4.1 – How schools help students

MindMatters in Minutes. How schools help students.

Let’s say you’re a maths teacher, and you have a student who is struggling with a particular mathematical technique.

You’d help them. That’s your job.

But what if we said the student doesn’t seem to have any friends? Would you do anything about that?

Or what if you noticed that over a period of months the student was becoming more and more withdrawn?

And before you say, “I’d totally support that student with my +3 Powers of Inspirational Teaching,” what if out of the 200 students you teach every week 100 of them are having trouble with the subject, 50 of them are feeling sad or anxious about other issues in their lives, 10 of them are struggling with more serious mental health issues, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to who is in what category.

What would you do then?

Option one: Solve all the problems! —or the saviour strategy. Not a good idea. It’s not possible. Don’t try it.

Option two: Ignore all the problems! —known as the “It’s not my job” strategy. Entirely achievable, but also not great in terms of student outcomes.

So let’s look at option three: a middle way between these two extremes.

As an individual staff member, there are three main ways you can help students who might be experiencing mental health difficulties.

You can pay attention. As a school staff member you are in a great position to observe students over time and to notice emerging difficulties—although not all students will display observable changes.

You can have regular open-ended conversations, where you allow students to talk without you needing to solve anything. They will get to know that you are prepared to listen, and one day might explain what is going on for them.

And finally you can get other people involved by talking to your colleagues or referring the student for more support.

All this needs to be done within the context of the policies and procedures that your school may need you to follow, but in principle these steps are simple, flexible and achievable.

Remember! You’re not a mental health professional, but as an adult, an educator, and a human being, you can help. Your attention, conversation and empathy may be just the thing a struggling student needs.