The rising mental health crisis in England’s pupil population has led to calls for all teachers to be trained in identifying warning signs.
In the school I recently left, having worked there for eight years, there were at least a hundred new cases just within one year. I’m sure many readers can top that number.
But how can schools hope to make pupil wellbeing a priority? Doing so needn’t involve drastically changing your school structure – it can be about taking small steps that have huge impacts.
1. Believe in innate ‘okayness’
Adopt a school ethos which acknowledges that every individual is ultimately okay beneath the fear and negativity that might be affecting them. Whenever you can, drive home the message that everyone is capable of showing greater compassion and equanimity for each other – in assemblies, INSETs, open day speeches – and watch the ripples spread.
2. Acknowledge change
It can sometimes feel as if the teaching profession is defined by change. If, however, senior leaders take the approach of acknowledging incoming changes, rather than exaggerating or downplaying them, open and honest conversations can be had which will help leaders be more responsive in how they support affected staff. Acknowledge that everyone deals with change differently, and that we can handle it better as a community.
3. Thoughts and emotions are dynamic
Our thoughts, feelings and emotions are subject to change too. It’s easy to fixate on mental health labels that we and others can define ourselves by, yet as humans, we’re changing all the time. That’s not to say we should dismiss mental health symptoms, but rather remember that thoughts and emotions are temporary. We can build this into how we teach by acknowledging changes in thought that have occurred during a lesson, and reflecting on how our own thinking undergoes constant change. It’s okay to change your mind – we do it all the time.
4. Change the rhetoric
In schools, where so much learning relies on verbal communication, language is powerful. And one of the most powerful rhetorical tools out there is the phrase ‘made me’. Too often, we’ll link external events to our own emotions – blaming colleagues when we feel angry, or the ‘the system’ when we’re frustrated. But what if those feelings are caused by our thoughts about said circumstances? If we can remove the thought that something’s ‘made us’ feel a certain way, we can accept that it’s only our thoughts that create feelings and emotions. Thoughts and emotions that are constantly subject to change.
5. Weave in time for stillness
Entrepreneurs will often say that success happens when it’s allowed to. We can learn a great deal from ourselves, if we just take the time to listen. By introducing ‘minutes of stillness’ at the start or end of the day – brief, mindful moments consisting of breathing, stretching or simply embracing quietness – we can acknowledge the coming and going of our thoughts.
Katie Hill is the founder of Mindful Magic – a provider of mindfulness-inspired sessions and tools for children, parents and teachers