Psychology for Schools

Psychology is used in schools all of the time. From understanding stages of child development, to applying learning theories to keep young learners motivated and focused; from working with individual specific learning differences, to understanding and designing person centered approaches for behaviours that challenge – effective education is underpinned by robust psychology.

More recently psychological theories such as the growth mindset (from the positive psychology movement), and mindfulness (a western adaptation of a technique extracted from Buddhism) - are increasingly seen in classroom practice which is great; what is equally important is that the integration of these approaches have a clear rationale that is explicitly shared and understood by all members of the classroom community. For example, did you know that the reason why both of these approaches have hit the headlines, is that for years the scientific community has been evaluating the impact of these approaches on thinking styles? The reason why thinking styles are so important, is that the way we think can impact our mental health and well-being throughout life. Indeed, when we work with mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression, we are often using thought restructuring approaches that include the growth mindset and mindfulness within our treatment program.

So, why teach this stuff?

As children grow their brains are developing neural connections linking information from learned experience. As Donald Hebb Said back in 1949, neurons that fire together wire together. Like a well-trodden path, the connections between brain cells that fire together become stronger each time the connection is used. We know that when learning any new skill, the more we do it, the better we get at it. What this means in terms of mental health and well-being is that if thought connections happen around ‘not being good enough’, ‘not being smart’, ‘not being liked’ and these are re-enforced over time, they can become a dominant part of the way someone thinks about themselves. By introducing alternative ways of thinking through the positive psychology and the growth mindset – and by teaching the ability to be present in the moment through mindfulness, you are helping to shape young brains to be able to understand the power of thoughts on everything that we feel and do. It is this link that is so very important – we call it the bio-psycho-social interaction.

When put in this way, it is quite a responsibility isn’t it. This is why at Stable Focus we can support your team to understand the rationale behind the psychology you use so that it can be embedded in a cohesive, consistent and meaningful way. Mindfulness is more than a colouring book activity just as the growth mindset is so much more than adding ‘yet’ to the end of a sentence. There is a rich scientific evidence base underpinning the techniques that you use in the classroom that have implications long after your students leave. You really could be helping to prevent mental health problems in the future by applying psychology well in your teaching practice.

About the mental health of young people?

Over recent years there has been increased awareness of mental health across the life span, this includes a focus on children and young people. Statistics have been collected by the Office for National Statistics for many years around various aspects of British life, including health and well-being. What has changed, is that the media is now reporting on mental health more than they used to which is great – it can however be a bit of a problem when only the headline grabbing statistics are used.

In November 2018 NHS digital released results from their survey of children and young adult’s mental health in England commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care.

The report provides comparison data for children and young adults between 5 and 15 from 1999, 2004 and 2017. Whilst data can always make good headlines, it is important to consider information related to mental health and well-being as a complex interaction between biological, social and economic factors – therefore schools need to consider this wider information when informing any training and mental health strategy in schools to ensure it is relevant, well informed and will actually add value to your pupils and community. For the official summary of this report visit the link below, it will help you to reflect and act on the survey in an informed rather than reactionary way taking-into-account the unique profile of your school. You can compare your school’s rates of specific mental health difficulties against the national average in order to show how well you are doing or target intervention. Presenting your school in this way is good for communicating your evidence-based awareness in this important area to parents, governors and inspectors.


What about the mental health and well-being of staff?

There are many vocational professions, teaching and working in schools is one of them. Because working in the school environment is a vocation, there are often myriad demands that need to be met. Unfortunately, as with many other vocational professions, stress can take its toll on staff working within schools as teachers and support workers manage multiple demands often working over and above their contracted hours and having to manage the individual needs of children (and parents) in their care. Over time, this can lead to burn out and time off due to common problems such as stress, anxiety and depression.

“According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, teaching staff and education professionals report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in Britain.”

These are the opening words of a the recently published report by Ofsted, so no doubt it will be an area of growing interest over future years for this regulatory body. You can access this report using this link.

Because your staff are your biggest asset, you really do need to prioritise the mental health and well-being of your team, not least because they are modelling their response styles to a classroom full of children and young people.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (cipd) “Just one in ten (9%) of organisations have a standalone mental health policy for employees”, furthermore less than half of organisations provide mental health training”.

Whilst there are many courses available on mental health in the workplace, very few are provided by people professionally trained to assess and treat mental health conditions and understand the psychology of the mind. This can lead to what cipd call a ‘menu’ of initiatives that are not joined up or closely linked to the needs of employees. Because of our expertise and experience in applied psychology we are well placed to help you design a bespoke well-being strategy for your school. Bespoke does not necessarily mean expensive, it means being sensible by drawing together existing expertise and good practice within your organisation and making SMART recommendations where needed to promote a holistic health and well-being strategy.