How technology can tackle the mental health crisis in schools

This year, such concerns are particularly crucial, as 82 per cent of headteachers reported stress and anxiety are higher among students than before the pandemic.

Technology can help teachers and school leaders combat this mental health crisis and improve the wellbeing of young learners. Here, Fiona Henderson, Head of Middle School at leading online school King’s InterHigh, explores the plethora of mental health approaches her school embeds to facilitate a culture of kindness and openness. She does so by discussing how technology can create a calming environment to reduce anxieties, the power of recording lessons, ways to facilitate open discussions about mental wellbeing, and how technology can be used to reduce social media pressures. 

Creating calming environments

Most students thrive in their studies when they feel calm and confident. Technology can enhance the learning environment by facilitating personalised approaches to learning.

Firstly, I recommend all schools ensure their year-round lesson timetable and homework deadlines are available online, where students can freely access them at any time. This is what we do at King’s InterHigh, an easy to navigate student hub. Students can access their schedules and learning resources anywhere and at any time. All lessons are recorded and can be revisited or accessed asynchronously. This enables students to check their timetables in advance, work freely on any tasks at their own pace and ultimately feel in control of their academic life. It also helps students develop their self-management skills by balancing time and tasks with growing independence.

Enabling students to access this vital information also reduces the chance of unexpected surprises at school, as students can easily and clearly view what is expected of them. This is particularly important, as we know students can be impacted by changes in their environment. No matter what is happening at home or in the world, students can be assured their schooling is a consistent and predictable place of calm.

We are able to provide a personalised approach for each student and can adapt to their needs and circumstances. Our aim is to meet students where they are and support them to move forward at a pace which is right for them. This reassures students that they have a say about their educational experience, thereby reducing anxiety.

This flexibility is particularly important for those students who may have experienced challenges and trauma at physical schools. For example, one of our ASD students is autistic and went through distressing bouts of bullying at her previous school. When she joined King’s InterHigh, she was not confident enough to use her camera. In response, we offered her all the support we could, including through student support groups, our wellbeing experts and encouraging her to follow her passions. She is now a completely different person! Not only is she using her camera in the classroom now she is ready to do so, but also, she is writing and recording her own music. She even recently performed at our school assembly in front of 500 people and loved the experience!

Record lessons to reduce anxiety

Another way to ensure classes are as calm and reassuring as possible is to record lessons. Students can feel very anxious about falling behind in their studies due to immovable fixtures in their schedules, including sport commitments, medical appointments, or which may interfere with the live lessons. Offering recordings of all classes provides a safety net for students and allows them to access learning at their own pace.

Lesson recordings allow students to access content independently, whether to revisit topics, revise or simply learn when they feel ready.

For example, a student with learning needs joined King’s InterHigh this year quite traumatised from his previous educational experiences. Initially, he didn’t contribute to lessons very much and consistently felt anxious about falling behind. However, he is slowly gaining confidence. This has really shone through in his lessons. He loves learning about animations and finds re-watching classes so helpful in developing his skills. Consequently, he has been able to create an entire stop motion documentary about his beloved cat, in which he introduced himself as his owner! This was a huge leap for him and something he would never dream of doing last year.

Facilitating an open conversation about mental health

We encourage all our teachers to speak as openly about mental health as they do physical health, and to value both equally. We are firm believers in the notion that everyone has both mental and physical health which needs to be checked on and maintained. This ethos encourages students to talk about their mental health experiences and anxieties too.

We also support students to share and discuss their ideas and strategies in tutor groups, 1:1 sessions with their tutor and through whole school events and activities. The arts provision at our school is excellent and includes Music, Art, Drama, Film and Photography, giving student the skills, tools and spaces to express themselves.

We also host a virtual ‘suggestion box’, in which students can suggest initiatives we can launch or ways we can better support their mental wellbeing. This helps students feel in control of their mental health, and it allows them to focus on solutions to the challenges they face.

Technology can also help students connect with each other. For example, our students can use our school technology to create how-to videos, animations to explain ideas they have or the way they feel, or even documentaries. Once created, students can share these creations with either specific peers, or whole year groups. This makes them feel part of a community, heard, seen and valued by others. These creations can also help students connect who may be facing similar challenges.

For example, one of our ASD students created a documentary explaining how her autism diagnosis impacts her daily life. This helped other students with autism to better understand themselves and it helped all other students be more open and inclusive, which brought the whole school together. These open discussions reduce anxiety as they help everyone feel seen and understood.

Finally, upon student request, we also regularly ask students to participate in a poll about how they’re feeling. This puts how we feel at the centre of learning and helps us support students who may need additional care. It also encourages students to monitor their emotions, which will benefit them throughout their life.

Using technology to lessen anxiety induced by social media

As part of our pastoral curriculum, we openly discuss the pressures derived from social media. We explore which platforms students use, the subsequent online pressures they face, how students want to socialise, and the standards and expectations placed upon them.

Open discussion helps students make sense of the technology they use and be aware of how to overcome potential risks. We’ve found this discussion to be particularly important for student communication skills and helping them safely navigate and manage their identity online.
Students have been really engaged in these discussions and contributed fully as individuals and in group projects. Our Year 9 students recently produced an anti-bullying campaign which grew out of discussions about online behaviour. Social media dominates many facets of our students’ lives and so schools really must tackle this topic if their students are to reach their full potential and become happy, healthy adults.

Finally, at King’s InterHigh we also utilise Yammer, a Microsoft app, to create a safe environment where students can make friends, share ideas and join groups. This acts as our very own school social media, through which students gain all the online socialisation they need, while feeling safe and not having to worry about algorithms, adverts or the dangers of strangers messaging them.

Student Works

This collegiate approach of sharing ideas and providing positive feedback to others extends to the learning environment too. In many subjects, discussion threads are used to facilitate debates and share student work. For example, for our art classes, we created a discussion thread, which runs exactly like a social media thread. In the discussion thread, someone can post about their artwork, and other students can comment on it. This helps students share their achievements, what they’re working on, any thoughts, calls for support or collaborations, and all while never worrying about trolling or dangers which exist in mainstream social media channels.

The tactics and policies mentioned in this article recognise students as individual, autonomous learners. We are on a mission to help all students find the right learning environment to enhance their unique educational experience, no matter the mental health challenges they face.

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