these behaviours as the students attempt at communicating their distress and inability to do what they need to. Looking at it from this perspective, teachers can check-in with the student, try to identify/understand what support the student needs and then help them get that support. Most times students feel cared for and relieved when someone notices and asks them what’s going on.
4. Watch out for concerning signs
Keep a lookout for changes in student behaviour that are drastic, sudden and come in the way of students’ learning or social interactions. Some changes are developmentally appropriate and to be expected. Therefore, if and when severe changes in mood and behaviour last approximately 2 weeks or more, it might be something to look into further. Teachers are able to provide a lot of appropriate support when students are struggling and should do so if the concern is manageable. When teachers find themselves wishing for some help in terms of guidance or find the need for a more trained professional to address the concerns, teachers must collaborate with their school’s counselling team or leaders to decide how best to take care of the student’s needs.
5. Be a role model
Teachers are role models for students. Students are always watching teachers, observing them, experiencing their energy and learning from them. They will observe you and learn the skills you use to deal with difficult situations. Try to be as calm, kind and honest as you can be. Take care of your own mental health and mention to your students that it’s something you give importance to and practise daily, in order to deal with stressors and lead a healthy life.
Teachers have a special relationship with students. Because of this a lot of times teachers know when their students are going through a tough time emotionally and might need some additional support. Teachers have started supporting students’ emotional well-being a lot more explicitly, especially since the pandemic. In order to create a safe and supportive learning environment, it’s vital to know how to support your students’ mental health well-being and your own.