In October 2016, ETFO provincial office put out a call for participants for a project that would partner ETFO with School Mental Health Assist (SMH ASSIST) to build and pilot a mental health resource for educators. Many of us answered.
Our goal was to create a resource that included evidence-based strategies designed to promote the development of skills related to relationship building, emotion identification, coping and stress management, executive functioning, self-confidence and identity.
In the first meeting for our working group I found myself in a room of professionals who felt just as passionately as I did about the mental health and well-being of the young people we teach. It was clear that the selection committee had worked diligently to ensure the participants represented a diverse group of educators from rural, northern and urban locals as well as all types of teaching assignments. It was wonderful to learn about each other and why we had been drawn to this work.
As the professionals from SMH ASSIST described the ideas behind the resource we were about to build, it was clear that it would be a guide written by educators for educators to use every day to promote the development of healthy classrooms. They wanted to hear what we were already doing that was working, as well as what we needed more support with. The energy was palpable and all of us left that day feeling valued, with a strong sense that our voices had been heard.
The next step of this project was to actually dig in and start trying out some of the strategies and activities in our own work environments. We were asked to invite a few colleagues to join us in this pilot phase, from February to April 2017, to provide constructive feedback for analysis by SMH ASSIST. Finding willing participants was easy since many of us are looking for ways to reach our students and build in practices that support their mental health and well-being.
As my colleagues and I began to implement some of the practices into our routines there was a bit of a learning curve. One of the activities connected to coping, “An Imaginary Walk,” was difficult for some children to do at first. The idea behind this activity is that as the teacher follows a script describing a journey through a calming space, students sit quietly and build the story in their minds. This activity can support the students in feeling calmer during transitions or prior to a test. One of my colleagues followed a butterfly in the garden script; the students were not very responsive. Instead of giving up she found out what would capture their interest and opted for an under-the-sea theme. Success!
Other strategies were incorporated into our routines seamlessly and really supported the development of our class community. “That’s Me,” an activity from the building relationships category where students share something about themselves with the group, one at a time, was an easy addition to our circle time. When students identify with a statement, they stand up and say, “that’s me.” They continue around the circle until everyone has had an opportunity to contribute. The debrief time that followed this activity really allowed us to understand how important it can be not only to share things in common with one another but also to celebrate our differences and the things that make us unique.