Teen Mental Health: Let’s Keep the Conversation Going!

Teenager
By PJMixer [CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)] on Flickr.
February has been a busy month here at Pontiac High. In addition to the regular day-to-day of student life, there are CÉGEP & college applications, grad pictures, term 2 reports, parent-teacher interviews, and…let’s not forget Valentine’s Day! The potential highs and lows of this one month on the emotions of any high school student could prove difficult to handle.

Thankfully, February also marks Power to the Purple month, when students don their DIFD t-shirts, sell DIFD swag and raise both awareness and money ($960 just last week!) for teen mental health initiatives. DIFD stands for Do It For Daron and started as a grassroots movement to get kids talking about brain health. Who is Daron? By all accounts, Daron Richardson was a bright, beautiful, athletic, loving and beloved girl, who on November 13th 2010, at the age of 14, died by suicide. Since then, her parents, NHL’er Luke Richardson and his wife Stephanie (both closely connected to the Pontiac), have made it their mission to inspire dialogue, raise awareness, combat stigma and change the face of youth mental health. In concert with experts at the Royal (Ottawa Hospital), DIFD provides resources and outlets for students, parents and teachers to seek help.

DIFD

The fundraising efforts of DIFD have also allowed for the Royal to undertake the Youth Mental Health Awareness Study & Early Intervention Research Project, involving 15 local high schools in the development and implementation of a dedicated mental health curriculum. Last month, they also announced a new app for teens called HealthyMinds. The goal of the app is to underline the importance of taking care of one’s brain health as part of overall physical well-being, and includes a daily mood tracker, a journaling feature, a problem-solving tool, coping and stress buster strategies, video breathing exercises, as well as information on mind and body.

I often look into my teen son’s eyes and wonder what’s really going on in there? And until recently, I routinely asked him the very same questions that I was asked as a youth: How was school today? How’s (fill in the blank sport) going? How is X, Y, Z friend doing? More than 99% of the time, I would get the same pat answer that I gave my own parents: Fine! Lately however, I’ve been hearing something more brooding and less positive in his voice. So, I’ve started to ask slightly different questions: Are you OK? How are you feeling? What’s bothering you these days? Of course, more often than not, I get a very dramatic eye-roll as a response, but sometimes information surfaces that wouldn’t have otherwise. Admittedly, I don’t have a background in psychology or youth counselling, so I asked Joanne Brownlee, long time guidance and student support professional at PHS, about the resources available to parents, teachers and students who might be struggling with mental health questions.

What are some of the resources or courses of action that you would recommend to students or parents with concerns?

Mental health resources that I have personally recommended to students over the years include the Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868, which has counsellors available 24/7, as well as the Always There app.  However, if the school professionals or parents have immediate concerns about a student’s welfare, they are always counselled to either contact their family doctor or the CLSC emergency.

We also have many school partners to assist our students who come forward seeking help.  We have a Board psychologist who meets individually and in group settings at the school once a week. We also have CLSC social workers in the school two days per week, as well as a CLSC nurse.  In addition, we  receive assistance from L’EntourElle, the community women’s shelter, who will take referrals for students who are struggling with eating disorders and poor self-image. 

Since I find that many parents often feel quite helpless and unsure about what do when mental health issues arise in their families, I refer them to speak to a professional counsellor who can guide them through the process.  This can be very reassuring for parents.  Many of the problems of today’s youth are quite different from the problems of their parent’s generation (ex. cyber bullying, sexting, self-harming), so I often direct parents to get outside guidance to help them more fully understand the situations they are dealing with. The two parent help lines that I recommend are:  Parents Help Line 1-800-361-5085 and Tel-Aide Outaouais Suicide Prevention 1-866-277-3553.

 At the School Board level, WQSB has invested in specialized training for many of our professional counsellors and they have created a Suicide Prevention Team who is contacted if there is a crisis in the schools.  This team has been trained in a very detailed process for identifying the most at-risk students and in targeting the most appropriate pathway of help for them.

And what about initiatives like DIFD, have you seen an impact at the school level?

I can report that as a result of this campaign we have already had one student come forward to seek help from social services for mental health issues. So, the campaign certainly made students more willing to talk about what they are struggling with.  There was also huge student interest and participation in the DIFD campaign. Without any prompting, some senior students even offered to create activities for students related to mental health awareness. We certainly anticipate sustained growth with this campaign.

So, let’s do it for Daron…and for each and every kid that we come in contact with regularly both at home and at school. Navigating this messy, complicated world isn’t easy. In my opinion, it’s every parent and teacher’s job to not only help foster the academic skills necessary for our students to flourish, but to always make kids feel connected and worthwhile, which might start with a simple question and the wherewithal to just listen.

 

Teacher Profile: Jody Meacher

jodyName: Jody Meacher
School and Board: Parkview Elementary, Eastern Townships School Board
Subject: all – Level 1, Cycle 2 Elementary

I met Jody over the years, probably first some years ago when I was doing some training for Apple at the ETSB and later our paths would cross at conferences. I had the pleasure of sitting in on her session at Springboards in 2013: A + B + C = D.

I recently spoke with Jody over Skype. When I asked about her years of experience as a teacher she said that teaching had been in her blood for a long time, first when she was a soccer referee and skiing instructor and later as a classroom teacher. She started in the teaching profession in 1998 and has been with the Eastern Townships School Board since 2001.

Being in the ETSB, she is fortunate to have a technology rich environment. By her choice she has a variety of devices in her classroom: iPads, iPod touches and netbooks. She herself has a MacBook for her own use. She has enough devices so that each student can be using one, but not enough of any one for the entire class. Jody talked about how her journey from  1:1 laptops in 2003 to her current situation was a move from teacher control of everyone doing the same thing to more autonomy for the students and with more variation in what is happening in the classroom. Jody likes to have a mix of tools – it allows for each tool to be used for its best purposes. As she put it, “I don’t always need a hammer. Sometimes I need a screwdriver.” For example, the iPod touches are easier to use as cameras than the iPads, so students can easily use them for photography especially when walking around the school. The netbooks are easier to use for typing, while the iPads, with bigger screens than the iPods are more appropriate for certain apps. There is also overlap as all devices can be used on the Internet, for example. Jody wants her students to be critical users of technology, thinking about the most appropriate device for the purpose they want. The variety of devices also reminds Jody that not everyone needs to be doing the same thing at the same time. Some students can be working on a script while others are doing stop-motion animation and still others are manipulating puppets… All students can be working on different aspects of a project with the appropriate devices. Not all parts of the project need to include technology. For example, students may be working on paper for their storyboards.

Using technology is not without its challenges. Jody is still searching for the best way to transfer files from one device to another so that projects can be pulled together smoothly.

composite image remixed from http://www.flickr.com/photos/50318388@N00/7213947838/ under a CC license
composite image remixed from http://www.flickr.com/photos/50318388@N00/7213947838/ under a CC license

It is not just technology that pushes Jody’s students to think more deeply. Her approach: A (apps) + B (because) + C (collaboration) = D (deeper talk) is not about the technology, but about thinking more deeply, communicating clearly and negotiating around ideas. Whatever the students are doing, the because, being able to explain the process and the why behind their thoughts. is always in the forefront.

Jody’s students often work in pairs. It encourages talking to learn. They may be creating a video (Explain Everything or Educreations) to capture their thinking  such as the process of how they solved a math problem. They may be creating a teaching video. Jody puts a big emphasis on “Because Statements”. Students need to be able to justify their thinking, their ideas, their strategies. They need to be able to support their reasons / reasoning. When taking on roles such as iPad operator and solution director, the latter needs to be able to justify what s/he asks the iPad operator to do and explain it clearly enough for the him/her to understand.

Whether working in pairs or as a class on a large project, it is the justifying and negotiating that moves projects forward and deepens the learning. One person’s “because” may lead to another person’s rebuttal “because” with each step moving the thinking forward and leading to much deeper thinking and understanding. It takes work to convince others of ones ideas and it takes listening to, as a class, come up with the best solutions. The students learn to make choices based on reasons and not on the popularity of a particular student. Consensus building and negotiating take time, but the results always lead to a stronger production.

With this approach Jody’s students are on their way to becoming critical thinkers and good listeners and communicators.

We chatted a bit about apps and the need to think about the because of why you would use one. She recommended Richard Byrne’s blog: Free Technology for Teachers, BECAUSE he always puts the emphasis on how to use his recommendations in education.

You can listen to the full interview.

Above and Beyond: Teacher Appreciation Week

144731101_acf0f08202
by Michelle Ramos CC BY-NC 2.0 on Flickr

It’s that time of the year – time for my third annual blog post for Teacher Appreciation Week(s)!  (Depending on your school board, you may be celebrating this week, or next, or both 🙂  )  I have a lot to say on the subject of teacher appreciation (past blog posts here and here), specifically my appreciation for the teachers I have the good fortune to work with on a daily basis:  Alex, Andy, Audrey, Kerry and Peggy.  To the five of you: I want to thank you and wish you a happy Teacher Appreciation Week.  My hope is that these teachers feel my appreciation for their outstanding work every day of the year. 

I must also mention that I work with many amazing educators in my role at LEARN, the wonderful SOS LEARN tutors, the supportive school staffs at our online learning partner schools, and the incredible staff at LEARN.   

 

The bell rings!  Students run to their lockers, boisterously gather their lunch bags, back packs and assorted books required for homework.  The buses are lined up, they quickly fill and students head home for the evening.  Teachers take a breath.  Most of the students have left, but the teacher’s day is long from over.  And for many teachers, the work day may also have started hours before the buses arrived.

This year for Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s not recognize the incredible work teachers do during the school day.

Instead, let’s focus on the amazing work they do above and beyond the school day.

I remember a year when all of my teaching colleagues were asked to record the time they spent on “school work” outside the regular school day hours.  That year, I was helping to coach volleyball, organizing 30 hour famine, running the dance committee, working on drama presentations, helping to organize Winter Carnival, oh, and teaching four secondary language arts classes.  My hours added up quickly and there were staff members giving much more time than I did!

When I think back, way back,  to my own experience in high school, many of the happiest moments that pop into my head are from involvement in extra-curricular activities (student council, school musical, fundraising, dances, sports, etc.) and from the moments when teachers took the extra time with me outside of class to help me when I needed it most.  None of those memorable moments would have happened without teachers and other staff members giving their time to support students through activities that make a difference to school life.

One might imagine that online teachers do not have the many demands on their time outside of the school day.  WRONG!  LEARN’s dedicated online teachers are never far away from their online students, tweeting and e-mailing with them after class, making comments on blog posts, discussion threads and e-portfolios, providing evening and weekend, extra help sessions, and preparing the Voicethreads, Google docs, or presentations required for their online classes.  Additionally, they are also sharing with other teachers beyond their classrooms through blogs and PLNs.  LEARN’s online teachers present about their classroom practices at conferences in Quebec and beyond.

Even if teachers are not helping with extra-curricular activities, they are planning, reading and giving feedback on student work, communicating with parents, collaborating with colleagues, participating in governing board or school council, providing extra help, and purchasing classroom materials (too often with their own money!)  With e-mail and social media (blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, etc.), many teachers are spending a great deal of time in the evening continuing to foster positive relationships with students and their families.

In my 20+ years as a student and my 20+ years as an educator (add it up and account for the + signs, if you must), I have been influenced by many amazing teachers.  I believe that what the most inspiring teachers maintain is a strong desire to always do all that they can to relate to and engage their students, no matter the time it requires.  The importance of connecting with students and sharing our passion for learning makes all of that extra time outside of the classroom so important and so rewarding.

Thank you, Quebec teachers!  Thank you for all of the time that you give, inside and outside the classroom, to improve the quality of school life for everyone.  Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!