More than ever, teachers, administrators, central office staff, and state agencies are thinking of student well-being, not as a tangent or an afterthought. Instead, it is part of our planning, discussions, and policy work. But, there is still work regarding awareness, communication, culture, and implementation. Likewise, this topic must be part of your staff's thinking and planning.
One of my roles in my district is to serve as a sponsor and facilitator for a student advisory committee to the superintendent to support student well-being. Each high school selects a delegation to represent the voice of their school’s student body on topics of interest identified by district leadership. Students do their best to research and communicate about these topics concerning their school’s context. It is an excellent outlet for students’ voices as they have a direct line of communication with the superintendent – most of our teachers don’t have that level of access.
The topics selected each year by the superintendent are broad enough for students to offer their recommendations. For example, recent focus topics include “School Communities,” “Technology Use,” “Environmental Sustainability,” and “School Culture.” Among these and other annual issues, however, there is a recurring one- “Mental Health and Wellness.” To clarify, the repeated identification of this topic means it is one valued by both district leadership and the student advisory committee.
Witnessing student questions, findings, and recommendations on mental health and wellness over the last eight years has been fascinating. First, students’ shared experiences across schools suggest that this issue is not isolated. Second, the interventions and processes schools have in place are not uniform. Often, this divergence is related to the school administration’s priorities and depth of knowledge. Lastly, the request interventions made by students to district leadership revolves around a scarcity of personnel.
I have highlighted four areas of work our district has undertaken from these iterations. I believe this work will also benefit other school systems and suggest you use the information when discussing how you can support them with your services.
- School-based support: Having enough professional psychologists, therapists, and social workers is essential for student well-being. Additionally, it is imperative to identify strategies, so students know who the staff is and how to contact them. Too often, the latter is the issue that needs support.
- Community Information and services: Keeping the public informed about the school’s benefits and how and who to connect with are elements of a successful student wellness program. Actions to consider include hotlines, website portals, and defining services clearly.
- Data collection: Knowing the context, culture, and nuance of student well-being is an essential collection of data. With it, communication and action can be more strategic and efficient. For example, our district uses student surveys to inform intervention programs and keep our school board informed.
- Social-Emotional Learning (SEL): Building teacher, staff, and students awareness and practice of SEL has significant potential to impact contemporary education. SEL practices should not be reserved for advisory or intervention programs. Building capacity for SEL practices requires time and support. Integrating SEL into your service and resource will be an attractive feature for educators.
Our elevated awareness of mental health realities and emphasis on wellness is one of the outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than ever, teachers, administrators, central office staff, and state agencies are thinking of student well-being, not as a tangent or an afterthought. Instead, it is part of our planning, discussions, and policy work. But, there is still work regarding awareness, communication, culture, and implementation. Likewise, this topic must be part of your staff’s thinking and planning. Lacking this dimension will stand out as a glaring gap in your company’s work. Contrastingly. Supporting the school’s mental health and wellness efforts will be one of the most valuable and sustained practices you adopt.