Back to school is always an emotional time for parents, students, and teachers. Personally, I know that I am excited about the new school year, but also full of anxiety and fear about what the year holds. The pandemic has made me realize that you never know what could happen, and even small things like adding five kids to your class list or moving classroom locations can derail the year. For the past two years, my big mission has been to focus on the mental health of not just the students, but also myself as well. Here are a few of the things that I do to improve my mental health in the classroom.

Work with School Counselors

Teacher with smiley face signs

First and foremost, I always work with our school counselors on any sort of social-emotional learning (SEL) activity. SEL activities are great to develop the whole child, but since I am not a licensed therapist or counselor, there are a lot of things that I am not an expert on in this area. As a first step, I collaborate with the school counselors on ideas they have for SEL lessons and techniques. School counselors always have amazing resources that they are always willing to share and collaborate with you on!

Practice Mindfulness Techniques

Teacher meditating

A few of the things that I collaborated with my school counselors on are deep breathing exercises and keeping a mindfulness journal. The school counselors and I met one on one and talked about each technique, strategies on how we would incorporate them into a lesson plan, and defining what our main objective was in practicing these techniques. The school counselors came into my classroom to do these techniques with the students and those lessons were probably some of my student’s favorite of the year. Not only did this help the students, but I was able to learn and use the techniques as well. Plus, the school counselors did all the planning for these lessons so that took a little stress on my plate.

Do SEL Makerspace Activities

A great way to allow students to just decompress and calm down on their own is through SEL makerspace activities. Within my library’s makerspace, I have created an SEL area where students can do activities on their own without needing to tell anyone that they are stressed. Students can use the SEL area even when they aren’t stressed and just want to have fun and focus on their emotions. Some of the most popular SEL activities in my makerspace are the activities that focus on teamwork and STEM challenges. Through these activities, students can work together and learn how to communicate their needs to their team.

Student creating in a makerspace

Makerspaces are also safe spaces for students to learn to fail because there is no pressure to be successful when working by yourself or in a team, as long as you are learning along the way. Simple SEL makerspace activities could just be coloring pages, bracelet making, or giving students a random assortment of supplies and letting them be creative with the end results. I love going to the makerspace area whenever I need to decompress and it has always been as helpful for me as it has for my students!