Last week, The Motivation Project exhibited at the Prince Bishop Teaching School Alliance’s conference on ‘Mental Health in North East Schools’. It was a fantastic opportunity not just to listen to speakers with first hand experience in this area but also to stand in a room full of other mental health and emotional wellbeing workers. I had the chance to speak directly to school leaders across the North East and demonstrate how when we look after the mental health of our students, often the academics will follow. Unfortunately, school’s are usually forced to prioritise academic achievements and emotional wellbeing falls to the bottom of the agenda because of obvious external pressures which I don’t need to get into.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to improve the mental wellbeing of young people, here are my top five ways to improve mental health amongst teenagers in school.
The first step in making changes to improve emotional wellbeing is to understand your students. Every child is unique and each year group will have a different dynamic. So, under which circumstances do they best learn? What makes them happy? What makes them angry? What is it that pushes them into conflict? Is there anything that you can change within the school that would immediately benefit their learning and reduce any conflict between students?
If you are struggling to answer the above questions- ask the pupils! I cannot tell you enough how much teenagers appreciate being asked for their opinion when they know someone is truly listening to the answer. The best way to demonstrate that they are being listened to is by actively making the changes that they suggest.
Top tip: Train them to mentor each other. This method has been used in many schools and students may feel more comfortable opening up to someone their own age rather than to an adult.
Lead by example! Stressed out teachers create stressed out students.
This one is pretty much impossible to solve overnight; I’m sure teachers will agree. I understand how completely overworked our teachers are at the moment; keep fighting for the change you want to see in the education system because your passion doesn’t go unnoticed. I for one do not envy your job! As difficult as it may seem, we all know that you don’t want your own stress to influence the atmosphere of a class.
Top tip: Small 3-5minute relaxation exercises can be used in any lesson to help encourage calm. Students will appreciate a quick break from their work and you might gain something too. Google it! Choose the exercises that you think your students will respond to best.
Getting parents on board is not always simple as they might be unaware of how practicing good emotional wellbeing at school will benefit their child. There are many things you can do to try and engage them, including writing home and hosting meetings. A great way to ensure parents are aware of your work in emotional wellbeing is to engrain it into your school ethos. This way, the parents of any new students to the school will be aware from the beginning that the school is focused both on academics and positive mental health.
Top tip: Send out short emails containing progress updates and encourage the students to get involved by taking pictures or writing short blog entries you can use.
Schools have a million and one things on their agenda and quite frankly not enough time in the academic year to achieve it all. The only answer here is that everyone needs to agree that mental health is a priority. As I described earlier, if we start with the emotional wellbeing of students and promote happiness first, the rest will follow.
Top tip: Senior level absolutely have to be on board! Continuously involve everybody.
Sadly, there’s nothing that can be done about budget cuts and schools feeling increasingly squeezed in this area. However, this one should be tied with the above because it really is about your priorities. At the beginning of your journey to reduce stress and increase positive emotional wellbeing in your students, it will likely come as no surprise that you will have to spend money. However, the benefits really do outweigh the cost.
Top tip: Focus on long-term benefits to argue your case if met with challenges.