In recent months, Covid-19 has presented us with unprecedented challenges in all areas of life. As we grapple with our new reality, the issue of mental health and wellbeing is of particular relevance.
With that in mind, we linked in with Jigsaw, The National Centre for Youth Mental Health. Jigsaw’s Youth Mental Health Promotion Manager for Education, Carmel Halligan, discussed the supports and resources available to teachers and students in the area of mental health and wellbeing.
The Impact of Covid-19 on Mental Health
Our lives have been filled with much change and uncertainty at a time when we crave normality, connection and routine. Indeed, the Coronavirus outbreak has brought a “new normal” into our home and our communities. As such, we are more aware than ever of the impact this can have on mental health and wellbeing.
Over the past decade, focus on the importance of promoting and supporting mental health has increased in schools. At Jigsaw, we recognise the critical role that schools play in the lives of young people. Indeed, research has indicated the incredible protective factor that schools can have in relation to a young person’s mental health.
We have been supporting school communities across Ireland through our One Good School™ Initiative. The initiative promotes and supports mental health through a whole-school approach. Our vision is of an Ireland where every young person’s mental health is valued and supported.
Jigsaw also recognises the role that principals, teachers and other adults play in supporting the mental health of young people. We need this support across our communities now more than ever.
Mental Health: From the Classroom to the Living Room
With many of us experiencing changes on a daily basis to our home and work life, we are all learning to explore and embrace new ways of connecting . Indeed, Zoom has become the latest family addition for many!
Schools are no different. They are navigating new approaches to work, and few teachers could have anticipated their living room transforming into their classroom. This worldwide pandemic has made us change the way we live, interact and work.
For many reasons however, teaching young people does not easily transition to the ‘working from home’ model. It is impossible to recreate the actions and interactions of the classroom through a digital platform. Naturally, teaching is most effective when we are able to assess the atmosphere, read body language and connect with our students.
Building and Maintaining Connections in a Time of ‘Disconnect’
School connection is the extent to which a young person feels they belong at school, and cared for by that community. It is built through relationships and perceptions about those relationships within the whole school community. Indeed, we know the role of a teacher is more than just providing information on their subject. Teaching involves creating a connection with and between students.
As such, it is often the intangible bits of teaching that mean the most to both students and teachers. Right now, teachers want to help students ground themselves in a world that can feel unstable and insecure.
As the need for school connection has by no means disappeared, we examined the topic with our ‘One Good School’ Principals. We discussed the importance of school connection and how to build and maintain it during this time. To view this webinar, please visit jigsawonline.ie.
The Importance of Self-Care
During these uncertain times, our sense of teaching and support has evolved. It has required time, patience, compassion, creativity and commitment to our students and colleagues. As such, we often forget about looking after ourselves.
However, it is more critical than ever to recognise the importance of minding your own mental health and wellbeing. Take steps to give yourself time, space and respite through tough periods.
At Jigsaw, we see the need, now more than ever, for self-care. With that in mind, we have developed some tools to help you with this practice. They include an online course and webinar for teachers on self-care, with practical tips and supports from our clinicians. For further information, take a look at jigsawonline.ie
Remind yourself that prioritising self-care is a strength, not a weakness. Continue to build your sense of connection in new ways. Be kind to yourself. And most importantly, take time to catch your breath and acknowledge that you are doing all that you can. For further supports and information, please log on to jigsawonline.ie
Erasmus+, Mental Health and Wellbeing
At Léargas, we see more and more projects in the schools’ field, which focus on mental health and wellbeing. This is likely, in part, due to the increased policy focus at a national and international level on mental health and wellbeing in education.
According to the World Health Organisation: “Wellbeing is present when a person realises their full potential, is resilient in dealing with the normal stresses of their life, takes care of their physical wellbeing and has a sense of purpose, connection and belonging to a wider community. It is a fluid way of being and needs nurturing throughout life.”
As such, many policy frameworks and initiatives at international and national levels feature health and wellbeing.
Mental Heath and Wellbeing on an International Scale
In a number of its Articles, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly notes physical and mental health, and social, spiritual and moral wellbeing.
At a European level, the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027 aims to support the physical and mental health and wellbeing of young people, and the European Youth Goals’ Goal 5 is entitled “Mental Health and Wellbeing”.
Mental Heath and Wellbeing on a National Scale
At a national level, policy in the area of children and young peoples’ lives features a number of policy priorities related to mental health and wellbeing.
- National Youth Strategy 2015-2020
- Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020
- Healthy Ireland: A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013-2025
Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures sets out a number of national outcomes including Outcome 1 ‘Active & healthy, physical and mental wellbeing’, to be achieved cross-sectorally and collaboratively between government departments, statutory services, agencies and the voluntary and community sectors.
Healthy Ireland: A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013-2025 also outlines a vision for Ireland where “…everyone can enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing to their full potential, where wellbeing is valued and supported at every level of society and is everyone’s responsibility.”
Progress on a National Scale
Over the past number of years, the issue of wellbeing in education policy has been given greater attention with a range of initiatives - something which is outlined further in the DES Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice 2018-2023. Wellbeing is at the centre of Aistear: Early Childhood Curriculum Framework. It also features in areas of the curriculum such as SPHE and PE.
Wellbeing is also a key link between Education for Sustainable Development and the promotion of wellbeing. The National Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development 2014-2020 characterises it as “a continuous, guided process of economic, environmental and social change aimed at promoting the wellbeing of citizens now and into the future.”
The Junior Cycle Wellbeing Programme
During consultations and discussion relating to the reform of the junior cycle, teachers and students highlighted the importance of student wellbeing in the new junior cycle.
The Framework for Junior Cycle (2015) stated that: “The junior cycle years are a critical time in young peoples’ lives. Students are exposed to a range of influence, including peer pressure. They require support to make positive responsible decisions relating to their health and wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. Wellbeing in junior cycle is about young people feeling confident, happy, healthy and connected”.
The Junior Cycle Wellbeing Programme, introduced as part of the junior cycle reform, recognises the importance of wellbeing in its own right. As such, it requires that 400 hours of timetabled engagement in the area of wellbeing is implemented in schools.
Erasmus+ and the Link to Mental Health Support
The Erasmus+ Programme offers many opportunities for Pre-Primary, Primary, Secondary schools, Education Centres, ETBs, Universities and others. It builds partnerships, bring a European dimension to their work and addresses some of the policy priorities outlined.
Partnering with schools and other organisations across Europe and beyond can build a community of practice. This allows for the exchange of ideas and experiences in the area of mental health and wellbeing.
Projects help to build capacity to support wellbeing, and provide staff with opportunities to up-skill. They also enhance their professional development before they bring their learning back to their school or organisation, students and staff. You can find detailed information on the Léargas website.
Feedback From Our Erasmus+ Beneficiaries
After considering Jigsaw’s insights and the current policies, let’s look at the impact Erasmus+ has had on the mental health and wellbeing of school communities around Ireland.
Carol Fenton from Scoil Mhuire in Allenwood, Mikey Prout from Watergrasshill National School and Ronan O’Sullivan from Davis College have developed Erasmus+ projects around mental health and wellbeing.
Chatting with Tomas from our Schools’ team in Léargas, they explained how mental health and wellbeing in schools can be supported and strengthened through Erasmus+ and European collaboration.
Scoil Mhuire in Allenwood, Co Kildare
After successfully completing the Amber Flag initiative in 2018, Carol and her colleagues attended an Erasmus+ event hosted by Léargas. They were ultimately awarded funding for four projects focusing on mental health and wellbeing. These courses examined stress, burn-out, meditation, wellness, outdoor education, and positive psychology.
“We gained a wealth of knowledge about what goes on in other schools in Europe.,” Carol told us. “It gave us the opportunity to network with teachers across Europe; Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Spain.”
Focusing on positive mental health, resilience and wellbeing, Scoil Mhuire now adopt a holistic approach. The introduction of weekly mindfulness classes with a qualified practitioner reaped considerable rewards.“We found it really helped the children’s concentration and helped improve their self esteem” Carol said.
Following the introduction of yoga and further team-building exercises, the school then turned its attention to its Code of Discipline. “We redrafted the Code of Discipline with a focus on catching the children being good,” Carol explained. “Positive reinforcement for positive behaviour!”
Here Tomas chats with Carol Fenton from Scoil Mhuire.
Davis College in Mallow, Co Cork
Davis College faced a number of challenges when the school experienced exponential student growth along with structural refurbishment in recent years.
As Ronan O’Sullivan and his colleagues were concerned for the wellbeing of staff and students during this time, they sought ways to support them during the period of flux.
With that in mind, their project examined how sport and exercise can improve mental health within the school. Partnered with a Scandinavian school, they looked at physical education classes, their structure and the incorporation of activities. This ultimately led to the introduction of yoga at Davis College. As Ronan explains: “Yoga gave people the ability to relax, take time out, and get a little space within the school.”
Further to this, the school considered the incorporation of other physical activities. With that, the PE department created a fitness and wellbeing committee, and gave the students an opportunity to get involved.
Davis College found the mobility projects ‘life altering’ as they helped to foster a sense of solidarity with European partners.
Here Tomas chats with Ronan O’Sullivan from Davis College.
Watergrasshill National School in Co Cork
Watergrasshill National School embarked on a project entitled ‘Developing Strategies to Promote Wellbeing of the Whole School Community’. This was due to the increasing number of children presenting with anxiety issues in school.
“We, as a school, are of the opinion the project will be of enormous benefit, particularly to our children with special education needs,” Mikey Prout told Tomas.
The school will explore how other schools in other EU counties tackle certain issues. Further, they plan to promote wellbeing and develop whole school teaching strategies, which will equip pupils and teachers in the prevention of anxiety.
Partnered with four schools from Spain, Portugal, Lithuania and Turkey, Watergrasshill National School led the first topic in November; yoga. The school devised a lesson plan, demonstrated what they had developed, and ran workshops.
Peer-learning and a strong dissemination strategy is paramount as Mikey is eager to ensure easy access for project partners.
Here Tomas chats with Mikey Prout from Watergrass Hill National School.
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