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Mental Wellness Culture in Schools: Why and How

Creating a positive school culture that supports mental wellness is a topic that’s getting increasing attention in recent years. It’s an idea that makes sense: when students feel supported and safe, they show up, they can focus on learning, and they’re more engaged.

However, for many school leaders, shifting their school culture may seem like an impossible task. With so many other pressing issues to manage in 2020, supporting mental wellness might seem too difficult (and expensive) to tackle right now.

The fact is, simple changes can bring big gains when it comes to supporting student mental health. Also, building a supportive school climate can help with other critical challenges you are facing in this unprecedented year: improving the effectiveness of virtual learning, and the growing problem of teacher burnout.

In this article, you’ll learn why this issue is worth your attention, and the simple step you can take now to solve immediate problems and move your school toward a positive mental wellness culture.

A positive school culture delivers benefits for everyone

It’s well known that students can achieve more when schools support their mental wellness. Here’s what you might not realize: teachers and support staff also benefit from less frustration, more time, and more job satisfaction.

STUDENTS get better support and more time to learn

In nearly every classroom, there are behavior problems that disrupt learning. Students act out (or the opposite: shut down and tune out) for a variety of reasons. Teachers get frustrated and repeatedly try to get the student to change their behavior. In many cases, they succeed only in wasting precious learning time for the whole class.

With most schools now shifting to some form of virtual learning, that problem has intensified. Trauma due to the pandemic and months of isolation is leading to a new onslaught of mental health issues that manifest as disruptive classroom behavior and failure to engage.

When you build a positive mental wellness culture, teachers can recognize the signs of mental health issues. They are armed with simple tactics to prevent behavior and mental health issues from disrupting their classes, and they know how and when to refer students for more expert help.

Struggling students get the help they need to succeed, and the rest of the class gets more time to focus on learning.

TEACHERS get fewer frustrations and more job satisfaction

The exponential growth of student anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues is leading to classroom conditions that most teachers aren’t trained or equipped to handle.

Teachers want to help their students succeed. When they can’t, it leads to frustration and burnout. Again, this problem has been compounded by the pandemic and the shift to virtual learning, which has been hard on teachers.

It’s easier than you think to give teachers the tools they need to properly manage behavioral issues and support struggling students, both in physical classrooms and virtual ones. When you do, they have more time and energy to give the rest of the class.

STUDENT SUPPORT STAFF can focus on students who need the most help

School counselors, social workers, and child study team members have become some of the most overburdened school employees.

They manage mountains of IEP paperwork for students with a variety of issues that interfere with learning. They also spend hours every day with “frequent flyer” students with behavioral and mental health issues, who habitually disrupt classes and teachers don’t know how to handle. It’s not uncommon for support staff to have students in their office 4 or 5 times a day.

Unfortunately, that often means the students with the greatest need don’t get effective help. That’s a common frustration for school counselors and social workers.

Here’s the good news. There is an easy way to begin building a supportive school culture and addressing the needs of your entire school: providing mental wellness training to your child study team.

Mental wellness training makes your child study team more effective and efficient in managing the needs of students. The skills they learn help them reduce their own workload and give them the time to focus on the most satisfying and meaningful work.

Start changing school culture by educating your team about mental wellness

Mental wellness training is the first step to changing school culture. You can start by training your child study team members, who can then share simple strategies with your teaching staff.

It’s a small investment of time that creates a ripple effect throughout your school, quickly delivering big rewards and reduced workloads:

  • Counselors and social workers gain the skills to help students succeed, reducing daily time spent with students.
  • Your trained child study team can share the strategies they learn with teachers, helping them more effectively manage classroom behavior.
  • Teachers can handle common behavior issues on their own, so fewer students are referred to the child study team.
  • Small issues are identified and addressed before they become big problems, so school administrators have fewer disciplinary issues to deal with.

This strategy is simple and affordable for school districts, yet it delivers results more quickly and effectively than you might expect. Your school culture becomes more positive and you create an environment where everyone thrives.

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