Is mindful education the mental health cure young people need?
We know by now that pupils with good health and wellbeing are likely to achieve better academically.
We also know that the number of pupils self harming, suffering with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and poor self image due to the so called “selfie” era is rising each month.
Theresa May earlier this year gave a speech on mental health in our young people; suggesting that schools and teachers are in the best position to help encourage a healthier mental state. Thus, wanting mental health first aid training to be delivered to teachers so we are better equipped in dealing with mental instability.
Is this something we as teachers will see as another “unwanted responsibility” bestowed upon us or do we see the value in supporting our pupils mental health if we want to get the best out of them academically? Furthermore can embedding a “mindful” strategy in our classrooms support teaching and learning?
Of course, as health, well-being and anything “psyche” related is in my blood – coming from a long line of family members working in the psychiatric field I’m in agreement that supporting our learners mental wellbeing is both beneficial to them on an individual level also for their education.
We Are Teachers
Now, we aren’t counsellors, mental health professionals or educational psychologists – some educators may suggest that teachers are not equipped to deal with mental health related dilemmas in the classroom nor should we have to.
However, from my teaching practice I have found that removing the emotional discomfort children often walk into my classroom with provides a better learning environment, eliminates the tension, enhances pupils concentration and allows them to get out of the lesson what they deserve to get.
Let’s set the scene: it’s 9am, first period is about to start. Student ‘A’ walks in after witnessing one of their parents be physically abused at the breakfast table, student ‘B’ walks in following a fall out with friends due to vicious rumours, student ‘C’ walks in who’s currently struggling with social acceptance with their recent gender transition and student ‘D’ has found relief in self-harming in the school toilets right before entering your lesson.
The list of problems are endless. And yet we as teachers have to deal with this if we are to do our jobs in the way that we would like to.
Supporting children’s mental health through mindful techniques doesn’t have to be hours of therapy; sometimes it’s the smallest of things in the day that help to make a difference.
We don’t have to leave the role of supporting healthy mental well-being to PSHE/SRE whichever acronym used. There are simple strategies we can all apply in our everyday teaching:
1. Music – we know this already. Music can help to create a calming effect.
2. Head on the table – sometimes upon entrance before the starter activity and with my craziest groups I will ask them to rest their head on the table for 2 minutes and put whatever may have happened at lunch or break time to one side and to focus on the now
3. Growth mindset wall – in my room a large display of a growth mindset and fixed mindset is on show. Students are directed towards this at any point in the lesson where necessary – you can fill this wall with some of your most inspiring quotes!
4. 1-10 scale! I’m sure we have all heard or read about the legend Paul McGee. His SUMO resilience training is superb. Taken from this training I like to use to the scale question. “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being death how serious is this problem?”
5. “Good Morning/Good Afternoon!” How often do you grunt good morning to your students? Taking one second to say “Hello, good morning how are we all?” makes a world of difference to any human being. Even on the days where I don’t feel 100% I force a teeth baring grin out and before you know it I’m feeling good.
We as teachers can get a lot out of being mindful of our students wellbeing. It doesn’t have to be a case of “all I do is give, give, give to the school, it’s leaders, students and parents”
If we are better equipped to deal with students mental health, our teaching and learning will excel; we can reduce the teaching minutes wasted (on what some of the issues can be considered teenage drama) we will feel much more prepared to handle whatever the day throws at us. In turn leaving both student and teacher happier.