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A toolkit for teachers for supporting mental health

Natasha Devon explains how schools can best equip teachers for the rigours of supporting young people who are suffering.

Natasha Devon MBE

In part one of this conversation we explored the prevalence of mental health distress in children and young people and how the teaching profession may respond to that.

What might a teachers’ toolkit contain to support teachers’ professional learning with regard to child mental health?

I should say that the teachers' toolkit is part of a separate campaign we are running at Self-Esteem Team (#letterstodave) and has not been agreed at government level.

The idea for the teachers' toolkit came about simply because my team were listening to teachers' concerns. Teachers told us that, from their perspective, for every new challenge that arises within a school environment, someone just 'sticks a lesson plan on a website somewhere, expects us to deliver it with no training and adds to our already over-stretched schedule'.

With something as crucial and delicate as mental health, there is a responsibility to get it right. Some teachers will teach mental health lessons magnificently, while others won't have the confidence or expertise.

As well as producing lesson plans on mental health and training for teachers who feel they want to take on the challenge (something the government is already exploring) the Self-Esteem Team want a PSHE budget reinstated so that outside speakers can be invited in to fill in any gaps.

We'd also like to see ten minute wellbeing exercises for teachers which can be practised in tutor time, break time or even as part of other lessons such as English, history, PE or psychology.

It really isn’t enough to assume that teachers will magically know exactly what wellbeing means and how best to encourage it in young people is it?

Mental wellbeing needs to be constantly reinforced, taking a whole school approach - it's not something that can be 'ticked off' in an hour long assembly.

Is there value in helping teachers to support the mental health of children if they are not supported in maintaining good mental health themselves?

After our Self-Esteem Team lessons teachers often tell us how much they needed to hear what we said. The strategies for maintaining good mental wellbeing are pretty universal - we're not teaching our teenage pupils to do anything we don't actively practice ourselves.

I would love to see more support for teachers. As someone with one foot in the media and the other in education I'm horrified by the way teachers are so often portrayed in the press. I've worked in more than 200 UK schools and have only met one teacher who I didn't think was doing their job to the absolute best of their ability - which is a pretty good record.

Teachers routinely put in extra hours, go above and beyond for their pupils and they're doing one of (if not the) hardest and most important jobs in our society. I hope as Champion I can be a voice for teachers and will be looking for any available opportunities to support them better, both personally and professionally.

So what is your vision for the future?

Ideally, I'd like to completely redesign the education system (with the help of Sir Ken Robinson and others) so that it allows more social mobility, more potential-reaching for all young people and puts wellbeing at the core of everything it does.

Realistically, I'd like to get everyone on the same page. I've had the privilege of travelling the UK working with thousands of teenagers, teachers and parents and it's given me a unique insight into what's going on in Britain right now. There is still work to be done around reducing stigma, most importantly we need to realise that mental health is relevant to absolutely everyone.

What can schools do right now to better support children and young people with mental health concerns?

Schools are doing everything they can with the resources they have available. I think we need to acknowledge that not every young person will feel comfortable talking to a teacher or parent, so we need to build a network of support including CAMHS, charities that provide web and phone information and helplines and outside experts like my team and the many other people who are visiting schools to share their expertise.

Cooperation is key. The government, teachers, parents, charities and other relevant organisations need to work together if we want build a solid safety net to catch the children and teenagers that are falling.

Natasha can be contacted by email at: getselfesteemteam@gmail.comFollow Natasha on Twitter.

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