The elephant in the (class)room

When I applied to Cohort 21, it was with the initial curiosity of exploring one of the following concepts:

  • Balancing the push for open-ended, inquiry based learning while still meeting the academic rigor, pace and complexity of senior biology, with particular focus on navigating students around identifying and preventing misconceptions, with a measurable outcome of student success and preparedness in post-secondary.
  • How can we numerically monitor the continuum of student learning using observation and conversation assessments in an authentic way?

I left our last face-to-face at Cohort 21 energized and buoyed by the excitement in the room. Afterwards, I was chatting with my peers and students about my experience, and was eager to engage and learn from them.

I started to interview a few of my students one-on-one, with the hope to check in with as many as possible. This year, I teach a significant cross-section of students (Grades 7, 10, 11, 12) with different age-stage needs, and different learning styles. In these conversations, I felt students were comfortable, candid, and authentic, but their feedback was minimal. I got quite a bit of “things are going well”, “I don’t think we need to change anything”, “I’m not sure”. Which, in truth sounds great to any teacher, but when actively seeking areas of growth, it left me feeling aimless and adrift. What are they not telling me? What do they really need? (In other words, tell me how you really feel).

In response to these meetings, I shifted my methodology – perhaps an anonymous survey with open-ended questions might do the trick. This method yielded a bit more depth, and I began to see a pattern, particularly within my Grade 11 and 12 students – wellness. This felt validating in the sense that it is something we as teachers are currently grappling with, and as one of the teacher coordinators for Jack Chapter in our school, it is something I strongly identify with.

How can we as teachers focus on complex content, rigorous standards, and diverse teaching methodologies, when so many of our students are unwell and struggling with their mental health?


Some comments which stood out to me from my survey were:

“I feel like the major issues facing all schools is that the work given to students impedes on the time that they have to be this young and experience the world […] a balance should be met somewhere.”

“Mental health. A lot of teachers don’t realize that students […] have a lot of stress and other factors in their life that contribute to their grades. A low mark on a test doesn’t mean that you aren’t smart or that you don’t try in class and I don’t think a lot of teachers understand that.”

“There is definitely an increase in mental health concerns that schools are getting better at addressing but still not addressing enough. So, creating a greater space of awareness in classes to mental health concerns rising would be extremely beneficial as it will signal support for students. ”

“I think that a lot of teachers don’t realize how much time some of us have to put into other things like extra-curriculars and other things at home (ex. chores, etc.) that are also very important and that take up a lot of time. Most of the time, if I don’t get homework done, it’s not because I was being irresponsible or I don’t care, its because we have a lot going on in addition to school. ”

“That sometimes teenagers have a lot of different things they’re thinking about and that results in the need to occasionally take a night off from working to try and sort out everything.”

I still feel aimless heading into tomorrow, but at the core of what I will explore, the urgency is mental health and wellness.

@edaigle @mbrims @lmitchell @tjagdeo – looking forward to hearing your thoughts.





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