What Can Educators Do?
This section of the module outlines strategies that may be helpful in addressing the needs of your students experiencing higher stress levels. Remember that each student’s needs are unique, and it is important to know your students in order to select appropriate strategies.
Strategies for Addressing Stressors in the Classroom
The Yellow Zone stressors discussed earlier in the module can be addressed using the proactive strategies outlined in the following document.
However, educators cannot eliminate all stressors for every student. Despite consistent use of proactive strategies, students may still experience heightened stress levels.
Talking with Students about Mental Health
When students inevitably experience stress, using empathy is often the best place to start. It begins with noticing a student who may be struggling, finding an opportunity to pull the student aside, and listening to their concerns. It helps to label and reflect the thoughts and feelings the student may be expressing. For example, “I notice you are asking a lot of questions about the upcoming field trip. Are you a little worried about how it will go?” Labeling and reflecting back the student’s thoughts and feelings helps to show understanding. Even if you label the feeling wrong, it still offers a chance to start a conversation about what is going on for the student.
Validating the student’s experience is also important. It may involve imagining what it might feel like to be in his or her shoes and convey your understanding of their experience in an accepting and non-judgmental way. Let the student know their feelings are normal and natural, and everyone experiences different feelings from time to time. For example, “Lots of students feel tense and nervous when they have a pop quiz.” Students need to hear their feelings are meaningful and justified. Listening, acknowledging and validating those feelings can support students in feeling understood and helps to build their self-esteem.
Once the student is feeling calmer, you can move into problem solving and offering advice. Try to work together to determine possible solutions. Throughout the process, support the student’s strengths and express confidence in his or her strengths.
For a printable version of the strategies above, click here to access the document Talking with Students about Mental Health.
However, conversations with students about their personal of mental health problems can be very difficult for educators, who may have little knowledge about the issues students are facing. Pages 22 and 23 of the document Supporting Minds provides important guidelines for student-educator conversations. Click here to access the document Supporting Minds.
Modelling and Teaching Self-Regulation Skills
Children and youth often learn self-regulation skills by observing others. It is important to stay calm yourself when a student’s emotional or behavioural responses are escalating. By staying calm in the storm the student may start to mirror your emotions and behaviours, deescalating the situation.
There are many excellent programs designed to teach students self-regulation skills, including but not limited to: Stop Now and Plan (Child Development Institute); Zones of Regulation; Integra Mindfulness Martial Arts (CDI); Integra Young Warriors (CDI). Different school boards may implement particular programs in their schools. Check with your board’s Special Education Department to learn more about what is appropriate for your students.
For more information and strategies, click here to access the article An Introduction to Self-Regulation.
Reducing Stigma: Talking in the Classroom about Mental Health
Increasing awareness about mental health may support students to feel like they are not alone, and may help to reduce the stigma surrounding it. Here are just a few ideas for highlighting mental health in the classroom.
- Participate as a school community in Mental Health Awareness Week, World Mental Health Day, or Bell Let’s Talk.
- Share this LD@school poster with your colleagues, or post it in your classroom or staff room.
- Plan a unit of study around themes of mental health and well-being.
- Highlight fictional characters or real role models, such as celebrities, who have struggles with mental health issues. Talk about how they coped and grew from the experience.
- Provide all students with information about ways to cope with stress (e.g., ways to build friendships, maintain healthy sleeping habits, and build exercise into each day).