Re-emphasising teacher-learner collaboration and shared intentionality in promoting mental health and wellbeing in the school environment

This paper provides a critical analysis of the intention to target schools as part of a ‘package of measures’ to reform mental health support. It was recently announced by UK Prime Minister Theresa May that schools would be named as a central force in an upcoming green paper on children and young people’s mental health services (Prime Minister’s Office, 9 January 2017).  The proposal is to fund mental health first aid training for teachers (to teach teachers to apply a mental health first aid action plan with a person developing a mental health problem or in a mental health crisis) and employ trained mentors to act in a support role. 

The first part of the paper presentation considers the proposed approach and in particular the (lack of) emphasis on the socio-emotional/mental health and wellbeing of teachers delivering the mental health ‘first aid’.  It is clear when looking at the policy alongside historic alternative strategies (for example the SEAL programme) that there is an unacknowledged discrepancy of view in spite of considerable evidence that the positive wellbeing and emotional health of a teacher underpins successful approaches to wellbeing in the learning context (Rowling, 2005).  The idea of the ‘emotional load’ of the teacher will be discussed with the assertion that the socio-emotional needs of teachers must be given due attention in any reform.  The current thinking by the government misses important ideas about the positive mental health and wellbeing of educators which is fundamental to improving mental health and emotional wellbeing of children.   There has been little emphasis given to the body of literature about the educator role and its function and influence on mental health and wellbeing; for example, teachers facilitate and develop a broadly emotionally literate organisation (Weare, 2004) which impacts on teacher-learner interactions that are equally conducive to positive wellbeing outcomes (Jennings and Greenberg, 2009), teachers provide a model of positive socio-emotional behaviour through a supportive relationship with the learner (Gordon and Turner, 2001) and support the individual learner’s capacity for resilience (Young Minds, 2010). Teachers also play a key role in the creation of a caring and respectful ‘communication internal model’ for sustainable emotional health and wellbeing (Rosenberg, 2003).

Further, in the second part of the paper is the assertion that neither teacher nor learner mental health and wellbeing should be prioritised over the other, which includes a recommendation that there needs to be an acknowledgement of the importance of the conditions for teacher-learner interaction, a focus on shared intentionality and joint agency of teacher and learner and a recognition of interconnectedness, to inform emerging policy and practices.