Recently, the Toronto District School Board announced the launch of its 4 year strategic plan called ‘Years of Action’. A notable mention of this new plan is the inclusion of a focused address of mental health. Prompted by the results of TDSB’s 2011 – 2012 survey of Grades 7-12 students, new initiatives have been implemented to better support tween and young adults who struggle with stress and anxiety. The overall goal is to reduce interruptions and barriers to learning which prevent students from reaching their full potential.
The survey of 103,000 students revealed that of those in “Grades 7 and 8, almost 60 per cent of students worried about their future ‘all of the time’ or ‘sometimes,’ and by high school the percentage jumped to almost 75 per cent.” Even more concerning was learning that “in high school, almost half (of the students) said they didn’t have anyone they could turn to and only 59 per cent liked school.” (Toronto Star, Jan 28.2014)
At RRLS, we support several students with worry, anxiety, and stress issues or tendencies. In fact, it’s quite common and natural, at least to some degree. A handful of cases are linked to neurological differences, but many can be a result of a lacking in confidence or being unprepared. Either way, our Learning Specialists employ a spectrum of strategies, tricks and tips to address students’ individual learning needs so that they feel and are able to accomplish any task expected of them. Other ways encourage positive mental health start at home.
1. Provide a caring, warm atmosphere: When learners feel safe from criticism, they are free to focus their energy on learning rather than trying to deflect and overcome negative feelings.
2. Create a comfortable environment: Make study areas into a calming, comfortable oasis. A cozy chair, funky lamp, fun writing paper, or a self-decorated bulletin board are the markers of a space that a student wants to be in and can enjoy as his or her own.
3. Ensure clear expectations: Stress rises when students feel like they don’t know what’s going on, leading to thoughts such as, “Why don’t I understand?”, “What’s wrong with me?”, “I don’t know where to start!” Remove these thoughts by filling in the blanks with advance notice, defined guidelines, precise details, plenty of examples, and opportunity for questions.
4. Set learners up for success: A critical part of building confidence in learners is to make sure they feel prepared and capable with everything they need before being asked to complete a task. This means tangible tools, skills and knowledge. Provide a check list, point out useful knowledge and skills that apply, indicate available resources, and encourage risk taking as a ‘challenge’ (not an expectation).
5. Tell, show, listen & look. Teaching systematically allows for concepts to build logically, more practice to be had, various learning styles to be addressed (listen, look, do, etc.) and explicit examples to set a clear benchmark. After you explain and demonstrate a new task, have the learner say it back and then show you themselves. Confidence comes with practice and the best practice is done with multiple steps and in a variety of ways.
6. Provide gentle feedback. We all wonder how we’re doing. Provide unprompted feedback to relieve the stress of wonder and to open up the opportunity for improvement. Use the positive-negative-positive method to always end on a high note and ALWAYS provide a strategy after suggesting improvement.
7. Move at a proper pace. Pressure is stressful and feeling as though we aren’t living up to standards can be crushing. The truth is, every learner works at a different pace and requires different techniques to connect the dots, so standards of pace are in fact quite varied. Know and accommodate this.
8. Teach the language of self-advocacy. Often students know what they need (or don’t need), but do not have the words to appropriately express themselves. Provide examples through role play, videos, or open discussion to give learners the tools they need to speak up and let them know that you are on their side and there to support them.
9. Reward with words. Good work should never go unnoticed. Verbal praise and acknowledgement boost esteem and reinforce good habits and routines. Make it part of family dinner discussions, post it on a sticky note, write secret notes, “you’re amazing” and leave them in your son or daughter’s backpack or desk. It’s so easy and so effective.
10. Promote good health. Stress, anxiety, and depression can often be linked to poor self-image (often about appearance and image for teens) and poor health. Be sure your teens have good eating and exercise habits to keep endorphins up, and ensure they feel positive and physically strong. If they are down, get them out of the house and moving.
For more information on this subject, contact Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space at 416.925.1225 or visit http://www.ruthrumack.com.