ModSu: Welcome everyone to tonight’s live chat. I’m Su, and I’m moderating this session. I’m a PhD student looking at global and local processing (whether people prefer looking at the whole or at details) and maths and science in primary school children.
ModAnnie: Just popping in to say hello! I’m another moderator, and my research investigates science and maths, so I don’t know much about mental health but am interested to find out more!
markoulideso17: I wonder if there are any studies about the impact of effective form tutors or community cohesion on managing stress?
ModSu: Great question – on managing stress of teachers or pupils, or both?
markoulideso17: Mainly managing stress of pupils.
Christina: I’m not aware of any studies specifically looking at form tutors or similar roles, but there is a lot of work supporting the importance of peer support and community cohesion in terms of management of stress and anxiety in students. And there’s work showing correlations between – for example – self-reported feelings of belonging to a group and peer inclusivity on overall well being
ModSu: I found this which might be an interesting read – https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2016/02/11/the-effective-form-tutor/
Christina: Thanks for the article! I think this is particularly poignant – “The role of the form tutor […] covers such topics as handling individuals, making and maintaining personal contact, monitoring progress”
markoulideso17: The role at my school next year includes having an overview of mental well being for students.
markoulideso17: I am wondering what practical things we can do in school to support the students. Of course, offering ‘mindfulness’ and ‘yoga’ sessions have come up from various teachers but I am not sure if that is the most effective thing to do.
Christina: Hm, that’s a broad one – particularly as I’m not a teacher myself.
markoulideso17: I had the idea of spending form times at the beginning of the year doing team building activities and also just fun games to try to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere within the form in the hope that this would then be the foundation of good relationships and cohesion between students and also between students and teachers. But I suppose I was wondering if there is any evidence that doing things like that actually help? At the moment it is just my thoughts and I am not sure I can justify to staff and SLT that we should play games unless it might actually work.
ModAnnie: Also, do you have any specific suggestions for how best to make students feel included? It seems like that is the kind of thing that happens naturally (or not) so I wonder how you can foster that.
Christina: I think that one important thing is to engage everyone equally, which might in turn help foster not only your relationship with the students but also may encourage stronger relationships among students. On that note – not my area of expertise at all – but I know that there is some research looking at the impact of drama therapy in managing stress and anxiety. Perhaps there might be a way to apply similar strategies in school settings. I’ll have a look for some papers now…
ModSu: My husband has been a form tutor and a head of year, and at his school they have trained some staff as ‘mental health first aiders’.
markoulides017: That sounds really interesting!! I’d love to know a bit more about how that works.
Christina: Mental health first aiders is a great idea! and definitely overlooked in many educational settings.
ModSu: I will try to find out, but I know a group of them completed the course, and then in a ‘train the trainers’ type of thing, they then pass on the learning to other staff members. This article might be of interest – https://www.tes.com/news/teachers-be-trained-mental-health-first-aiders . It looks like there might be some funding available to cover the costs of training too? Possibly? https://www.gov.uk/government/news/secondary-school-staff-get-mental-health-first-aid-training .
Christina: “Earlier this year, the prime minister announced that every secondary school in the country would be offered the training”. I certainly hope that’s true!!
ModSu: Yes – I don’t think it said how to go about organising the training, or reclaiming costs? But fingers crossed it is available to all… I wonder what equivalent there might be for primary schools?
markoulides017: …or for sixth form colleges… we only have A level students so we probably would not qualify.
ModSu: My husband’s school did a course through Mind. https://westkentmind.org.uk/training/mhfa
markoulides017: Brilliant thanks!
Christina: I’ve just come across an (albeit relatively old) paper which is a bit off-topic but uses term “mental hygiene” to describe the importance of drama and play in education, which I quite like 🙂 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08929092.1995.10012469?journalCode=uytj20
ModSu: Have you used drama to support mental wellbeing?
Christina: I was involved in a project with the organisation Cardboard Citizens which used theatre as a way to teach students about the adolescent brain as well as to provide skills for what we call ‘metacognition’ – basically, the ability to ‘think about our thoughts’.
ModSu: Ooh interesting 🙂 Did you get much feedback about how the theatre may have changed the students’ understanding or way of thinking?
Christina: We collected some questionnaire measures in the schools where the play was performed – before and after they participated – to see whether engaging with the theatre program provided any new skills for regulating their thoughts/emotions. But unfortunately I think the data are still being analysed! So I can’t provide any hard facts just yet 🙂 I will say anecdotally that the students generally seemed really enthusiastic about participating. We got a ton of positive feedback from students themselves as well as from teachers who said that the students’ attitudes towards recognising emotions were improved.
markoulides017: That’s really interesting about drama, and actually quite relevant to our students – many of them do combinations such as biology, chemistry, maths so have no link to the performing arts. This means that they don’t have the opporutnity to develop public speaking etc and also the team building which comes with performing arts. And by the sounds of what you are saying there are loads of other benefits too.
Christina: Yes! A link I think is definitely lacking in many places!
ModAnnie: I was also involved in the theatre project and wrote a short summary here https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/users/20788-annie-brookman-byrne/posts/12621-science-and-art-come-together-to-create-an-exciting-learning-experience-for-teenagers – I agree with Christina that students generally really enjoyed it, and hopefully the results of the evaluation will show that they understood more about the way their brains work.
Christina: Certainly – and for what it’s worth, because the play that was performed included a lot of ‘facts’ and science about the developing brain, we had a fair few students come up to us at the end asking about opportunities for further education in the sciences.
markoulides017: Did the students participate in the play or did they watch it?
ModAnnie: The exciting thing was that students watched it and then participated – they could take the place of a character to try to change how the scene played out.
markoulideso17: On a slightly different subject – I read something about ‘writing out’ in the mental health section of the website. I wondered if you have any articles or guidance on how to implement this effectively?
Christina: Hm, I’m not familiar with that – do you have a link to where you read about it?
markoulideso17: https://learning.imascientist.org.uk/mental-health/ It says: One intervention tool that requires no extra resources or costly training is the practice of ‘Writing out’. Drawing from research in clinical psychology, students (or teachers) spend ten or so minutes writing about their worries about a given subject or event (including examinations). Research suggests that for those who are highly anxious, this process might allow some reappraisal of the worry, and reduces anxiety. A short period of writing before examinations has been reported to be associated with increased performance for those who were highly anxious (but has no discernible effect for those who were not).
Christina: Interesting! I’m not familiar with that work, but it sounds like a lot of the strategies go hand in hand with things like mindfulness and cognitive reappraisal which have also been shown to be effective for emotion regulation. Basically, any engagement which gets people to acknowledge what’s stressing/bothering them and thinking about how to shift any negative thoughts surrounding that.
ModSu: This may have some further information – http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.4276/030802213X13651610908452
ModAnnie: That page was written by Alice who is one of the featured scientists this week, so I’d recommend sending a direct question to Alice through the ‘Ask’ section of the website.
markoulideso17: Thanks for the link to the article! And thanks for pointing me in the direction of Alice. I will look into those things further. Sounds like it might be quite a powerful tool.
Christina: Obviously not in younger students, but here’s a paper looking at the effects of mindfulness strategies on coping with exam stress in medical students – I would imagine with the right guidance, similar effects might be seen in younger groups? https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1018700829825
markoulides017: Thanks, I will definitely have a read. In general is ‘cognitive reappraisal’ something I should look into for other ideas to help students manage the pressures of exams/school etc?
Christina: I think so! It’s a technique commonly used in clinical psychology practice and a central feature of things like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).
markoulides017: I have made myself a huge reading list from all your ideas! 🙂 Should keep me busy for a while!
ModSu: Hope the reading is all useful 🙂
markoulides017: I’m sure it will be! Thank you all very much for your help and ideas!
ModSu: We’re almost coming to the end of our chat tonight. It’s been really interesting – thank you everyone 🙂 If you have any further questions, do feel free to use the ‘ask’ part of the website.