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Student Mental and Emotional Health – Part 2

In our first mental health blog we identified an abbreviated list of pandemic related conditions that could create stresses and anxieties that will ultimately cause mental and emotional issues for students. We looked briefly at issues within current mental health plans in schools that we are currently training or coaching and we identified that we felt might hinder the school’s ability to intervene in a timely and appropriate manner as students return to school with mental or emotional issues.

Recent data as reported in Time magazine and in reports by the federal Department of Education and by various insurance claim reports indicate that the number of students suffering from substance abuse, emotional problems, and stress related anxiety disorders has increased dramatically since the third quarter of 2020. Assuming that these reports identify only the students in whom the issue was significant enough to be easily identified were represented in these totals, we can expect that the actual numbers of students needing emotional or mental support to perform to their potential as learner or performer is actually much greater. This has been identified as a concerned by the Department of Education by many of the state Department of Education and current plans are being developed to provide more timely and appropriate support systems for students.

The researchers focused particularly on the emotionally turbulent years from 13 to 18, and to a somewhat lesser extent on claims filed by those ages 19 to 22. In both groups they found sharp spikes from pre-pandemic 2019 to 2020 in a range of psychological conditions including major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder, self-harm, substance abuse, overdoses, OCD, ADHD and tic disorders.

Additionally, the Department of Education and several state and regional education consortia have been involved in monitoring student growth and have concluded that performance gaps have increased dramatically. While some students have been able to increase or maintain existing performance levels others have lost performance. Some of the estimates indicates that some students will return to school up to three years behind where they were when they left due in part to the loss of academic and behavioral rituals and routines that supported their performance. It is anticipated that this accelerated performance gap the stress and anxiety felt by students who have lost ground.


In the Federal and state approaches to school-based mental health support that were reviewed by the Ed Directions team, the Ed Directions planning team noted several concerns.

  • Many of these are still reactive in their approach, and many still rely on “one-size-fits-all” professional development for teachers and assembly programs for students
  • Most still used the identification of chronic patterns or serious events to trigger intervention.
  • Many still had not facilitated the identification and use of community and professional resources that are available
  • Many procedures were still fragmented with multiple areas of “turf” and they had to be navigated by school staff
  • Almost all mentioned school/parent/community partnerships but actual plans for getting all stakeholders on the same page were not “strategic” in nature

Ed Directions is currently working on a service menu related to student mental and emotional health. The professional development team is using “adult learning theory” and strategic implementation theory to develop its approach to assisting schools.

Eventually this will include:

  1. Building a collective cognitive base: when ED develops professional development it identifies the “learning set” are cognitive base that participants are going to have to own to be successful. In school districts ED begins by building the cognitive base for central office staff and academic leaders and then works with them to develop a plan for developing the cognitive base is going to be needed to support school plan development and implementation. In a recent PD plan ED submitted to a district we recommended:
    1. Building intentional plans – an introduction to student-driven planning (strategic, logistic, and tactical)
    2. Why are students at risk, and who are they – an introduction to at risk characteristics (what they are, and how to recognize them)
    3. Levels of intervention – an introduction to the stages of at risk behavior development
    4. Building optimum cultures and climate – the process of building intentional cultures and climates for schools and classrooms
    5. State, district, and school resources – an introduction to state, district, and school resources for dealing with at risk factors
    6. Building Student support systems – building data streams that alert school staff to students with at risk behaviors, especially those whose behaviors are escalating
    7. Culture and the Rhythm of the Learner Year – strategies for using the first three to five weeks of school to build intentional cultures and climates
    8. Building monitoring and response to intervention systems – strategies for linking students with intentional, and appropriate, intervention systems

Our intention is to build the capacity of the district leadership to assess their current status and modify or rebuild in a way that will create a successful mental health program for all students.

  1. Assessing of current status: once a cognitive base is in place, self-assess to determine the strengths and concerns within their current status and then lead the self-assessment of all schools. ED coaches emphasize that “imposed” best practices rarely work as planned unless there is a cognitive base in place to make it imperative that the plan be successful. This self-assessment is driven by both current data and by ongoing data collected when students return to school. It involves:
  • an analysis of the current district/school plan in the light of the new cognitive base (structural analysis)
  • an analysis of the implementation and impact of the current plans on students (procedural analysis)
  • an analysis of the success of implementation in removing barriers to student success (qualitative and quantitative analysis)
  • an analysis of priority strengths and concerns (preplanning analysis)
  1. Facilitated analysis of resources: the ED somewhat limited analysis of current state and district procedures indicates that utilization of school, district, state, community, and professional resources varies widely from state to state and even from level to level in schools. For academic leaders whether national or school to be effective in developing mental health plans that actually supports mental health there will have to be a plan for utilization of all appropriate resources. This will include identification, building the cognitive base and planning for effective use and impact monitoring.
  2. Facilitated planning: once a cognitive base has been established and an annotated resource list has been created it will be possible to develop a strategic plan for school development of mental health plans. Strategic plans include:
  • goals are desired outcomes that will make the plan proactive
  • data collection procedures and tools that make it possible to monitor implementation and impact (district level, school level, class level, student level)
  • linear planning prepare school leadership to develop their capacity and a plan for building the mental health plan
  • regular “top-down” and “bottom-up” review and revision meetings to assess the success of implementation and adjust policies and procedures as needed
  1. Facilitated development of policies and procedures: plans must be turned into goals, policies and procedures that provide expectations, policies, procedures and schedules that will drive the development and monitoring of school mental health programs.
  2. Preparation of district leadership to lead school action planning: for principals and teachers, building the cognitive base is a critical step. Effective mental health plans will require principals and teachers to “suspend belief” in accepted orthodoxies and to abandon their legacy “best practices.” This will require:
  • building and new “best practice” perception base
  • an attitude that will support changing their way of doing business
  • an understanding of the “why?” Behind the new policies and procedures
  • some pre-opening school planning time to design and practice their approach to establish consistency between and among teachers and grade levels
  • facilitated planning to assist teachers in developing the “personal growth plan” that they will need to successfully implement the district and school plans
  • translation of the school mental health plan into a personal action plan for “my classroom”, “my students” or “my role”
  1. Coaching and support for streamlining interventions: one of the problems with most existing mental health plans is the inefficiency (inconsistent application, fragmented services, confused chains of command, etc.). District personnel and school leaders must consider ways to reduce the time gap between identification, targeted assistance planning and student support. In science we talk of “elegant” plans and systems that are simple and efficient. Many current mental health plans are complex, often involving confused lines of communication and procedural steps. Streamline plans usually include
  • consistent focus on the goals for the student and not on the procedures are the policies
  • appropriate training for school staff and parents on recognizing early signs of emotional or mental issues and in initiating “first steps”
  • clear and concise steps and schedules from identification to successful implementation
  • “lightning rod” contact personnel to assist school staff in establishing appropriate support systems for students and reduce wait time/red tape
  • approved professional and community partners can be contacted to advise and provide support
  1. Training in physical support for the Timely monitoring implementation and impact of plans and the timely revision of plans: it will be important that monitoring procedures deal with more than just “following process.” Tools and procedures need to be in place to enable school staff and parents to monitor:
  • the implementation and impact (response to intervention – RTI) on the student of support programs
  • student engagement in the programs and perception of program value.
  • Parent engagement in and reaction to the support program
  • the effectiveness of school/community/professional resource
  • plans to review monitoring data and revise plans as needed to remove the barriers to student success

The increased number of students needing mental and emotional assistance to perform to their potential makes it essential that school leaders at the state, district, and school levels invest the time and energy needed to assess the current emotional and mental status of their students, identify barriers to success, and develop plans that will enable timely and successful support for students needing support.

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