Student teachers at the University of Stirling are continuing to benefit from an innovative pilot project designed to improve knowledge and understanding of their own and pupils’ mental health.
The collaboration between the University and Place2Be aims to support teachers of the future to contribute to mentally healthy school communities, while building teacher resilience and career longevity. It provides undergraduate teaching students at Stirling with the knowledge and skills to better understand children’s, and their own, mental health and wellbeing.
Student teachers from all year groups have the opportunity to attend lectures and seminars which equip them with a broader appreciation of issues affecting mental health, protective factors, and practical support strategies.
The programme, launched in August 2018, was developed in response to a lack of mental health training in schools. Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation Scotland show 70% of the country’s teachers lack training to address mental health problems in schools.
Participants in the pilot programme have taken part in a range of ways including benefitting from sessions specifically designed to develop ‘reflective practice’ - called Place2Think. These Place2Think sessions enable students to consider their own behaviours and practice as teachers. This space and time allows the student teacher to explore the emotional impact teaching has on them personally and to consider situations they are encountering in the classroom differently.
Laura Burns is a student teacher at the University of Stirling and has been benefitting from the Place2Be project. She said: “Teaching is professionally and personally rewarding - in part due to the responsibility and commitment to developing the lives of young children. Discovering coping mechanisms and strategies for this intense responsibility alone is a huge ask, and frankly, unachievable.
“Place2Think offers a confidential space for student teachers to discuss openly the diverse experiences they encounter in the classroom. Vitally, this offers guidance linking how personal experiences, theories of child development and wellbeing intersect to influence our responses. Not only does this link the theory-practice gap, but it also helps illuminate reasons behind our emotional responses and re-personalise our practice.
“Scotland’s GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) puts children’s health and wellbeing at the very centre of our practice. Place2Think offers the opportunity to develop a clearer understanding of children’s mental health and the ways this impacts in the classroom.
“From a personal perspective, Place2Think has given me the confidence to complete my final placement. Prior to taking part, I had placed blame on myself and was unable to understand how my own past experiences have influenced me, and the wider things at play which effected the classroom dynamics and learning.
“Through weekly meetings, I could see my confidence grow as I was able to better understand how to use my past experiences to support my teaching. It has undeniably had a positive impact on my teaching, the children’s learning and increased a compassionate culture in the classroom.”
The pilot programme has been well received by a wide range of other organisations and sector leaders, including the Scottish Government and children’s charities including Barnardo’s Scotland. Discussions are ongoing regarding how the pilot programme can be extended beyond its initial two-year project length.