Student Well-Being and Mental Health
Promoting the healthy development of all students, as well as enabling all students to reach their full potential, is a priority for educators across Ontario. Students’ health and well-being contribute to their ability to learn in all disciplines, and that learning in turn contributes to their overall well-being. A well-rounded educational experience prioritizes well-being and academic success for all students by promoting physical and mental health, social-emotional learning, and inclusion. Parents, community partners, and educators all play critical roles in creating this educational experience.
Educators support the well-being of children and youth by creating, fostering, and sustaining a learning environment that is healthy, caring, safe, inclusive, and accepting. A learning environment of this kind supports not only students’ cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development but also their sense of self and/or spirit, their mental health, their resilience, and their overall state of well-being. All this will help them achieve their full potential in school and in life.
A variety of factors, known as “determinants of health”, have been shown to affect a person’s overall state of well-being. Some of these are income, education and literacy, gender and culture, physical and social environment, personal health practices and coping skills, and availability of health services. Together, these factors influence not only whether individuals are physically healthy but also the extent to which they will have the physical, social, and personal resources needed to cope and to identify and achieve personal aspirations. These factors also have an impact on student learning, and it is important to be aware of them as factors contributing to a student’s performance and well-being.
An educator’s awareness of and responsiveness to students’ cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development, and to their sense of self and/or spirit, is critical to their success in school. A number of research-based frameworks, including those described in Early Learning for Every Child Today: A Framework for Ontario Early Childhood Settings, 2007, On My Way: A Guide to Support Middle Years Childhood Development, 2017, and Stepping Stones: A Resource on Youth Development, 2012, identify developmental stages that are common to the majority of students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. At the same time, these frameworks recognize that individual differences, as well as differences in life experiences and exposure to opportunities, can affect development, and that developmental events are not specifically age dependent.
The framework described in Stepping Stones is based on a model that illustrates the complexity of human development. Its components – the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social domains – are interrelated and interdependent, and all are subject to the influence of a person’s environment or context. At the centre is an “enduring (yet changing) core” – a sense of self, and/or spirit – that connects the different aspects of development and experience (p. 17).
Educators who have an awareness of a student’s development are taking all of the components into account. They focus on the following elements of each component:
- cognitive development – brain development, processing and reasoning skills, use of strategies for learning
- emotional development – emotional regulation, empathy, motivation
- social development – self-development (self-concept, self-efficacy, self-esteem); identity formation (gender identity, social group identity, spiritual identity); relationships (peer, family, romantic)
- physical development – physical activity, sleep patterns, changes that come with puberty, body image, nutritional requirements
The Role of Mental Health and Well-Being
Mental health and well-being touch all components of development. Mental health is much more than the absence of mental illness. Well-being depends not only on the absence of problems and risks but also on the presence of factors that contribute to healthy growth and development. By nurturing and supporting students’ strengths and assets, educators help promote positive mental health and well-being in the classroom. At the same time, they can identify students who need additional support and connect them with the appropriate supports and services.
What happens at school can have a significant influence on a student’s overall well-being. With a broader awareness of mental health, educators can plan instructional strategies that contribute to a supportive classroom climate for learning in all subject areas, build awareness of mental health, and reduce stigma associated with mental illness. Taking students’ well-being, including their mental health, into account when planning instructional approaches helps establish a strong foundation for learning and sets students up for success.