During the 2021–2022 school year, students and educators felt the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, weathered a continued crisis in children’s mental health, endured the fear and stress caused by racism and gun violence in our schools and communities, and faced attacks on their identities.
Throughout National Mental Health Awareness Month, we looked at ways to support children’s mental health, but it’s never been clearer that mental health needs to be a priority in schools every day of the year.
When educators and students are dealing with high levels of stress, one of the most effective strategies is to lean into relationships — getting to know students as whole learners with unique skills, experiences, and challenges.
The following are tools that educators can use to forge those critical relationships and support their students’ mental health in proactive, intentional ways throughout the school year — from the first day of school in the fall to graduation ceremonies in the spring.
Collect data on well-being to personalize supports
The Well-Being Index (WBI) is a student self-reflection tool designed to help educators collect holistic data — physical, social, psychological and emotional well-being — in real time. Collecting well-being data is something educators can incorporate into their daily practice and use to personalize student supports, interactions and experiences. This approach increases student voice, empowers students to own their stories, and invites them into the problem-solving process.
Understand the identities, cultures, and experiences of students
By getting to know children as unique, whole individuals, adults can better understand how students are feeling and functioning and provide responsive, personalized support. The Deeper Than Icebreakers: Activities to Know Your Students Tool offers educators three activities to more deeply understand the identities, cultures, and experiences of their students, from a place of openness, respect, and empathy.
Embrace co-regulation in the classroom
Both students and educators are dealing with high levels of stress. Dysregulated behaviors can be a symptom of that increased stress, and educators can best mitigate these responding with attunement, understanding, and the co-creation of a strong sense of belonging in the community. The Co-Regulating Cues Workbook helps educators identify their own stress responses, reflect on interactions with students, and create new co-regulation strategies for when things get tough.
Support the development of trusting relationships
Developing positive developmental relationships with students is an important strategy for supporting student mental health, but these relationships aren’t built by just being nice; they’re built through consistent interactions that build trust. Employing these Empathetic Listening Strategies helps support the development of trusting relationships through committed attention, non-judgment, and probing to understand.
Make your classroom relationship rich
Strong relationships can reduce stress — for both children and adults — address trauma, bolster young people’s belief in themselves and their futures, and strengthen children’s mental health. The Relationships Inventory tool supports educators to reflect on relational aspects of the classroom.
Strengthen relationships with individual students
Students need to believe that the adults at school care about them and are there for them. Educators can use regular interactions they already have with students to learn about the unique strengths and challenges of each student. Our Individualized Relationship Strategies tool provides easy-to-implement strategies to strengthen relationships with individual students.