What can we do as teachers to create an environment that promotes good Mental Health?
Here are my Top 10 Tips:
First thing in the morning, preferably before arriving at school, or, at least when you first get there, check-in with yourself. How are you doing? Sit down, get yourself mentally ready. This doesn’t mean checking the pens and getting the worksheets ready. This is the ‘taking thirty seconds to breathe’ getting ready. Meditate, drive, or look at the flowers in the garden, whatever. Take a time out. You’ll feel mentally prepared for the day.
This is a great time to check-in with the class. Talk about the new babies, the new teeth, the sleepless night, an upcoming sleepover, etc. These stories might explain the mood of the class later on. Also, watch out for the children who don’t contribute to these chats. Even silence tells you something.
Mindfulness techniques are growing in popularity. Mindfulness is a combination of meditation and appreciation of the world around you by slowing everything down. In this world of hustle and bustle, it really helps to slow down and look at things properly. Look up The Mindfulness in Schools in Project for more information.
4. Observe changes in behaviour
The first indicators of stress, depression and anxiety manifest in different ways. This can be aggressive behaviour (verbal or physical), emotional outbursts, tiredness (to the point of falling asleep), extremely extroverted or introverted behaviour, wanting to hide/be left alone, amongst other things. Watch out for this in colleagues and children.
Take another opportunity during the day to check-in with yourself, your colleagues, and the children too. I do this by simply asking ‘are you alright?’ or giving them a wink or an eyebrow raise as a sign I’m checking in. This fosters an atmosphere of openness and they can either share or not. Nobody should feel they have to! Don’t be afraid to put yourself and your colleagues first. Obviously, children must be and will always our primary concern and that is exactly why we must be mentally well. We are tempted to ‘work through’ illnesses, but it will not serve anyone’s best interests if you do.
Promote an attitude of reflection in your class. Don’t save talking about feelings to PSHE sessions. If someone wants to express an emotion, allow that to happen, as long as there’s a ‘because’ after ‘I feel’. Obviously, keep personal information about yourself professional – but share positive feelings and (minor) disappointments.
7. The Great Escape
Many classrooms and schools have a safe area or place for the children to go to when it all gets too much. Teachers have the staff room, or the when desperation calls, the stockroom. Every school has designated safeguarding officers. Make sure you know who these are, even if you are only teaching in a school for a day. If you have concerns about any child, you must refer them to these people. If you have any concerns about a fellow member of staff, or yourself, find someone to talk to in the school that can support you, through what can seem like an impossible time. There are ways around everything.
8. Step Up
The Mile-a-Day Challenge in schools is a fab way to get children active and have some fresh air during the day. I really like it when they get chance to do this in the mid-afternoon, as it breaks up their time and gives them a quick blast of air and leg stretch. Forest School projects, gardening, outdoor learning and similar activities are just as valuable to promoting well balanced life with a little bit of fun.
9. Read Around It
Guided reading is a lovely way of bonding with children in small groups, but there’s nothing quite like the joy of simply reading and enjoying a story together for fun. Reading at bedtime is hugely beneficial to getting a good night sleep. Government directives usually do the trick within a few minutes for me. However, there are few books that I would recommend about mental health, mindfulness and happiness (see recommended booklist at the bottom of this page).
10. At The End Of The Day
We all have bad days. We all have good days. There are awful days when we think we’ve never had the ability to teach. And then there are the days when teaching is the Best Job in the World and you can’t understand why everyone isn’t doing this (and these days are not only in August). When it gets too much, remember the day a little one gave you a picture of ‘you’ with an enormous head and three arms, or a Year 9 finally ‘got’ that concept that you’d been working on for weeks.
Have a good week and enjoy good Mental Health.
Reasons to Stay Alive; Matt Haig
Notes on a Nervous Planet; Matt Haig
F**K It: Be at Peace with Life, Just as It Is; John C. Parkin
Mindfulness, Finding Peace in a Frantic World; Mark Williams and Danny Penman
The Art of Breathing; Danny Penman
Sitting Still Like a Frog, Mindfulness Exercises for Kids; Eline Snel
The Mindful Child; Susan Kaiser Greenland
Mindful Games; Susan Kaiser Greenland (available as a book and cards)