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Savannah Linhares is a teacher leader with the California Physical Education and Health Project.
Hello, my name is Savannah Linhares. I work as a teacher leader with the California Physical Education and Health Project. I am also a middle school science teacher and a member of the Governor’s Council for Physical Fitness and Mental Well-being. Today, I would like to share a proactive approach to mental health in the middle school classroom. We will explore standard space, health content, and strategies for the mental, emotional, and social health of your students.
According to the CDC, in 2021, more than 4 in 10 students felt persistently sad or hopeless, and nearly 1/3 experienced poor mental health. More than 1 in 5 students seriously considered attempting suicide, and 1 in 10 did attempt suicide. These staggering statistics show us that a proactive approach to mental health could give our students the tools they need to be both healthy and successful.
This video is for middle school teachers who teach any content. These are health standards and they impact all subject matter because mental, social, and emotional health influences every area of our students’ lives.
Let’s take a look at a 6th grade standard which states: “Describe the importance of being aware of one’s emotions.” In 6th grade, the goal is for students to learn the importance of their emotions. Next, let’s look at a 7th and 8th grade standard: “Analyze internal and external influences on mental, emotional and social health.” In 7th and 8th grade, students learn to go beyond being aware of emotions and focus on the cause and effect of factors surrounding mental health.
Providing learning opportunities for our students based on these standards is an effective way to promote positive mental health in all classroom settings.
Giving students the opportunity and time to reflect on their emotions is vital for student success. They simply cannot respond to questions they are not asked. Thinking about that as an educator is so important in all aspects of student learning.
We know that teachers have many responsibilities. Sometimes it may feel like fitting everything in is not feasible. However, we can’t afford not to spend time on mental, emotional, and social health. They deserve the opportunity to understand their emotions and identify them. When we focus on all aspects of their health, there is more learning taking place in other subjects because students are in a healthy headspace to learn and grow.
Here is a strategy that can be done at the beginning of a class to promote positive mental health. This is called “The Mood Meter.” We should not assume that students have been given the opportunity to identify and consider their emotions before. With that in mind, this allows students to reflect on their energy level and how they were feeling to identify where they fall on the Mood Meter for that particular day. This is a great strategy for students with all learning needs because it allows them to participate using colors and number scales.
First, you ask students to identify their color based on their mood and energy level. This can be done on paper, or if you’d like to incorporate movement with your classes, use “The Four Corners Activity.” Students go to the corner of the room associated with the color of their mood. Once they get to their corner, they can identify a word to describe their mood with a partner.
It’s important to make it clear that there is no wrong color. You will join a corner that looks like it needs your attention. That is usually the red or blue corner, but it depends on the class. This allows you to check in with students who may be experiencing a red or blue mood more quickly, and be proactive with them. This will create a better environment for them to learn with you that day.
The next step is for students to identify the internal and external factors of their emotions. One way to do this is by asking students to identify the highlight and lowlight of their week. The highlight of their week might be something that was really positive, whereas the lowlight is something that wasn’t as good during their week. Then, you’ll ask them the question: “What was the highlight of your week?” Give them time to think about that, and then prompt them to share with the partner.
Asking students about their highlight and low light gives them the chance to think more deeply about positive and negative factors that may be impacting their mood or emotions. Anytime a mood check is used for reflection, it is imperative that you remind students this is for them because thinking about their emotions and reflecting on that is a daily and lifelong practice. You share that you want to know about their emotions as well. It’s important that you use this information and their reflection to support them.
When using any mental health checks, review that information during the class period. This will allow you to check in with any students that may be struggling. It also is a great way to make connections with students because they usually give insight into their interests as well.
As an educator, it is also important to focus on your own mental health. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so taking care of yourself needs to be a priority. When you use these in class, consider completing it for yourself as well. You may even share your mood check with the class to model the process before you begin. It is amazing how quickly this helps your students to remember that you are a human with mental health too.
In conclusion, a mood check or a high light and low light check can be a great strategy to give students the opportunity to reflect on their emotions.
If you or another educator could benefit from this material for elementary or high school students, check out the Supporting Our Students Mental Health videos for elementary and high school.
Thank you for taking the time to invest in growing your professional practice to be the best you can for your students.
Accompanying Materials & Resources
- Quick Guide: Supporting Mental, Emotional, and Social Health – MS (PDF – 1 Pager)
- Mental health in the middle school classroom – Moodmeter (PNG)
- Mental health in the middle school classroom – MoodFourCorners (PNG)
- Mental health in the middle school classroom – Middle School Resources (Google Docs)
- Mental health in the middle school classroom – Middle School How-To (Google Docs)