Supporting Mental Health in Schools

An illustration of a human head with brain and colorful paper next to it.

As the 2021-22 year progresses, supporting mental health in schools is becoming a growing need and priority for school communities. The impact of COVID-19 on our communities and families was not universally identical. However, for many students, it resulted in learning loss, technology fatigue, and social isolation. 

As we continue to transition into yet another pandemic school year, there will undoubtedly be aspects beyond our control. In the midst of these unknowns, the mental health of our students, teachers, leaders, and families is a key focus for all of us.

Here are a few ideas to help support mental health in your school communities:

Ways to Think About Supporting Mental Health for Students

  • Validate Student Emotions: Create space for students to share their emotions. Students may express they feel “overwhelmed” or “frustrated” by workloads, assessments, and expectations.. This may feel like students are complaining. However, by providing the opportunity for students to explore their feelings meaningfully will create more opportunities for learning and engagement. This might look like validating a student’s feelings in a way that makes them feel seen, allowing students to write and process their emotions during class time, or inviting students to participate in circles where they can practice vulnerability.
  • Be Flexible and Extend Grace: While structure and expectations are important for students, we also do not know the extent of what each of our students is processing and experiencing at home or at school. Trauma-informed teaching asks us to consider the ways trauma influences a student’s learning and behavior. Many of our students have personally experienced trauma, and we need to teach from a human-centered approach in order to truly meet our learners where they are. Allow reasonable extensions for deadlines without demanding students to explain why. 

“Create space for students to share their emotions.”

  • Provide Opportunities for Mindfulness and Creativity: Engage in daily meditation or mindful moments with students. Encourage students to think creatively through exploratory photo prompts, open-ended questioning, and celebrating original thinking
  • Create and Teach Joy: While it’s important for students to be engaged global citizens who are aware of the happenings within the world and their own communities, it’s also important for students to engage in opportunities for joy and self-expression. Create a class playlist and play it during independent practice when appropriate. Start your class with “Some Good News,” “Upworthy,” “Humans of New York,” or another similar and age-appropriate platform. Teach books and voices that celebrate joy. Share images of people experiencing joy. Create moments where students themselves can experience joy.
  • Provide Resources: Share the available resources you have on and off campus with students. Create after school groups and clubs for students to participate in that value student mental health. Invite the school counselor into your classrooms to observe and learn about student needs. 

Prioritizing Teachers’ Mental Health

  • Ask Teachers What They Need: Ask teachers what they need. Our Staff partners do this by using Pulse Checks. Respect their responses  by thoughtfully affirming their needs and meeting them, if possible. Free teachers of duties and responsibilities outside of classroom teaching by asking leadership to take turns relieving teachers. Invite a local coffee cart or food truck to your campus. Show teachers that in your community their needs are valued by following-through and supporting them with everyday tasks.
  • Affirm Teachers: Provide teachers opportunities to affirm themselves and their peers. Celebrate teachers publicly with shout-outs, or privately with coffee gift-cards or sponsored lunches to show your appreciation. Ideas for Teacher Appreciation Week can be used throughout the year.
  • Mental Health Morning / Afternoon: Allow teachers to spend time usually reserved for an afternoon or morning meeting prioritizing their mental health. Respect teachers’ time and space by allowing them to use this time in whatever way is best for them, whether personal or professional. 
  • Provide Resources: Clearly share and provide resources for teachers who may need additional mental health support. Internally publicize where teachers can find this information and who they can confide in at school safely if they need on-spot support.

Supporting Mental Health Moving Forward

In the midst of the pandemic, “Mental health” has evolved into a hot-button topic. However, it is important that we truly consider what it means and how we will prioritize it. In order to empower people to truly value their mental health, we must first provide them with the space and resources to do so. Poet Cleo Wade wrote, “One way to keep your heart together when the state of the world weighs heavy on it is to simply help somebody. Even if it is just one person.”