Strategies for dealing with mental health issues in the classroom: Part 1

I was fortunate in June 2014 to be invited to co-present at the International Council on Education for Teaching 58th World Assembly in Oshawa, Ontario. Dr. Greg Rickwood (from Nipissing University) and I presented a workshop entitled:
Mental Health Movement: An Examination of Active Student Bodies Contributing to Active Minds
Dr. Rickwood and I have both been greatly concerned that we are seeing a high number of children in our elementary schools with anxiety and other mental health issues. I have been teaching for over 25 years and have been observing that our classrooms are definitely changing – and the students who come through our doors are changing. Here are some of the key points that we shared:
  • One in five children under the age of 19 in Ontario in an average elementary classroom is dealing with mental health challenges at any given time. 
  • That means teachers are dealing with approximately 20 percent of their students facing a mental health problem at any given time.
  • In a study done by Ringeisen et al. (2003), it was found that schools play a significant role in delivering mental health services to students; 70-80% of children who receive any mental health services gain this support through the school setting.
  • Teachers feel mental health is a real and pressing issue in their classrooms, with 92% of the participants saying they’ve had students struggling with mental health issues. 
  • 97.4% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that it was part of their job to help these students. 
  • And yet, 93.3% did not feel their teacher training adequately prepared them to deal with the issue, according to the survey by Nipissing University PhD candidate Amy Andrews. 
My question for attendees at our workshop was, how can teachers be helped to cope in their classrooms with all these student mental health issues? I explained that one important answer involves using Brain Gym and Purposeful Movements to stimulate the whole brain and relieve stress.
When RONNO and I created our “brain-based” movement songs, we created movements to purposively stimulate the entire brain, including the brainstem, the limbic system and the neo-cortex. In my prior blogs, you have read about Developmental Movement Patterns. We crafted songs/routines that combined all those important DMPs, in addition to specific actions/movements to activate different parts of the brain. I’m very excited with what we’ve created. Each song/routine is designed to be a mini-brain-balance, to activate the entire brain, and as a result, relieve stress and make learning easier. Note that all the tracks can be previewed on our Kids-Move website, so you have a better idea of what I’m talking about.   
I hope you enjoy the songs and playing them with children, as well as considering the science behind the creation of each song. In future blogs, I will describe Brain Gym® in greater detail and how it is incorporated in our songs, as well as how you could use it in your life and/or in your classroom. Until then, keep smiling and keep active.

All the best, 
Liz Jones-Twomey

Related material: 

Most new teachers feel unprepared to help students deal with mental health problems: study
by Sarah Boesveld, published in the National Post June 2, 2013; based on the research by Nipissing University MEd student Amy Andrews.



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