Supporting student mental health through distance learning
Monday, July 06, 2020
Students have faced multiple hurdles throughout the current pandemic. Some of them saw their prom and graduation dreams shattered, struggled with their grades during online learning, or missed out on the comforting social interaction of attending school. Others postponed their plans to go to college or don’t know what next year will bring for their college applications.
How can you support student mental health while teaching virtually? While distance learning does present unique challenges, the following activities can help you better care for your students.
Activities and Resources for Students
You can provide support through what you do in class and give parents and students the outside resources they may need. Here several ways to support your students’ mental health throughout the pandemic.
Many students with mental health struggles need counseling. However, if their parents lost their medical insurance with their job, they might not be able to afford it. You can provide them with a list of free counseling resources they can access. Your school nurse, likewise, may have a list that you can offer to your students.
Emergency Supplies and Aid Resources
You have heard of 911, but did you know that dialing 211 can put you in touch with resources for housing, health services and other social assistance programs? The dedicated line is courtesy of the United Way, and the available help varies from region to region. However, it’s an excellent starting place for connecting struggling families with the support they need in times of crisis.
Recommended Reading Lists
Reading is an ideal pandemic activity because it distracts your students from unhappy thoughts while keeping their brains engaged. Recommend reads like “The Pursuit of Happyness” — which was later made into the hit movie — to help students feel less alone in their struggles. When they see fictional characters overcome extreme adversity, it inspires them to believe they can do the same.
You can also promote student mental health by discussing it in the classroom. Many students with disorders feel trapped underneath the stigma. Help them break free by normalizing these conversations. In addition, simply connecting socially can be beneficial to mental health — so make sure you’re making time for face-to-face virtual interactions.
Teaching Mental Health Concepts
If you’re reading “The Catcher in the Rye,” you have the perfect starting point for a discussion on teenage mental health issues. However, you can build these conversations across the curriculum. Chemistry teachers, for example, can devote time to the way neurotransmitters influence human thought patterns. History teachers can debate the relative mental health of past and present political leaders and how their psychology changed world events. Make sure you’re bringing mental health to the table in some aspect of your curriculum.
Invite Guest Speakers
If you can locate guest speakers, having them address your class provides a welcome treat for all. If you have a friend or colleague who is a psychologist, you could have them provide insights into a literary character’s behavior.
Create a Safe Zone
Let your students know — repeatedly — that your classroom is a judgment-free zone. As long as they express themselves appropriately and refrain from hateful speech, they can discuss mental health matters. Sometimes, family dynamics make such matters challenging to address inside the home.
Identifying Students in Crisis
As an educator, you have a mandated professional responsibility to report suspected abuse or neglect. How can you tell if a student might need mental help? Look for the following:
- Atypical behaviors: If a student who formerly spoke up regularly stops participating in discussions, take notice. Ask questions if their discussion posts start to stray into more negative expressions instead of shaming them for complaining. There may be more going on under the surface than their current rant.
- Lagging performance: If a student who formerly got straight As starts struggling to earn Cs, you might chastise them for not living up to their potential. However, there is always a reason why student achievement falters. Do some investigative work by asking questions.
How to Support Student Mental Health As They Learn Online
It’s challenging to navigate this pandemic’s scary new world, and it will impact human psychology. Use these activities and suggestions to learn how to support student mental health as a distance learning teacher.
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