Building School and Community Linkages to Facilitate Students' Mental Health and Wellness
Today, I am writing you from Washington, DC where I am attending a three-day U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) conference for federally-funded grant directors from across the country. As you know, in addition to my national consulting, I am Director of the Arkansas Department of Education's State Improvement Grant--where we are doing a state-wide scaling up of our comprehensive school improvement and multi-tiered services model, Project ACHIEVE (see www.arstudentsuccess.org and www.projectachieve.net).
So far at this conference, we have attended keynote sessions with both Ted Mitchell, the Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and Melody Musgrove, the OSEP Director. The "take-aways" from the conference are:
- We need to continually focus on student outcomes--specifically, all students' academic and social, emotional, and behavioral learning, mastery, and progress--from preschool through high school.
- We need to especially focus on these outcomes relative to students who live in poverty, who are minority students, and who have disabilities. These are students who can learn, but often they need early and specific services, supports, strategies, and/or programs.
- We need to focus on classroom-specific interactions: (a) providing specific instructional goals that have measurable outcomes that teachers use to evaluate student learning and mastery; (b) delivering effective differentiated instruction backed-up by good curricular materials that sustain student motivation and engagement; and (c) creating positive classroom climates complemented by great staff-student relationships that facilitate positive student interactions and involvement.
- We need to organize our school and district experts (e.g., counselors, instructional or behavioral intervention specialists, school psychologists, speech pathologists, nurses, and others) into regularly-scheduled building-level "Student Assistance Teams" so that they can collectively use systematic data-based, functional assessment, problem-solving processes to determine why some students are not making academic progress or demonstrating appropriate behavior.
- The results of these assessments then are linked to early and effective classroom-centered services and supports that are implemented collaboratively with classroom teachers. The problem-solving process focuses on student services, supports, and outcomes--not on student deficiencies, labels, and placements.
A critical point in all of this is the emphasis on skill instruction and building student capacity and independence. This is not just about decreasing or eliminating student problems.
NEW Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Report: Are the Children Well?
The "take-aways" from my conference this week coincide significantly with the recommendations in a NEW report that focuses on A Model and Recommendations for Promoting the Mental Wellness of a Nation's Young People.
Focusing on enhancing child and adolescent wellness at home, in school, and across the community, multi-tiered services and supports for individuals who need them are highlighted. In all, the Report targets five areas:
- Intra-personal: Teaching children self-caring habits (for example, using exercise to reduce stress, getting adequate rest, and holding reasonable expectations for oneself);
- Inter-personal: Supporting parents to engage in positive parenting; teaching young people how to resolve conflicts with adults or peers peacefully; teaching teachers and other adults how to have positive interactions with adolescents;
- Institutions: Creating a positive, wellness-oriented climate within schools, businesses, and other places where young people spend time;
- Community: Fostering widely-shared responsibility for caring relationships; and wellness-promoting practices, including stewardship of the natural and physical environment; and,
- Infrastructure and Systems: Providing supervised recreational activities for young people throughout communities; restricting access to firearms, drugs, and alcohol; supporting planning for community response to trauma; identifying community strengths and building on them.
At the preschool through high school levels, the Report recommends:
- Increasing access to high-quality child care and early childhood education, particularly for low-income families.
- Supporting early childhood educators with training in classroom management, social-emotional learning, and stress-reduction techniques.
- Encouraging the implementation of whole-school tiered approaches to promote positive school climate and the mental wellness of all students.
- Locating comprehensive mental health services within schools, and increasing partnerships with additional community resources.
Promotion to Practice
As I listen to the presentations here in Washington, and as I read the RJ Wood Foundation report, I am reminded of two quotes:
"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there."
"The devil is in the details."
Clearly, it is important for all of us to have and know our destination. For us, the ultimate goal is the academic and behavioral success of all students from preschool through high school. But it is also important to know the landmarks that we need to pass to get to the goal--for example, many of the bulleted points in the Report discussed above.
Critically, if we do not take the right roads, at the right times, in the right sequences, and for the right reasons, our well-intended journey may either take longer than expected or not end well at all.
And so, we encourage you to look at your students and colleagues, your needs and resources, your previous failures and your exemplary successes, and the opportunities that the new school year affords you. Every August, we have an opportunity to do things differently--to right the wrongs, to establish new patterns, to build on previous successes, to craft new levels of success.
Think of three things you can do--in the classroom, at the grade level, for the school, involving the district--and plan them now. Have them ready to discuss in August. And be ready to implement them on the first day of the new school year.
Rosalyn Carter once said: "A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go. . . But where they ought to be."
While the process of change is sometimes challenging, it is nonetheless necessary. Think. . . . Plan. . . . and Act. And, if we can help in any way, do not hesitate to contact us.