Mental health in the classroom: 5 ways to increase wellbeing in schools for staff and pupils
Back in 2021, the charity Mind conducted a survey around mental health in England and discovered that almost all pupils (96%) felt their mental health had affected their schoolwork.
Nearly all school staff asked agreed with this sentiment (95%), stating that many of their students had indeed had their learning affected by mental health problems.
Needless to say, prioritising wellbeing in schools is essential for creating a positive learning environment where students can thrive academically, emotionally, and socially. It lays the foundation for lifelong success and contributes to the overall health and happiness of individuals within the school community.
Building a supportive environment is key, as is having staff who have engaged in professional development in these areas. But we must remember that staff wellbeing is at an all-time low too, and the analogy of ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ resonates with a lot of educators – an increase in workload, personal stresses, and the speed of life is all contributing to a collective burnout.
In fact, research in 2022 by the Teacher Wellbeing Index found that three-quarters of all education staff are stressed, and that 78% experienced detrimental mental health symptoms due to their work. This leaves us with many queries – not least, how can we support educators to better help themselves, as well as the schoolchildren in their care?
Prioritising mental health in the classroom
Over the past several years, the concept of self-regulation has become increasingly prevalent and we, as educators, are now expected to help children acquire it.
Self-regulation is the ability to manage your own energy states, emotions, behaviours, and attention in ways that are socially acceptable and help achieve positive goals, such as maintaining good relationships, learning, and maintaining wellbeing.
We are also asked to be co-regulators of the children and young people that we work with, and it is important as a co-regulator to know how to self-regulate. We are so busy so much of the time in education, and it is so fast paced, that we need dedicated moments in time to support this.
But can we control our own behaviour? And what should we do if our bodies are unable to tolerate our emotions any longer? Are we making sure that we are ready to co-regulate as leaders and mentors?
Further to this, it can be difficult to start a conversation where a pupil appears to be displaying possible signs or symptoms of mental health problems. Our mental health handbook for the classroom resource contains helpful conversation starters which may help pupils to open up.
Making time for ‘Magical Mindful Moments’
Some well-known strategies for improving wellbeing include exploring practical elements that can easily be implemented into the everyday – areas that welcome calm and refocus, identifying our own triggers and glimmers.
This includes relaxation and mindfulness techniques such as meditation, journalling and other breathing or gratitude activities as day starters or finishers.
I like to call these types of activities ‘Magical Mindful Moments’, and I want to share five that you can do anywhere:
- Ground yourself: Take your shoes off (if possible) and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Imagine that your feet are grounded into the floor. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 2 seconds, hold for 4, and breathe out through your mouth slowly and steadily for 8.
- Deep breaths: Wherever you are, splay your fingers so that there is space between each one in front of you, using the index finger on your other hand, draw around each finger. Up a finger (breathe in), down a finger (breathe out) and briefly hold at the top of each finger and finally your thumb.
- Stretch and release: Stand with your legs wide and arms wide, so that your whole body is in a star shape, relax your shoulders and radiate your heart space to the sky (the children like to do this too), stretch and release. You can even repeat to yourself mantras such as “I am ok”, “I am calm”, “I am relaxed”.
- Massage your palms: Use hand sanitiser or hand cream to massage the centre of your palm. Increase the pressure and maybe even close your eyes for a few seconds – this will calm your whole system. Repeat on each finger and thumb.
- Show gratitude: Remind yourself of three things that you are grateful for, in terms of your role. Write them down, say them out loud or whisper to yourself.
Addressing pupils’ wellbeing
Coming back to the co-regulation of the pupils in our setting, it may be that you’re able to integrate some of the Magical Mindful Moment activities into the classroom with pupils – specifically exercises 1-3. The physical aspect of these activities could make for a good start or end to a lesson, to bring an aspect of mindfulness to your pupils.
The British Red Cross also has some great resources focusing on wellbeing in the classroom. One which I’d recommend is the ‘circles of control’ video activity, which encourages learners to manage their worries by thinking about what they can and can’t control.
Similarly, their ‘web of connections’ video activity asks learners to draw a spider diagram of people that they could turn to for support at times when they feel they might need it.
As we’re all starkly aware, mental health is a hugely complex issue, but one thing is for sure – wellbeing must be at the top of the radar within the classroom for both pupils and teachers.
By having a strong ethos and effective system in place to support the mental health and wellbeing of everyone – pupils and educators alike – we can start to take steps to adapt and improve our approach within educational settings.
For further support in your school and to discover more helpful mental health resources, download our free mental health handbook for the classroom.
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