Learning Alternatives SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

School Name: Learning Alternatives

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members: Lacey Daly: lacey.daly@sd68.bc.ca, Trevor McIntyre: trevor.mcintyre@sd68.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: lacey.daly@sd68.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)

Curricular Area(s): Physical & Health Education

Focus Addressed: Community-based learning, Growth mindset, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? We built our capacity to be better prepared/educated to deal with issues surrounding students’ mental health and wellness while at school.

Scanning: Since returning to school, we have observed a large increase in mental health challenges and depression among our students and their families. So far, in this 2020-2021 school year, we have completed more RAAFT Suicide Risk Assessments than any other year in the past. Our staff observations and data from our assessments tell us that we need to better utilize all community supports that are available to us and to ensure there is a safety plan for all. Students have been struggling with their mental health which has been compounded by the pandemic. This observation has motivated the desire to learn more about mental health resources and access in the community because our students see our staff as the responsible adults in their lives, where many are without a structured family system altogether. Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors. With this in mind, we want our staff to be able to have the capacity to support both our students and their families with their mental health struggles.

Focus: We selected this topic due to overwhelming need within our school community. As a staff, we hope to be able to build a knowledge base around mental health and mental illness that will provide strategies and confidence for our staff to recognize the issue when faced with it.

Hunch: As a school, we were leaning on outside agencies to support our students with their mental health. Through education, we believed that we could support the kids better, which would prevent outsourcing for help and prevent severing of staff/student relationships as well.

New Professional Learning: As a teaching team, we explored almost all possible options to widely educate our staff in the field of mental health. We recognized the lack of formal mental health education that the teaching and support staff had and worked hard to better ourselves through literacy and hands-on professional development. As a teaching team, we both achieved our special education diplomas which culminated in several useful and practical mental health tools for staff to use at all levels of the school. We developed a library of mental health books by experts in the field and formed a book club to focus on specific literature that we identified with. Finally, as a team, we provided a professional-development workshop through the lens of an educator who is just learning about the topic. During this workshop, staff shared experiences and thoughts on mental health and further practiced active listening with our counsellor.

Taking Action: We developed a website for staff to access with resources, information and local agencies to contact. We enforced that its okay to ask questions and lean on each other for help, BUT to always remind students that we as a staff are there for them and to offer the gesture, “I will support you by….”.

Checking: Staff left the professional development session feeling empowered and knowledgeable around the topic. The belief was put in place that all staff can and should take a role if faced with a student mental health dilemma. The learning from our mental health library continues to grow and staff are encouraged to contribute to the mental health resource website as well. As a team, we now feel more empowered by our experience gained through our special education diplomas and have the confidence to lead further professional development at a future time. Considering the complexity that the pandemic had to offer this year, we are very satisfied with the outcome. Students are now able to be serviced in-house at a higher level and are able to develop a deeper level of trust in staff, knowing that we are more competent in terminology and next steps.

Reflections/Advice: We learned that by taking initiative and seeking out the source of an issue, that tremendous growth can occur. We plan to lead by example in the district and demonstrate that we are actively meeting the needs of our students, first-hand. We recommend that other schools make mental health a priority above all-else. With the pandemic subsiding, experts indicate that the level of mental health struggles among students at all grade levels will only escalate. Be preventative, not reactive.

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