Submitted By: Norah Fines, RD
Health Promotion Facilitator, School Health & Wellness Promotion, Alberta Health Services
As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its third year, Alberta school communities are looking ahead to a brighter future. Research from across the province demonstrates that students have experienced increases in a number of mental health concerns, such as stress, anxiety, low motivation, hopelessness, aggression, bullying, self-harm and suicidal ideation during the pandemic¹. Schools will continue to play an essential role in supporting the mental health and well-being of students. This task may feel daunting for just one individual, however simple actions can have a big impact on students’ mental health and well-being. To help educators in Alberta, AHS has a new website, Healthier Together Schools which offers evidence-based strategies for improving school wellness in the areas of mental health, physical activity and nutrition. The Take Action cards include a wealth of ideas, resources, and background information to support whole school, universal approaches to health and wellness.
Here are ten tangible ideas that you can use to support student mental health and resilience in your school and classroom:
1. Set up peaceful places, including virtual platforms, for students to take time away, talk through challenges, or calm down. Welcome everyone
2. Make sure all students have an adult ally - Set up advisory time, where small groups of students have designated time to connect with a school staff member who checks in with them daily (if possible) and acts as their advisor and champion throughout the school experience. Support healthy relationships
Work with students to co-develop agreements about school norms. These are statements generated by students and agreed on by the school community to describe 'the way things are around here.’ Support healthy relationships
5. Take mindfulness to the next level, by encouraging students to reflect on mindfulness practices – they can log or chart their experiences, journal or talk to an Elder or trusted adult. Try mindful practices
Role model social emotional skills in your interactions with students. For example, show your class how you handle frustration, and how you calm down. Develop social emotional skills
Physical activity, especially in outdoor settings, also plays an important role in promoting mental health, reducing stress and supporting students’ well-being². To round out the list of ten ideas, here are three more tips for inspiring students to be more active throughout the school day:
8. Be intentional about connecting with students who may not have had positive, inclusive recess experiences (like those new to Canada or those who have a physical disability). Engage diverse student leaders as a core strategy for re-activating recess and to get kids moving more throughout the school day. Reimagine Recess
Plan short bouts or bursts of physical activity for when students’ energy or attention levels drop. If you’re already a physical activity burst guru, mentor another teacher at your school to incorporate more movement in their day. Move more, Sit Less
10. Take a small step by moving a daily activity from your classroom outside. Take a leap to learn from the land and honour reconciliation. Embrace Nature
Remember, no matter how young or old we are, how tall or small, or where we come from in the world, our mental health is on a continuum. Daily actions in the classroom environment can have a big impact on how a student manages their stress, how they see themselves fitting in the world around them, and how they develop lifelong skills that support positive mental health.
1. Children’s Services. (2021, December 16). Child and youth well-being review final report. Alberta Government. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/child-and-youth-well-being-review-final-report/resource/b7f863bf-43af-44ec-8897-b0dafc341665
2. Vaillancourt, T. et al. (2021, August). Children and Schools During COVID-19 and Beyond: Engagement and Connection Through Opportunity. Royal Society of Canada. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from C&S PB_EN_0.pdf (rsc-src.ca)