Creating a positive classroom environment for mental wellbeing
With rising concerns about mental health among young people, it's important that educators create a nurturing environment that promotes both academic and emotional growth in high school. By fostering a space where students feel valued and heard, they will feel more empowered to seek help when they need it.
In this article, we'll explore practical strategies to ensure wellbeing is at the forefront of your educational approach, from initiating conversations about mental health to providing resources and supporting students in developing healthy habits. And, just as students require support, educators too need to remember the importance of looking after their own wellbeing in their demanding roles.
Let's dive in and understand how to integrate wellbeing into your classroom.
Start the conversation
Speaking about menal wellbeing in the classroom can make students feel like their wellbeing is important. Positive dialogue around wellbeing and mental health can take many forms, from acknowledging that feelings of stress and anxiety are normal during exam periods to encouraging students to speak up if they are struggling.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health, providing students with easily accessible resources (listed below) or an alternative space for conversation can be very helpful. Beyond Blue also has a series of videos on mental health, which may be a good way to introduce mental wellbeing into the classroom.
Checking in with students throughout the school year can promote healthy and inclusive dialogue around wellbeing. Some helpful conversation starters include:
- How are you feeling today/this week/about the upcoming exams?
- What’s been on your mind recently?
- Is there anything you would like to talk about?
- I know this is a stressful time. Let’s discuss some ways we can work on our wellbeing.
- Is there anything I can do to help manage your stress?
Set clear expectations
Setting clearly defined rules and expectations (both academic and behavioural) can help create a sense of structure in the classroom. Consistent expectations provide students with stability and can help them regulate their wellbeing. Encouraging clear and open communication, as well as active listening can also make students feel heard and understood.
Create a safe space
Students should feel like they have a place to go if they are struggling with their mental wellbeing. If you feel comfortable discussing these topics, you can let students know they can come to you for support at any time. Alternatively, you can provide them with information about other resources or spaces in the school that they can access if they need support (e.g., counselling services). The most important thing is to be clear about where and how students can seek help. Beyond verbalising this information, it can be helpful to create a tangible resource (e.g., a printed poster) that tells students exactly where they can go when they are struggling.
Normalise seeking support
While discussing wellbeing in the classroom is a good first step, students should also be encouraged to think practically about how to access support resources (both at school and externally). Here are some helpful prompts that can help normalise seeking support.
- It’s okay to need support, here are some helpful resources.
- If you need to talk to someone, this is where you can go at school.
- If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone at school, there are alternative support resources that can help.
When it comes to supporting student wellbeing, resources are your best friend. There are several resources available for students to access around the clock such as helplines, online forums and professional psychologists. Kindred’s Mental Health Toolkit provides a good summary of different support options and can be printed off and provided to students and teachers looking to learn more about mental health.
These key resources can also be good to print off or send electronically to students:
Helplines (available 24/7)
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Kids helpline: 1800 55 1800
- Headspace: 1800 650 890
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
- Beyond Blue Forums
- SANE Forum
- Headspace Online Counselling (best for 12-25 year olds)
- Reach Out Forums (best for 14-25 year olds)
Encourage healthy habits
In times of stress, students can quickly fall out of basic healthy habits. Encouraging them to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and generally keep a good work-life balance can be a good way to regulate general wellbeing. Providing ‘wellness’ time can also help create a mentally healthy classroom. This can take different forms, such as allotting time for students to discuss their wellbeing with one another, or running through a series of mindfulness or meditation exercises to help students regulate their stress levels. Allowing students to prioritise their mental health may also include adjusting workloads or expectations during high-stress periods or when students are struggling.
Finally, encouraging students to practice self-compassion is a good way to foster general wellbeing. Practical ways to do this include asking them to write positive affirmations about themselves (e.g., I am doing my best) or to reflect upon recent achievements they are proud of. These exercises could be incorporated into ‘wellness’ time to make students feel like their wellbeing is being approached holistically.
If you want to support your students, it’s important to also prioritise your own mental and emotional wellbeing. Checking in with yourself and looking out for symptoms of burnout are good ways to monitor your mental health. Modelling healthy habits like mindfulness and work-life balance can also have a great effect on students' wellbeing. If you do feel like you need support, don’t be afraid to seek help. Beyond Blue and Reach Out have some great support options.
This blog was written by Amira Skeggs. Amira is the founder of Kindred, a non-profit providing mental health resources for young people. Kindred's resources are free, expert-reviewed and available for young people, educators and mental health professionals. Amira has previously worked as a clinical researcher at the Brain and Mind Centre and is currently based in Cambridge England, where she researches young people's mental health.