Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

To Boost Student Mental Health, Support Teachers

Here are 8 ways to remove barriers
By Beth Fisher — April 22, 2024 4 min read
Screenshot 2024 04 14 at 9.54.39 PM
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Professional development since 2020 has featured some version of this check-in.

Screenshot 2024 04 13 at 2.24.05 PM

While we chuckled in person or virtually shared into a Zoom chat, we were met with shallow acknowledgement of stressors and then back to work we went. Education has had key shifts, and 2020 was different from those previous shifts. Between school shutdowns, an unprecedented mistrust of community toward educators, and political divide in society, it is no wonder sessions opened with tiptoeing around the needs of educators. These challenges have persisted while changing the landscape of our schools.

A more accurate check-in might look like this:

Screen Shot 2024 04 17 at 3.06.07 PM

When considering these squares from real voices, it may be hard to identify with one. We must brace ourselves for deeper challenges, including a looming fiscal cliff. As budgets tighten, critical resources dwindle. Support that offset behavior and mental health are among the first to go. Our teachers, academic counselors, and administrators will be left with the task of serving as ill-prepared and ill-equipped behavioral interventionist, mental health professional, and social-skills instructor. That goes in tandem with expectations of taking students with learning gaps to higher academic levels.

While well-meaning districts and leaders have facilitated after-school yoga sessions, like many other ideas, it falls short. A group of teachers, paraprofessionals, and principals from Southern California have provided insight into actionable steps to go beyond check-ins to address the impact that a post-pandemic world has had.

Getting source

Align the Currently Existing MTSS System

Schools have some version of a multitiered system of support (MTSS). Implementation falls short from three factors: 1) lack of common language and common understanding of the components of and alignment to MTSS; 2) ineffective communication across all levels of the school system; and 3) identified Tier 1 strategies need not be implemented universally.

Strengthen Classroom-Level Processes

Teachers have observed high levels of aggression, anxiety, developmental delays, relationship problems, and trauma among students. As teachers better identify challenges, they have found the most effective tool in addressing and reducing the symptoms of behaviors was consistent and clear classroom structures and routines. Schools that had strong schoolwide Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) systems realized more success through implementation across the school.

Implement Tiered Levels of Support

It seems the understanding of tiered levels of support is limited to identifying that there are up to four tiers of support. There is a need to establish a common language and a common understanding. Students cannot access services that adults cannot speak to clearly. Teams should look at already existing proven frameworks such as PBIS, trauma-informed practices, Zones of Regulation, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to align tiers of intervention to their MTSS framework.

Empower Teacher Assessment to Connect to Services

An ineffective process is the student study team. Teachers identify academic, behavioral, mental, or social challenges. They then follow steps outlined that, at a minimum, can take up to 12 weeks from referral, identification and implementation of interventions, and meeting to discuss outcomes. Many times a full year was wasted because teachers could have been provided the tools to act immediately. The elephant in the room: Teachers expressed signaled mistrust in their ability to serve a student just in time. Schools need to overhaul their student study-team system to allow teachers to have immediate access to implement interventions. One suggestion is to follow the Everyone Graduates Center ABC Model developed in partnership with John Hopkins University.

Utilize the Multidisciplinary Team

While tools and agency should be given to execute support, teachers cannot work in isolation. After establishing common language and common understanding around the various strategies, tiers of interventions, and support available, schools should utilize a framework for communication and ongoing access to resources. The Everyone Graduated Center ABC Model offers guidelines for creating cohorts, forming effective teams, and scheduling meetings in a proactive rather than reactive manner.

Identify and Address Barriers to Implementation

Building and district leaders must address eight different barriers:

Opinion Licensed Not for Reuse Fisher 3 FCG

This is the starting point for immediate action. Building and site leaders must establish common language and common understanding around frameworks and practices that need to be implemented or better aligned. We must also care for our staff’s mental health differently. This begins with ensuring that our teachers’ professional development needs, as well as this alignment, is done during the workday. While it is great to provide teachers with additional pay after school, when teachers express burnout and compassion fatigue, putting in hours after a long workday does not cut it. We show we are serious about supporting our teachers by incorporating this into the professional workday and fully equipping and training our teams.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Cellphone Headaches in Middle Schools: Why Policies Aren't Enough
Middle schoolers' developmental stage makes them uniquely vulnerable to the negative aspects of cellphones. Policies alone won't help.
6 min read
A student holds a cell phone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
A student holds a cellphone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Student Well-Being Teachers Want Parents to Step Up to Curb Cellphone Misuse. Are They Ready?
A program from the National PTA aims to partner with schools to give parents resources on teaching their children healthy tech habits.
5 min read
Elementary students standing in line against a brick wall using cellphones and not interacting.
iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Schools Feel Less Equipped to Meet Students' Mental Health Needs Than a Few Years Ago
Less than half of public schools report that they can effectively meet students’ mental health needs.
4 min read
Image of a student with their head down on their arms, at a desk.
Olga Beliaeva/iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Download How to Spot and Combat Student Apathy: A Teacher Resource
A guide to help teachers recognize and address apathy in the classroom.
1 min read
Student reading at a desk with their head on their hand.
Canva