In today’s day and age, students have more issues affecting their mental health than any generation in recent history.
From social media to COVID scares to school shootings and looming climate change, they have a lot on their minds, on top of trying to keep grades up and fit in socially. The pandemic alone resulted in trauma for most students, whether it was a lost loved one, a lack of structure and certainty, or the fear and anxiety we’ve all experienced.
As a teacher, it’s not your job to solve all of these problems. However, for the sake of your students and the classroom at large, you can play an active part in making sure they feel seen, heard and cared for, and are getting the help they need.
Mental health exercises and trauma-informed care can make all the difference in the classroom, whether it’s in-person or over Zoom. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
A Feelings Check-in: Begin the day by asking your students to take their “feelings temperature,” writing in a personal journal how they’re feeling, where in their body they’re feeling it—beating heart, tense jaw, bouncy legs—and why they might be feeling that way. Then, the class can talk about how they feel, or everyone can keep it to themselves and use this new awareness to reflect on and cope with the feelings internally.
Two-Minute Meditation: When I was a kid, we regularly took time to do hand and wrist exercises in class to prevent cramps. You can do something similar with mental health, taking two minutes of each day to encourage students to close their eyes and focus only on breathing in and out.
Re-establish Structure: Make up for the lost structure from the past two years. Students need to be taught again how to follow routines, work past roadblocks, and get along with peers. When they do any of these things, take notice and encourage them!
Screen-Free Activities: This might seem obvious, but once you’re back in the classroom, make the most of it with activities that don’t use any screens at all. Students have more screens and more time to look at them than ever, and even adults need to be forcibly torn away from technology at times, whether it’s taking a hike, playing board games, drawing or building something.
Group Games: The concept of team trivia or other games in the classroom is hardly new, but students need social bonds now more than ever, since feeling lonely and isolated has a huge impact on mental health.
Fighting Automatic Thoughts: Have your students think about situations that have stressed them out recently. Then have them identify the automatic thoughts that popped into their heads, such as “I’m going to fail,” or “Why should I even bother.” Then, have them write how those thoughts made them feel. And finally, have them write coping thoughts to help them through, such as “I might not get an A, but I’m not going to fail.” Or, “I have many strengths outside of this classroom.”
Setting Goals: Nothing fights stagnation and hopelessness like setting goals and taking action. For your students, the goals shouldn’t be huge, far-off life goals. Rather, ask questions like, “Fast forward one month, what do you see yourself accomplishing in that time?” or “What do you hope is different by the last day of school, and what can you do now to work towards it?” Setting reasonable, attainable goals is key to success.
This article originally appeared in Teach & Travel’s May 2022 issue.