A Healthy Classroom

A Healthy Classroom

Our students are stressed. Jobs, immigration complications, family, transportation, bills…. Oftentimes the students do not appear stressed in the classroom; they seem happy. However, we can assume that even if they are not outwardly showing signs of stress they are experiencing difficulties outside the classroom.

How can we set up our classroom to help students decompress? How can we help learners relax? How can we discuss mental health?

Physical environment

First, the physical environment is important. Classrooms are ideally neat, organized, and not too cluttered. If possible, set up your tables to encourage groups or partner activities. Ideally, your room will be decorated with cultural reminders of student’s home countries.  Many students will feel better in an environment that promotes a feeling of calm, reflects their heritage, and promotes relationships. Hopefully there is a calming atmosphere in the hallways and office of your school, as well.

Classroom practices and curriculum

Second, there are many ways we can work relaxation into our curriculum. It’s a great idea to actually do a relaxation activity daily at the beginning of the class and label it “relaxation” or something similar. Students appreciate 5 minutes to relax and to segue from home responsibilities to school. Some examples of relaxation activities are yoga, breathing exercises, songs and music, beautiful videos and funny videos. If you need ideas, ask your students to send you videos and use those videos in class.

Also, include a welcoming activity daily in your classroom. It can be as simple as “How are you?” I’m always tempted to skip this because it can feel repetitive and simple and many students just say fine, but on occasion someone will report that they feel great, so-so, or not so good. It’s helpful as a teacher to gauge how each student is feeling that day.

If possible, include hands-on/manipulative activities as well as a lot of conversation. This can be a challenge if you are teaching hy-flex, but you can include on-line students if you get creative. It is possible to play Bingo, for example. Or, give the online students a word search while the in-person students are using tiles to form their spelling words.

If there is a way to physically change settings during the day, this can be helpful. Maybe a small group of students can work in a different room with a volunteer. Go to the computer lab. It can be hard to sit for long stretches of time and a change of scenery can be helpful.

Direct teaching

Finally, you can deliberately teach students about mental health and ways to relieve stress. The best video I have seen that describes mental health stress in a simple but thoughtful way is Depression & Anxiety Awareness video. It’s about a Palestinian woman who is experiencing depression.

Another idea is posting information about mental health in your classroom. PANDA has translated an information sheet about mental health and stress into 10 different languages. Post the appropriate translations in your classroom: PANDA’s Mental Wellness tip sheets.

Mental health and stress relief techniques can be normalized. We can address mental health and stress in our classrooms, curriculum, and through direct teaching.

Additional resources

Osseo Learning Center also has an excellent website with calming techniques and videos. Check out the Virtual Calming Room.

For more information about mental health visit PANDA’s mental health category on their website.

For more information on free and low-cost mental health resources go to PANDA’s mental health resources on their website.

Miriam Bosveld, Adult Academic Program Teacher Robbinsdale Adult Academic Program