A staggering student mental health crisis is pressing many school administrators to update their priorities and leadership approaches to deliver timely emotional support for students.
The path forward is fraught and full of challenges, as the problem’s scope, scale and impact are unparalleled and unprecedented. The most recent State of Mental Health in Today’s Schools survey collected insights from more than 350 school social workers, teachers, counselors, administrators, and district leaders, finding that 85% of respondents agree or strongly agree that students are more stressed and anxious than in previous school years.
The consequences cascade beyond just emotional well-being. Nearly 90% of survey respondents indicated that stress and anxiety negatively impact academic outcomes. With math and reading scores falling across the board, it’s clear that helping students learn requires more than just excellent academic opportunities.
As school administrators give their best to help their staff and students meet the moment, here are three ways they can lead through the student mental health crisis.
1. Prioritize self-care and personal well-being
Administrators are both sounding boards and problem solvers, encountering and encapsulating the trauma and challenges of their staff, students, and communities. If you’re feeling burned out and overwhelmed by these acute challenges, you’re not alone. One education report found that 85% of principals are experiencing “job-related stress,” and nearly half are managing systems of burnout.
To effectively support their students and staff, administrators must first affix their own proverbial oxygen masks first. In other words, they must prioritize self-care and personal well-being. Prioritize self-care by making time for habits and activities that are essential to maintaining physical and mental well-being. At the same time, establish clear boundaries, lean on your administrative team and celebrate successes.
Most importantly, seek support early and often. This might include building a support network among colleagues, friends and family. It can also include help from mental health professionals who can help you prioritize your own mental health, ensuring you are best positioned to support the people around you.
Leading through a crisis is especially difficult, and the most effective leaders will take care of themselves first.
2. Team up to multiply impact
Students are struggling, but they don’t want to struggle alone. In fact, the State of Mental Health in Today’s Schools survey found that 70% of survey respondents agree or strongly agree that students are willing to communicate their needs and ask for help from a trusted adult at school.
However, 85% of respondents agree or strongly agree that they wish they had more tools or resources to help students address their mental health challenges. Specifically, the survey revealed that just 35% of respondents believe their school or local community has a tool for reporting, supporting and maintaining student mental health challenges and outcomes.
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Teachers or mentors often resort to casual chats in corridors, exchanging documents or sending emails to convey student requirements to counselors, administrators and auxiliary staff.
Collaborative case management platforms equip schools with the necessary resources to address urgent concerns. By transcending rudimentary or makeshift communication techniques, cutting-edge digital record-keeping and integrated case management systems enable staff members to effortlessly link students to indispensable support services. This enables school personnel, community resources and families to work together to help students thrive.
Some schools are even forming strategic partnerships with local healthcare facilities, making it easier to offer immediate mental healthcare services to students. Regardless of the methodology, administrators affect the most change when they team up with internal and external resources to multiply impact.
3. Monitor progress and continuously adapt
When it comes to improving students’ mental health outcomes, success is a journey, not a destination. Administrators best navigate this course by identifying, measuring and analyzing key indicators of improvement.
This might include improved attendance, elevated academic performance, more active engagement in school functions, or other anecdotal evidence. It might also require surveying or assessing students to acquire data-based insights into evolving needs, required interventions and support efficacy. School administrators can measure outcomes related to student mental health by implementing comprehensive assessment strategies.
Equipped with these insights, continue to adapt your offerings to meet shifting needs, allocating time and resources appropriately. In this way, administrators can ensure that their efforts are directed at the interventions making the most impact.
Empowering the next generation to thrive
Schools are working tirelessly to support their students, and yet it doesn’t seem like it’s quite enough. By prioritizing self-care, fostering collaboration, leveraging resources and continuously measuring and adapting to meet the needs of students, administrators can lead their schools through this difficult period.
It is crucial to remain persistent and dedicated in the face of adversity, as the well-being and success of students depend on the collective efforts of educators, administrators and the community. By embracing innovation and fostering an environment of support, schools can effectively address the student mental health crisis and empower the next generation to thrive.