Last week, I (Clive) talked about the connection between general way of life education and career education. I believe there is a similar link with mental health education, which Ontario teachers today are strongly encouraged to engage in. A recent Toronto Star article on mental health education noted that around twenty percent of Ontario school students have mental health problems. It then went on to claim that the life learning these students need would also greatly benefit the other eighty percent of students!
From the teachers’ point of view, this insight has significant implications. It means that instead of constantly singling out students with mental health needs – thus adding to teachers’ workload and also running the danger of labeling students, reducing their self-esteem, and undermining class community – teachers can implement way of life education in the normal course of teaching and classroom life and so help all their students.
Increasing the feasibility of mental health teaching in this way is sorely needed, given the growing demands on teachers, the continuing cut-backs in special education funding, and the increasing integration of “special needs” students into mainstream classes. As Kate Phillippo says in her excellent 2015 book Advisory in Urban High Schools, there is today considerable “under-the-table expansion of teachers’ responsibilities,” especially “to provide social-emotional support” to students (p. 148).
While there is a limit to how much assistance regular classroom teachers can give to students with mental health challenges, supporting all students in developing a sound approach to life can help everyone, including those with special needs. For example, students who lack motivation for school work need a better general sense of where academic achievement fits into their life, now and in the future; and students dealing with bullying would benefit from greater general understanding of when and how to stand up to other people. Along these lines, Phillippo (2015) envisages classroom teachers taking on a broad “advisory” role that includes fostering “life skills development” (p. 154) and working to promote “student wellness” in general (p. 164).
Hearing the word April at OISE is as unnerving as hearing the word Voldemort at Hogwarts. Let’s cut to the chase…everyone is currently a little less patient and a little more stressed. Graduate students are working hard to finish their final papers and projects while faculty members are equally busy marking everything to meet strict deadlines. Factor in the 100 other responsibilities folks have to simultaneously manage and before you know it, everyone is reaching their boiling point. So why am I stating the obvious? It is because I whole-heartedly believe that self-care is SO much more important than a beautifully formatted APA references list.
Though we are busy wrapping up the academic year, self-care should never be put on the back-burner. Even if you do not think you have the time, self-care does not have to be a time-consuming event. Here’s a list of small actions that can have a big impact:
Get proper rest and sleep. Eat well. Think positively. Sing in the shower. Be honest with yourself. Colour. Have a spontaneous dance party. Do yoga. Eat yogurt. Keep track of your “stress quotient”. Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t place blame. Recognize and acknowledge your stress level. Be yourself. Run. Walk. Sit. Lay down. Stay. Don’t stay. Choreograph an interpretive dance. Cook. Get dressed up. Take a deep breath. Make a to-do list. Practice living in the present. Be with friends. Be alone. Be. Learn to accept what you can’t change. Write someone a letter. Do something nice for someone. Admit to yourself how you feel. Think about unicorns. Make a nice dinner. Play your favorite sport. Take a nice long shower. Hug it out. Scream into a pillow, or at a picture. Get off campus. Vent. Be optimistic. Be realistic. Smile. Find something that makes you happy, and do it.
Believe me, I know it’s easier said than done and everyone copes with their stress in different ways. But if there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind while you indent, paraphrase, cite, & proofread, it’s this: You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.
I (Clive) have often proposed in our blogs that schooling should be more “relevant.” In addition to teaching subject content, we should help students develop their general approach to life (which will vary significantly from one student to another). This can be done as we teach subjects – so long as we are selective in what we spend time on and how we teach it – but also through the class community, the teacher-student relationship, and individual and whole-class projects and chats from time to time.
I have recently read a wonderful book Designing Your Life (Knopf, 2016) by Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, in which the authors say that way of life development should go hand in hand career education. Already in school (they do not say how early) young people should be constantly exploring a range of possibilities for learning and doing, trying to figure out what things they enjoy, find fulfilling, and are good at. Then as they begin to consider more concretely what career(s) to take up, they will have a solid sense of what would fit with their way of life.
A key emphasis in the book is that it is not just a matter of choosing IT, law, engineering, etc. but what kind of IT, law, engineering, etc. Work in each field can take many different forms, and it is as much a matter of creating or designing a line of work as choosing one, and continuing to develop it further over time. For this people need a lot of information about the real world, a sense of a preferred and possible way of life, and experience in being proactive rather than passive in life situations. This can begin in earnest in school – I would argue, even in primary school.
This term I (Clive) have two wonderful graduate classes, each with 25 students. One is on Foundations of Curriculum Studies and the other Reflective Professional Development. As part of the community building effort we go to the pub after class three times during the twelve week term (that evening we finish the class half an hour early). This week we had our second pub visit in both classes.
As always, I was impressed with how enjoyable it was and how much we got to know about each other. Only about half the students came, due to the frigid weather, family responsibilities, and school classes early the next day. But it was nevertheless entirely worthwhile.
Other strategies to build a social culture include: sitting in a large circle for most of the evening; having the students say each other’s names around the room each time we meet; chatting and joking at the beginning of the class and at other times; each student giving a brief presentation on their emerging essay topic (2 or 3 presentations a week) with responses from the 3 students sitting to their left or right; small-group discussions on interesting topics, with everyone in each group reporting back. All this leaves less time for me to talk, but I find the students say at least 90% of what I would have said; and anyway, I get to choose the weekly topics and readings.
It is only a 36 hour course, shorter than most school courses, yet a real bond is formed. The social atmosphere adds greatly to the enjoyment of the course and the discussions are deepened. It may not seem very “academic,” but I wouldn’t do it any other way!
I (Said) graduated from UofT’s Concurrent Teacher Ed. Program in 2014. Since then, I have had experience working as an occasional teacher and as a student affairs professional. I am currently working on my Master of Arts at OISE. I am sharing this to highlight that as a graduate student and emerging professional, the pressure to achieve is tremendous. Every year, I have felt my professional identity transform and evolve in numerous ways. Said “the teacher”, Said “the researcher”, Said “the professional”… it is overwhelming at times, especially when imposter syndrome takes over.
Imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy despite signs of evident success. Those who experience it struggle with the fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ or ‘not smart enough’, especially among peers and other professionals. Therefore, any success is often attributed to luck, downplayed, and rationalized as a means to mask a supposed lack of knowledge or expertise. Beginning teachers may feel like they do not belong in the classroom, especially if working within a school culture that does not value their contributions and perceives them as inexperienced. What they must remember is that they were deemed qualified to teach and are worthy of their position.
Similarly, graduate students may feel intimidated at their institution, especially when working with faculty members considered leaders in their research fields. However, I have come to realize that my voice has value and that insight from the sharing of ideas and heated debates can spark new avenues of inquiry and inspire those around me. Isn’t it wonderful how being part of a research team/community of scholars allows us the opportunity to discuss, dispute, disagree, dispel, dissertate and so much more? I refuse to be trapped in a self-imposed cage, and if I ever feel surrounded by 20-foot walls, I will build a 21-foot ladder.
As I embark on a journey in academia, I recognize that it is perfectly normal to feel slightly out of place, as any novice would. Instead of emphasizing my invented unsuitably for this exciting new endeavour, I have decided to do all that I can to gain more confidence in my professional and academic life. If you ever feel like you are ‘not enough’, please remember what Christopher Robin once told Winnie the Pooh. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
I (Clive) have long believed in having a warm, friendly class community and a good teacher-student relationship. However, my understanding of what this means continues to grow. This term in my graduate course with 22 students I seemed to develop a closer bond with my students than ever before.
As time went by, each would greet me in a friendly, open way with a smile on their face. They told me more personal information about themselves (often in emails about why they couldn’t be at class that evening!) Before and after class, at the break or in emails, they shared with me (and I discussed with them) individual matters, e.g., interest in going on to doctoral work; wanting to teach high school rather than elementary; wanting to take an individual reading course; moving from the public to the private school sector; the struggles of teaching while raising 3 children; not really wanting to be a teacher.
I found this closer relationship had several advantages:
- There was a higher energy level in our engagement
- Our interactions – and the class experience generally – were more enjoyable
- Attendance was higher
- I could better understand “where they were coming from”
This was quite apart from the help they received by discussing their individual concerns.
Sometimes people worry about an overly close relationship between teachers and students. However, a sensible teacher can figure out what is appropriate and what is not; and in general I feel we are still far too removed from our students. We need to be constantly developing appropriate links with our students, rather than being afraid of links in general.
In terms of appropriateness, one important point is to avoid having favorites. We should go out of our way to have meaningful conversations with – and hence get to know – every single student in our class. They will really appreciate it and our own teaching experience will be enhanced.
The Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Parent Education Association organized a fabulous event this week on sleep deprivation. I (Clare) attended and felt I learned so much!
The speaker Dr. Reut Gruber (professor at McGill University) walked us through “sleep for success” which included a description of our sleep cycles and some of the consequences of sleep deprivation. Here are a few key points that I found incredibly informative.
- Sleep is affected by intrinsic biological processes, cultural values, parental beliefs, school start time, and age
- Sleep deprivation affects academic performance, mental wellness, and physical health
- Regarding academic performance she said executive functions are affected, not allowing children to filter, make correction decisions, plan, resist distractions and regulate emotions
- Regarding sleep, learning, and memory she said that we need to sleep so that the new information/learning can be integrated into what is already known. She said that we tend to think that if we expose children to “more” they will become “more brilliant” but knowledge needs to consolidated.
- She gave a great analogy – if we do not sleep it is like not pressing the “save” button on our computer. Memory consolidation occurs when we sleep. For this process to occur we need to be “offline” that is be asleep.
Her work has been profiled on CNN, CBS …. Here is a link to some of her articles: