As an educator, you know that creating a supportive environment that recognizes and supports mental health can significantly contribute to learning and well-being in the classroom. You can lean in on some of the classroom management techniques you studied in college and adapt some new ideas to build your professional toolkit to support learning and well-being in your classroom. In this month’s blog post, we present five classroom management techniques that you can adapt to create a more positive and productive learning environment.
- Foster a Supportive, Consistent Classroom Environment: Create a positive and inclusive classroom atmosphere where students feel safe, respected, and valued. Establish clear rules, routines, and expectations while emphasizing empathy and understanding. How could this be enhanced? One idea is to have a ‘town meeting’ of all the students to talk about the rules and their expectations of you and their fellow students. Write these down, share them on a poster, and have weekly check-in meetings. Empower your students to be engaged.
- Differentiate Instruction: Develop individualized plans for students struggling with mental health concerns. Collaborate with the school counselor, parents, and other professionals to identify appropriate strategies and accommodations. This may include modified assignments, additional breaks, or specific coping strategies. How can this be addressed? Some students simply need to learn different ways of dealing with their challenges. In your ‘check-in’ meetings, let students share ideas on what to do when angry, bored, confused, etc.
- Ensure Clear Communication: Maintain open lines of communication with students and their parents or guardians. Keep them informed about classroom expectations, upcoming assignments, and schedule changes. Regularly check in with students individually to assess their well-being and provide opportunities for them to share their concerns. Adults are typically good at saying, “this isn’t going to work for me.” Students also need the opportunity and words or phrases they can use so that everyone around them knows when something isn’t going well, or something else has to be worked out.
- Promote Mindfulness and Self-Care: Incorporate mindfulness and self-care practices into the daily routine. Teach relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, or brief mindfulness sessions to help students manage stress and anxiety. Encourage self-reflection and provide resources like mental health hotlines or counseling services. Consider practicing deep breathing with the class before a test, a difficult assignment, or as part of a transition. Have students practice recognizing when they are not feeling well and brainstorm strategies that help them to feel more calm. Include posters and visuals in your classroom that let students know it’s ok to talk about emotions and strategies for mindfulness and self-care.
- Establish Support Systems: Collaborate closely with the school counselor, social worker, or other mental health professionals to create a comprehensive support system. Share relevant information about students’ needs and progress and seek their input and guidance on effective strategies. They can provide valuable resources and interventions to support students’ mental health. Some of these insights can be fairly simple. Keep in mind that they are not trying to make you into a counselor. Equally important, their insights may provide a wider array of tools to use with other students. Plus, your insights are critically important to share with the counselors to help them understand the student.
Expanding any professional’s toolbox takes time, practice, and awareness that perfection may not be achieved on the first attempt. Some of these ideas may come naturally, while others require additional work on your part. Balancing these strategies with your existing workload can be challenging as educators often have limited time.
So how do you begin? Like many things, start with smaller or easier tasks. If you think having a check-in meeting with your students sounds daunting, start with a few minutes at the beginning of the day, just after lunch, or before other transitions. Start with a two-minute meeting and extend the time as needed and the schedule allows. Remember, professional baseball players probably practice hitting a ball 150 times a day, and top-rated golfers go right back to the driving range after they finish a big tournament day.
Written by Jill Bohnenkamp, Ph. D, National Center for School Mental Health, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In the coming months, the Mental Health Matters Educators Hub will provide additional blogs from experts, practitioners, and education professionals who will share their expertise and insights. We will also continue to add to the resource section, where you can find a compilation of practical information and research-based resources from partnering organizations and other leading national groups.
In the resource section, you can find a compilation of practical information and research-based resources from partnering organizations and other leading national groups. Find our growing list of resources here.
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