Teachers continue to make mental wellness a regular habit in their classroomsFebruary 25, 2020 10:31 am
Conversations around mental health aren’t new to most teachers. Either they are teaching about the topic in their classrooms through programs like Project 11 (P11) or, in seeing some of the challenges and stresses students are faced with, they are realizing a need to introduce the topic to their classrooms.
Project 11 strives to make conversations around mental health a proactive practice, through which students can learn and talk about the stressors and problems they face and learn healthy coping skills before they become major challenges in their lives.
Though the program is already in more than 1,400 classrooms, new classrooms are picking it up all the time as teachers see the value in making mental wellness conversations a regular habit. Project 11’s lessons and activities help to jump-start these conversations and the curriculum, available for students in Kindergarten through Grade 8, emphasizes mental wellness as being equally important as physical wellness.
Training educators to teach the program is a key part of the process and is something that P11 does throughout the year. Here’s a look at three teachers who recently went through the training, how they’re implementing Project 11 curriculum in their classroom, and why they saw a need for their students to learn from the program.
Lord Selkirk School – Grade 1/2
Though Colleen Tien, a Grad 1/2 teacher at Lord Selkirk School in Elmwood, only recently implemented P11 programming in her classroom, lessons on mental wellness are not new to her students.
“We already implement mindful practices,” said Tien. “One of our teachers went to a workshop and came back and showed us how taking a brain break is really beneficial for students. She gave us some strategies and practices to implement and I’ve enjoyed them, so I’ve always had mindful moment exercises in my classroom.”
It’s been a worthwhile and seamless transition for Tien and her students, as she notes the program ties in well with the health curriculum. A bonus for Tien is that P11 provides her with great resources, making prep time and planning not too onerous for her. It’s allowed her to quickly bring the program into her lessons.
The visuals that are provided for students through videos and posters are particularly helpful for younger students and add an element of fun that further engages them in the lessons. The way the lessons are tailored for each age group resonated with Tien and her students.
“My students were very happy to help Mick E. Moose with some of the challenges he was having and think about their own experiences and what they would do in those scenarios.”
D.W. Penner School – Grade 3/4
Denyne Macdonald is no rookie to teaching. She currently teaches in a Grade 3/4 classroom at D.W. Penner School in St. Vital, but has experience teaching all ages of elementary school students. Through her years of experience, she’s learned that age is no limiter to facing stress and struggles with mental health.
“I have taught in classes from Kindergarten through to Grade 6 and have yet to work with a group of students that was exempt from any mental health conditions,” said Macdonald. “I feel there is a need to educate people of all ages on the importance of mental health. I felt this program would be a good way to spark conversations and help to promote an open and safe environment for students.”
Not only are youth not exempt from needing to talk about mental wellness, but Macdonald knows that it would be extremely rare for any single person to not have experience with mental health conditions, either personally or through someone they know. With one in four people impacted by mental health issues, she knows that sooner or later, her students will come face-to-face with some of these challenges, making the P11 lessons all that more important.
“I believe that awareness is our biggest resource for reducing the stigma and kids are our biggest resource for awareness. In building awareness and giving them tools to use, not only are we helping those who suffer now or in the future, we are also helping to develop better understanding and a better support system in their surroundings.”
Though she already knew the need for the P11 program was there, what the teacher training session showed Macdonald was that P11 is more than just the sum of its parts, with resources that can help her manage specific issues outside of the lessons themselves.
“It helped to highlight how Project 11 could be used at different levels in the classroom, not only as a full program, but if I have a specific needs to address I can easily go through the list of lessons and have a readily available, detailed activity ready to go in minimal time.”
Sagkeeng School – Grade 7
Audrey Campbell, who is a Grade 7 teacher at Sagkeeng School in Sagkeeng First Nation, knew she needed to introduce the program as soon as she heard about it.
“Teenagers need all the tools they can get to help deal with the stresses of everyday life,” said Campbell. “Suicide rates are high in Canada’s reservations and by using Project 11, it is my hope that students gain the necessary tools to deal with stress, relationships, or whatever may be stressing them out at the time and also that (the curriculum) will help them deal with their tribulations in a safe and healthy way.”
Living in a smaller community, Campbell knows that her impact can go far beyond her role as a teacher. By teaching lessons from the P11 curriculum and having open discussion on topics that are meaningful and relevant to her students, she hopes she can create a bond with her students that is long lasting.
As Sagkeeng School currently does not offer any other type of mental wellness programming Campbell would like to see Project 11 grow in her school.
“I have encouraged other teachers to contact Project 11 so that many other students can benefit from their programming.”