It has been so long since I posted here and I have missed my blog so much! (However, I have been busy blogging away at our MA class blog EdRe5s-Resourcing the Curriculum , check it out ;)) Now that my technical difficulty has been sorted with my own blog here (thank you @wordpressdotcom), I can finally write about what I have been up to as regards teaching, learning and all of the bits and bobs in between.
I am passionate about raising awareness for Mental Health so when my Deputy Principal and Principal asked me if I had any ideas for Mental Health Awareness Week (29th February-4th March) in school, I was enthusiastic to get started. All of the staff are really supportive in the school and with any event or activity that was on last week, they were so encouraging. The students themselves have been learning about Mental Health through their own S.P.H.E, C.S.P.E and Religious Education classes so they had some background of what Mental Health is all about.The students all participated in one way or another and the week would not have been as successful without the whole school raising awareness about Mental Health.
There was a Powerpoint Presentation displayed in the Front Hall for the entire week which had inspirational quotes and positive quotes about Mental Health (if anyone would like a copy of this contact me below and I will email you as the Powerpoint will not upload here)
I have decided that the easiest way to discuss how the week went is to give a day by day account of activities, resources and events that happened throughout the week. This may perhaps give some ideas to you if you are interested in raising awareness about Mental Health in your own school.
Happy Monday- Passing on a smile 🙂
The week before Mental Health week, the Art Department along with Transition Year students, painted emojis on all of the windows in the school. These emojis were captioned with the slogan ‘Pass on a Smile’ encouraging all students to pass on their smiles to one another.
It certainly brightened up the school during Mental Health Awareness Week when it rained ALOT!
The week before Mental Health Awareness Week, I also researched about the Health Service Executive’s campaign on YourMentalHealth.ie which features the #LittleThings campaign.This campaign seeks to remind us of the little things that make a big difference to how we feel. I ordered Little Things posters and postcards which are FREE on the HSE.ie website. I put the small postcards in teachers pigeon holes in the staff room to remind them that it’s the little things that can help lift your mood. These postcards had positive slogans about doing little things in life to help your own Mental Health. Teachers also had the option to take as many posters as they wished and hang them in their classroom. You can order yours for FREE at HSE.ie Little Things Campaign. It was a nice introduction to Mental Health Awareness Week in the school.
When I was in school I made a Gratitude Journal in Sixth Year with my Religious Education teacher, Ms.Sullivan. This journal made me reflect on all of the things in life I was grateful for. For Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted the students to reflect on the simple things they are grateful for, reminding them that they may have a bad day but there is something to be grateful for in everyday. I decided to do this as a whole school approach so I created a Gratitude Journal for the entire school to sign and fill out. This was from students from first to sixth year and all staff members. This was displayed in the Front Hall for the entire week.
I also ran an ‘Express Yourself’ competition (the students thoughts on Mental Health and well-being through stories, poems, photographs, songs or art). The students had to place their entries into the ‘Express Yourself’ box (pictured below) to the box in the Front Hall by Thursday at 4pm.
I also announced that there would be an ‘Express Yourself’ exhibition on Friday at lunchtime, were students from all year groups were welcome to showcase their talent – music, open mic, dance – to raise awareness about Mental Health. There was rehearsals for this on Tuesday and Thursday at lunchtime for 40 minutes each.
There was a guest speaker in the school all day, Dr. Fergus Heffernan, PhD, a renowned psychologist and psychotherapist who is a leading educator in the area of stress management and how it relates to our mental health. His talks to the students from different year groups throughout the day were engaging and the students thoroughly enjoyed it. For more information or to contact Fergus see the Educators in Mental Health RDConsult website.
Today, one of the other Religious Education teachers, Ms Kerrigan, and I launched a display entitled ‘It’s okay not to feel okay, it’s okay to ask for help’ in the Front Hall. This came with a worry box and a box of Positive Statements . We used a Butterfly theme throughout this display as this symbolises that we are all trying to transform our worries (caterpillars) into something positive (butterflies) each and every day.
You place your worries (represented by a coloured stick) into the worry box and take away a positive statement with you. It was an original idea and one that has worked extremely well in Ms.Kerrigan’s own classroom. This jar was nearly empty towards the end of the week!
Alongside the display, the Gratitude Journal was displayed which as you can see in the pictures above, is almost full 🙂
On Wednesday, there was a special class time allocated to Mental Health Awareness where all classes were shown Niall Breslin’s (Bressie – who you can also follow on Twitter @nbrez) Video for Schools .
The video is fifteen minutes long and it is a fantastic teaching resource. I would highly recommend showing it to any class group at anytime as Niall discusses issues in Mental Health that are so relevant to students everywhere today.I also mentioned A Lust for Life, which is Niall’s website and (I have done a previous blog post about this here). We had a lively discussion about some of the issues Niall talked about after the video clip and what we can do to help.
I also mentioned A Lust for Life, which is Niall’s website to raise awareness about Mental Health and well being to the students. (I have done a previous blog post about this here and you can also follow A Lust for Life on Twitter @lustforlife).
During this Mental Health Awareness class, the students also coloured in ‘Mercy girls’ which were cut out paper dolls that represent themselves. This was an initiative developed by our Home School Liaison officer and Deputy Principal. The different dolls are now all linked and hanging up in the Front Hall, showing the links that all Mercy girls have to one another – we all all different and unique but we are all joined together as one big supportive community in school.
To follow on from the Mental Health Awareness class, I continued on with a Mindfulness (check out my previous blog post on this here) session at lunchtime followed by a Happiness in Kindness Journal workshop for 15 minutes how to start your own Gratitude Journal (all materials were provided to students). My inspiration for these kind of activities comes from what I have learned myself in school or college or some ideas I see on Pinterest daily! You can also download the Pinterest app from the App store for FREE.
In the afternoon, there was a Beat The Blues programme from Aware held for Senior Cycle students. This programme explores:
- Principles for good mental health and actions that can help.
- The importance of looking at the positive aspects of our lives.
- Why similar situations impact people in different ways.
- The role of core beliefs.
- How to prevent or recognise depression and anxiety.
- The importance of resilience and how to build it.
There were little workbooks provided to all students and these were fantastic. There were pages I really liked, including the ‘3 positive things a day’ page and the ‘Festival’ coping mechanism.
Beat the Blues complies with Well-Being in Post-Primary Schools: Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention (2013), developed by the Dep. of Education and Skills, the HSE and the Dept. of Health. The students really enjoyed this programme and many said it was a great highlight for them during Mental Health week this year. For more information on how to get this FREE, informative workshop in your school, click here.
Active Thursday – Physical Health
Today was a day focused on Physical Health as well as Mental Health and the P.E department ran several activities across the day for various year groups.
I asked my colleagues, Mr McCoy, and the Principal to choose the winner and two runners up for the ‘Express Yourself’ competition which closed at 4pm today. Here is an example of two amazing entries received. This competition was a great way to see how students interpret Mental Health and what it means to them.
I also left an article written by Dr.Claire Hayes about loneliness in the staffroom on the tables in the staffroom for all staff to read. Check the article out here. It highlights how easily this can be curbed where it is an issue in so many staffrooms across the country.
Today, to celebrate Fun Friday as a part of Mental Health Awareness week, we had a staff room seating mix up at little break. This was where our Deputy Principal placed a ‘Celebration’ sweet in each teacher’s Pigeon hole in the staffroom and we had our sweet and we had to sit at a ‘Twix’ or ‘Malteser’ etc. table. The staffroom is always so open and sociable anyway but it was lovely to sit beside teachers I don’t get a chance to speak to much or that I don’t know that well yet.
Teachers also used the Friday Fives in their classrooms. These are FREE downloadable resources I found online created by ReachOut.com. Friday Fives are five minute activities to use in the classroom and are brilliant to get students moving and thinking. They can be used individual exercises, whole class activities and are a fantastic way to conclude a lesson.
I used many on Friday and I will continue to use them because I thought they were fantastic. One Friday Five that I particularly enjoyed was the Friday Five Failure Wall. This was where students learned that failing isnt always a bad thing. I displayed this Thomas Edison quote about failure and I asked the students to think about the quote and what it means to them.
We then had a brief class discussion about what this quote means. I asked the students to personally reflect on something that they have failed at but what they have learned as a result. The students then got into groups and discussed their own failures but what they learned from it. We discussed this as a class group and I recorded some of their answers (below). Some were very amusing. If I had my own classroom I would create a Failure Wall of my own, where students can share how they have learned through failure. It is different, inspirational and the students enjoyed this exercise.It was collaborative, FREE, simple and very effective (Please excuse my awful handwriting here – it was a two minute jot down 🙂 ! ).
The ‘Express Yourself’ exhibition was held today at lunchtime in theatre. It was a full house and there were many different performances from various year groups including singing, dancing, comedy sketches, acting and students playing musical instruments. During the exhibition, I displayed the entries from the competition and the #LittleThings campaign posters(pictured below). All of the songs and the introductory music for the exhibition can be found on Miss Dignam YouTube Channel. The introductory music was playing as students entered and left the hall.
Many students have asked if we will ever teach Mental Health as a full subject in school, which Bressie is advocating for at the moment. As he says ‘before any school subject, your mind matters first’. The activities and ideas this week took time, dedication and commitment but it was worth every second. These were all FREE, simple ideas that I felt worked really well this week and could be adapted to an Religious Education class (or any class!) at anytime or whenever you choose to highlight Mental Health in your classroom.
I thoroughly enjoyed Mental Health Awareness Week. Although it was so busy, there was an activity on for all students everyday and so many ways for them to get talking about and raising awareness about issues in Mental Health, which was the overall aim of the week and one which I believe we achieved successfully.
As always I hope you have enjoyed this blog post on Mental Health Awareness Week in our school. Let me know what you think or if you have any suggestions for ideas for next year 🙂 I would love to hear them. You can post a comment below or reach me on my Twitter @5j16MsDignam 🙂
- Pinterest for Gratitude challenge
- HSE.ie #LittleThings campaign
- Victor Frankl Photo – Ailerons Font
- Images – my own photographs.