Good mental health and wellbeing enables children to reach their full potential and experience fulfilling relationships. Mental health challenges often begin during childhood and if not addressed can lead to poor outcomes in adolescence and adulthood. In Australia, half of all adult mental health challenges emerge before the age of 14. The good news is that investing in prevention and early intervention gives children the best opportunity for good mental health and wellbeing. Preschools and schools can play a pivotal role by supporting a culture of wellbeing, belonging and connection. Evidence shows that school connectedness is such an important protective factor for many students. It reflects how much a student feels accepted, valued, and supported in their school environment.
So what can we do? As educators we play a key role in the lives of the children in our care. As we know, positive environments nurture children’s mental health and wellbeing. They help them to develop a strong sense of identity, promote feelings of safety and security, and foster a sense of belonging and connectedness. In a classroom setting, positive school connectedness is fostered by educators who show they are supportive and caring, promote mutual respect, engage in interactive teaching and value cooperative learning.
Creating a sense of belonging and connection
Belonging means making sure that all students feel welcome, comfortable, and part of the school community. To build a sense of belonging, it’s important for young children to develop the skills needed to work well with others. This involves learning to have a sense of empathy, making sure everyone feels included, being respectful and connecting with peers.
Empathy refers to the emotional ability to see things from another person’s perspective. It’s a way of connecting with others that shows you understand that what they’re experiencing is meaningful. We can show empathy by taking an active interest in what our students are saying so that they feel heard. When we listen actively it’s important not to be distracted by other things. Once we understand the problem, we can then talk about finding solutions or ask how they want us to support them.
A truly inclusive classroom environment recognises the contributions of all students, their families, and communities. We can be more inclusive by creating opportunities for all students to take part and valuing what each student brings to the class. It helps to keep activities and instructions short, clear, and engaging so students can focus and learn more easily. We need to consider how activities can be tailored to different student goals, strengths, abilities and learning profiles.
Create a respectful space
Respect is the foundation for a successful classroom environment. Students need to understand how to respect one another and why this is important. It’s vital for us to model being respectful and show students that we genuinely care about their success. We need to learn about every child as an individual to show them they are valued. Teaching students the value of respect can have a massive impact on the whole class and promote a more respectful learning environment. Have a look at 10 Tips for a Safe and Respectful Classroom (PDF) for some simple ideas.
Establish positive peer connections
Children of all ages explore and discover how their interactions affect others, and how they are influenced by others. It’s essential to support students to build relationships and work successfully with their peers. This involves teaching and modelling effective communication skills. When students have strong social skills, they feel more confident negotiating, being assertive and problem-solving. By creating an inclusive environment where students work together and encourage each other to learn peer connections will be enhanced.
Monitor meaningful connections
Teachers are crucial in positively influencing the mental health outcomes of their students. Together we can shape the future of our young people and help ensure positive health and education outcomes. By implementing a wide-spread approach to promoting school connectedness as an integral part of the curriculum we can reduce long term impacts associated with poor mental health. It is up to us to lead the way and apply a variety of strategies to encourage connectedness in the classroom and school community.
The Kinnections platform is an innovative tool that enables a whole-school approach to student mental health and wellbeing. It provides educators with a simple system for identifying and responding to students’ mental health needs. Our aim is to empower teaching staff with the tools they need to positively support student mental health. Book a 30-minute meeting with us to find out more about using Kinnections in your school.