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.
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 the culture and climate. They include:
- cohesive communication
- accelerated problem-solving
- faster goal mastery
- improved efficiency with resources
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:
- Ever-greater accountability
- The growing testing culture
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.
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.
Demoralization, Dangerous Misconstruction
At this point, I should be very clear. Burnout and teacher training is 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.”
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.
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.
- Understanding Mental Health at MHANYS.org
- Unintended Consequences of Standardized Testing
- Distinguished Schools of Mental Health and Wellness at DSMHW.org
- How to be a Happier Teacher
Listen to the full interview with Dr. Bryan Pearlmen