We’re approaching the end of another academic year and stress levels are inevitably rising. As English teachers we are under tremendous pressure to get our students through a brand new exam which, let’s be honest, has its “challenges”.
Research suggests that 1 in 10 of our students are now suffering with a mental health issue. That is a staggeringly frightening statistic and I’m sure that recent exam pressure has a lot to do with this. Here’s a short video about mental health in schools:
A few years ago I reflected on a revision lesson I had done with a group of resit students. I felt under enormous pressure and I realised that I had passed that onto them. I had mentioned the upcoming exam several times and used it as a form of “motivation”. When I look back on that lesson I’m ashamed. The pressure on me was not their problem and they were fully aware they had an exam looming. They had inevitably been going from lesson to lesson for weeks having the same stressful reminders.
I’m certainly no expert in mental health and I know that the few simple techniques I’m about to suggest can in no way solve the huge issues we are facing with mental health in our schools. But they might help to take just a tiny bit of pressure off a handful of students for a short time which for me makes them worth a try.
- Just breathe
Choose a point in the lesson where you think this technique might be useful. Ask your students to sit back and close their eyes then breathe in and out, counting up to ten as they do so. Ask them to concentrate on the counting. Tell them that if their minds begin to wander to just gently refocus on their counting. It might be a good idea for you to join in too!
- Let the music play
This one of course depends on your school policy, but if you can have some calming music playing quietly in the background when the students are on task. It has a natural calming effect and can help to reduce their stress.
- Mindfulness brain breaks
Mindfulness is now used by clinicians to improve patients’ mental health. It can significantly lower stress levels. It doesn’t have to take long. Taking five minutes in the lesson for some guided meditation can have a positive impact and reduce stress levels in your students. There are lots of brilliant apps such as Mindshift and Buddhify which can be used as a whole class or individual activity.
Here’s a link to a 10 minute mindfulness practice exercise which could also be used.
- Make sure they know how to revise
Many students, when asked directly, will admit that they don’t know how to approach revision. It is definitely worth spending time with them going over some techniques where they can find what they need and how they can best organise their time. A positive approach to time management can really help to reduce their stress levels.
- Be aware
I’m sure most of you out there are receiving comprehensive training on mental health for your students and I’m preaching to the converted, but if you are like me some reading around the subject can really help. I’ve created a Pinterest board of some of my findings which I hope you find helpful. Raising awareness in the classroom can also be really helpful. TED Talks have a playlist of speakers who share their stories of mental illness. This can be a really useful starting point for discussion or a simple end-of lesson video simply to raise awareness.
There is also a fantastic website aimed at students called Time to Change which focused on reducing mental health discrimination. It is a really great resource for students.
Sadly, I’m not an expert on mental health but it is an area I am determined to know more about for the sake of my students. I thought it was important for me to share this post, despite it not being GCSE English specific, as the metal health of our students is a whole school responsibility and exam time can be a time of extreme stress and anxiety for our kids.
If you have any ideas or techniques for reducing stress and anxiety in the classroom please share them below.
Thanks for reading.