What Can Educators Do?
Feeling connected, autonomous and competent may help to foster self-esteem and self-determination.
- To feel connected, students need to feel safe and secure, they need to experience a sense of belonging, they need to feel they are welcome, and they need to feel they are accepted for who they are.
- To feel autonomous, students need to feel their voices and opinions are heard, they need to feel respected, they need to feel challenged to develop and meet realistic expectations, and they need to learn how to make wise choices and decisions.
- To feel competent, students need to experience repeated successes. Every child has areas of strength. An experience of success in one area has a ripple effect. Feeling competent and as though you can master one part of your life may help to foster positive self-esteem and help the child cope with future challenges [i].
This section of the module will present some practical strategies for supporting student well-being. To begin, this video excerpt shows an overview of the Feed All Four approach, implemented in the Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
To watch the video in its entirety, click here to access the video A Mindfulness Practice to Support the Well-Being of Students with LDs – Feed all Four.
For information on the tiered approach for student mental health and well-being, click here to access the School Mental Health Ontario website.
Foster a Positive Classroom Environment
Educators are in a unique position to promote the mental health and well-being of students by creating a safe, supportive, healthy, and accepting environment in the classroom and at school. This will improve conditions for learning, and foster positive mental health and well-being. Safe, supportive, healthy and accepting school environments may also support students in feeling connected, autonomous, and competent.
Consistent limits, clear expectations and predictable routines (e.g., warnings when transitioning) can help student predict how the day will go, which may decrease opportunities for emotions to build up.
The document below lists a number of strategies for fostering a positive classroom environment, and also serves as a self-assessment.
Reduce Stigma through Empathy
One important way to reduce the stigma around LDs as well as mental health issues is to promote empathy in your classroom. The following section of the module is an adapted excerpt from the LD@school article. Click here to access the original article How can educators help students be empathetic towards students with learning disabilities?.
Empathy is simply the ability to understand the feelings and emotional experiences of another person [ii]. This means that we are empathizing if we ‘feel’ what the other person might be feeling. In order to do this, we have to understand what it is like to experience what they experience. Empathy allows us to understand behaviour from different perspectives, and shapes our reactions to others’ behaviours [iii].
If we can increase empathy among peers, our students with LDMH may feel better understood and supported, and we may see improved reactions to these students.
- Start by modelling empathy and understanding. For example, if a student is struggling or making mistakes, be careful not to make them feel singled out by calling attention to their difficulty, whether it be messy handwriting or poor social skills.
- Help students understand conflict from a skills perspective. Take this case study for example:
Alex (who has an LD in visual reasoning and ADHD) bumps into John as he walks into class. John says, “Hey, watch it! You almost knocked me over!” Alex looks annoyed and says, “No, I didn’t”. John retorts by saying, “You totally did! Everyone saw you. Why are you lying?” Alex, who is now angry, replies, “I’m not lying! You’re lying! You’re always trying to get me in trouble”. Alex then continues to yell as all the other kids in the class filter in. They whisper to each other, “What’s his problem?”.
Considering this situation from a skills perspective, what skills is Alex missing? Visual spatial reasoning, body awareness, impulse control and emotion regulation skills are all a challenge for Alex. Given that frame, is he being unreasonable ‘on purpose’, or is he just lacking the skills to “do well if he could”? Having discussions with students in response to other students’ challenging behaviours can help shift their understanding to a more empathic frame. If you can frame the student’s behaviours as a SKILL challenge, not a WILL challenge, then you will be able to help other students do the same.
- Help students understand that everyone has different abilities and that ‘fairness’ is when we respond to each person’s needs. Use visual examples, like the image below to demonstrate the difference between sameness and fairness (or between equality and equity).
In this image, the three children are all treated equally and given the same supports, whether they need it or not. The tallest child is getting more support than he needs and the shortest child is not receiving enough support and still cannot watch the baseball game.
Fairness, on the other hand, means that each student gets the support that he or she needs, as illustrated by the image on the right. By providing each individual with the appropriate supports, everyone is able to watch the baseball game. Although the children do not receive the same treatment, they are being treated fairly and each is getting what he or she needs to be successful.
To read a student’s perspective on stigma and empathy, click here to access the article The Elephant in the Classroom.
[i] Deci & Flaste, 1995
[ii] Eisenberg, Fabes and Spinrad, 2006
[iii] Bugental, Johnston, New, & Silvester, 1998