Mental Health and Wellness in Schools

Interview with Dr. Bryan Pearlman and Mafost Mashup about Mental Health and Wellness

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Dr. Bryan Pearlman (follow him on Twitter) of the nonprofit organization Distinguished Schools of Mental Health and Wellness, and he shared his insights on:

  • Finding a healthy balance between test scores and wellness.
  • Effective ways to train teachers to support student mental health.
  • How to support teachers’ mental health and wellness.
  • How the Distinguished Schools of Mental Health and Wellness can help your school.

In this blog post, I’ll share some highlights from our conversation. You can listen to the full interview at the Mafost Mashup here.

Part 1: Interview with Dr. Bryan Pearlman

School Health is Fundamental

School health is the foundation of effective school culture and climate. The health of the school depends on the layers of relationships and the ways in which the people interact with the systems.

Read more on the difference between School Health and School Culture

School health can ensure teachers and teams can approach problems and find solutions in ways that value people. School health doesn’t create mental health and wellness, but it’s absence can hurt mental health and wellness.

In this previous post, I outlined ways that school health impacts culture and climate. They include:

  • cohesive communication
  • accelerated problem-solving
  • faster goal mastery
  • improved efficiency with resources

Five Student Mental Health Concerns

The previous decade of American education focused on performance. That performance was measured by scores and accountability ratings. But there were some unintended side effects.

These side effects also are seen in student mental health concerns. This is not to say there’s a causal relationship. The correlation is worth noting, though.

  1. Increased Competitiveness
  2. Fear of Failure
  3. Social Anxiety
  4. Lack of Self-Confidence
  5. Reluctance to Attend School.

Often these symptoms show up in “behavior problems” or out-right disengagement.

These are serious signs of struggling students. Sometimes we can see them. But sometimes they hid and are tapped inwardly. The question then is, How do we help students succeed in school and life?

@mafost - 5 Student Mental Health Concerns

Teachers Are At a Breaking Point

According to this 2018 article, the number of teachers seeking support for concerns related to mental health has risen 35% in the past 12 months.

The same article poses three problems at the forefront of teacher mental well-being:

  1. Ever-greater accountability
  2. The growing testing culture
  3. Workload

Julian Stanley of the Education Support Partnership recommends the following:

School leaders, governors, teachers and support staff must work to end the continuing stigma around seeking support at the earliest sign of poor mental health. A supportive working environment is key to this. As a sector, we must invest in people. Wellbeing and development can no longer be viewed as a “nice to have”. Failure to address this will lead to more teachers leaving the profession and fewer people wanting to join.

As a minimum standard, schools should have a staff wellbeing policy. Teachers and other staff could also be offered additional training on aspects of the job they find most challenging – which, if not addressed, can lead to poor mental health.

Data on Mental Health in Schools 2018 -

In a recent survey reported in USA Today, teachers are reporting alarming amounts of well-being concerns:

  • 61% of educators report their work is “always” or “often” stressful.
  • 51% of teachers report that more students are experiencing “high levels of stress and anxiety.”
  • 86% of teachers do not feel respected by government officials and policymakers.
  • 58% of teachers report their mental well-being is “not good” – this is up nearly 75% from previous years.

In another study published by the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions shed further light on these statistics. When asked, 93% of elementary school teachers stated they experience high levels of stress.

They further reported that stress was directly related to poor students performance and challenging student behaviors.

Teaching to the Test

My conversation with Dr. Pearlman addressed the topic of pressure on teachers. I asked the questions:

How do we give the kids a really strong well-rounded balanced learning curriculum and in do that in such a way that we’re not just teaching to the test? That we’re not just hyper-focused? That we’re not going to slam a teacher because this year maybe we plateaued?

[Read more on Limitations of Instructional Leadership]

Dr. Bryan Pearlman responded with these insights:

I mean we came to the realization that if these were all of our kids. Whether kindergarten and you don’t really give the state assessment or whether you were specialist, we were all going to sink or swim together.

We are all going to contribute something.

That kind of took the pressure away from one individual teacher. We looked at it as a team.

Everything was a team effort.

Training About Mental Health and Wellness

Training can include awareness sessions, but more importantly, ongoing support is the way to go. Dr. Pearlman suggested a combination of collaborative sessions dissecting scenarios and ongoing follow-ups.

A team of teachers and administrators in Indiana reported a concerning trend with student mental health concerns:

  • Increasing competitiveness
  • Fear of failure
  • Social anxiety
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Reluctance to attend school

They addressed the following topics and approaches for training about mental health and wellness:

  • Teaching mindfulness techniques for teachers to model with students.
  • Providing tuition for teachers to attend mental health institutes.
  • Raising awareness to minimize the demonization of mental illness.
Part 2: Mafost Mashup Interview with Dr. Pearlman

Demoralization, Dangerous Misconstruction

At this point, I should be very clear. Burnout and teacher training should not (must not) be construed as placing blame on teachers, staff, or students.

Training sessions can easily be perceived as sending the message, “There’s something wrong with you, so you need this mental health training.”

That is the opposite message that needs to be communicated.

Demoralization is the act of degrading and minimizing the human-nature in this issue. It’s an effect of ongoing belittling that occurs in toxic school cultures.

Looking Forward

I’ve chosen to end 2018 with this blog post because it speaks to the current state of the public education industry.

This year’s strikes, walkouts, and mental health concerns are opportunities for leaders to step forward with solutions – to unite and rally around a cause that promotes a more human, a more future-focused education milieu.

What are your thoughts? What is your school doing to promote mental health and wellness? I’d love to hear. Tweet me @mafost or share this post with a friend.

Recommended Reading

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Bryan Pearlmen

Online at Anchor

Apple Podcasts

Google Podcasts

Get the research, resources, and show notes behind the Mafost Mashup here.

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