In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating a group of educators who embarked on a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) to promote mental health literacy among their students at Grove School in the Durham District School Board (DDSB).
According to the Joint Consortium for School Health, the promotion of positive mental health can help students learn how to identify and manage emotions, develop meaningful family, school, and community relationships, and enhance positive coping and problem-solving skills. Across Ontario, educators are often on the front lines supporting students in developing coping strategies for stress and anxiety.
During their project, Anne Arthur, Annette Muir and Katie Dwyer were educators at Grove School, which is a Section 23 program that supports students who are in custody, care or treatment. Their TLLP project, “Changing Your Mind: An Experiential Approach to Mental Health Literacy using Mood Apps” began in 2013 and connected their interest in mental health literacy with the use of technology to support student achievement.
The purpose of the project was to explore what happened when students built their awareness of how their feelings change and how to better regulate them.
The team often found themselves working alone in segregated sites, so this project was an opportunity for them to collaborate on something that would benefit their students and their communities.
As they embarked on their inquiry, the educators noticed a gap in their students’ knowledge of mental health strategies and that many had difficulty implementing strategies to identify and then regulate their moods. The team also discovered there was a correlation between achievement and moods.
The group's work was informed by the work of Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky in their book Mind Over Mood, as well as the Ministry document Supporting Minds: An Educator’s Guide to Promoting Students’ Mental Health and Well-being.
To set up their students for success, the group looked into various methods for students to track their moods including mood wheels, journals, and mood tracking apps.
During the project, some students used the MyMoodTracker App on iOS and T2 Mood Tracker on Android. With mood tracker apps, students could rate their moods using a numerical scale, answer questions about their mood, and track their sleep, diet and exercise throughout the day. Students could borrow devices from faculty if they didn’t have their own or use paper versions.
The educators also looked for meaningful ways to embed a focus on mental health literacy into other subject areas. This included activities such as character analysis in English class and analyzing the data generated by the mood tracker app in Math class.
Over the course of the project, the group discovered that students who documented their moods were better able to identify and understand changes to their moods. Students who understood these changes were able to develop strategies to regulate them and become more engaged in the classroom.
As one student described, “Over the last couple of months, I have been tracking my mood on an iPad. I’ve also been doing exercises that help me understand my moods and thoughts and how they interact. By looking at the chart, I can already notice a lot of things. My sleep and energy levels definitely affected my stress.”
Students also described how they are less reactive, had a greater understanding of how to describe their feelings, and how their emotions impacted their behaviour. They also now possessed strategies to regulate their mood through exercise, rest, and mindfulness.
The educators noted the changes in the way that their students dealt with their emotions.
“After completing this unit, students have become better informed in terms of understanding what affects their moods and how to better communicate their feelings,” the group wrote in their findings.
The team also developed educator resources that included case studies and unit lessons based on the relevant research, pre and post learning student-surveys and lessons that colleagues could use with their students.
This project also impacted the way in which their peers interacted with others. They began to coach each other and offer support when students were stressed.
The pre and post surveys offered a series of statements about emotional health, such as:
- I often know why I feel the way I do
- I can explain how I am feeling to others
- I know how to express my feelings in effective and appropriate ways.
The rich learning that came from the Changing Your Mood project has intrigued other educators and school boards. The resource created by the educators involved shows how a focus on mental health and mood awareness has a huge impact on self-regulation and pro-social behaviour.
The team has also presented their findings to boards across the province and to groups such as the Positive Psychology Association.
Educators are in a unique position to foster the mental well being of learners of all ages. The impact they have can be immense and felt outside of the classroom. During the project, parents noticed huge changes in the way that their children dealt with challenges and stress.
As one parent noted, “What are you doing in the classroom? He is a different kid. He walks away and takes deep breaths when we argue. I am noticing huge differences at home.”
Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher in Share under: TeachOntario Talks Discussions: TeachOntario Talks Discussions: How Mood May Impact Learning