4.4 – Helping individual students

MindMatters in Minutes. Helping individual students.

If you’re seriously concerned about a student, it’s easy to get nervous about what to do, but often the most helpful thing you can do is to just have a conversation with them. 

It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but to make the conversation as relaxed and as effective as it can be, it’s useful to follow a bit of a plan.

First, what can you do to prepare? Good ideas are to gather up all your observations, and then talk to appropriate colleagues. You might want to find out what other staff have noticed, get feedback or advice, or simply keep them informed that you are going to have a word with one of your students. 

Also think about timing. It’s easy for these conversations to be rushed because someone has to go to another class or catch a bus, when sometimes meaningful conversations take a while to unfold. On the other hand, just having a quick word with a student can make a big difference, and can buy you time for a longer conversation.

When you actually start the conversation, some sensitivity around explaining your concerns can be helpful.

You don’t want to alarm the student or get anyone in a panic.

Simply saying you’ve noticed a few things and are wondering how the student is going is often enough to get the conversation started.

Let the student do the talking. As adults we tend to rush into offering advice, explanations or solutions. This can obscure the real issue, and disempower the student. Instead, just listen. Try to put other things out of your mind, and use open ended questions to see where the student takes you.

Keep in mind your duty of care. For example, you may be obliged to report disclosures of at-risk behaviour. If this happens it’s a good idea to pause the conversation and discuss it with the student so they understand your responsibilities, then see if they want to continue.

When you wrap up, one of the most important things to do is let the student know they have your support. Let them know you’ll touch base with them again to see how they are going. Depending on the conversation you may want to encourage help-seeking from other school staff or external services, and you may want to follow up with your colleagues on the outcomes of the conversation.

All of this needs to be considered within the context of your school’s specific policies and procedures.

However a simple, well-structured conversation can be one of the most helpful actions you can take to support a student’s mental health and wellbeing.