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‘Every interaction is an intervention’: how our new practical guide can support teachers to support students’ mental health


13 Oct 2022

EIF senior research officer Miriam Sorgenfrei introduces the Classroom Wellbeing Toolkit, a new resource for secondary school teachers that draws tips and strategies for supporting students' mental health directly from the evidence on effective interventions and our work with teachers and young people.

The Classroom Wellbeing Toolkit is a unique new resource for secondary school teachers concerned about the signs of poor mental health that they see in their classrooms every day, and want to do more to help. Created in partnership with the Anna Freud Centre, the Toolkit is a free, easy-to-use and evidence-based resource, designed to provide secondary school teachers who may not have a mental health background or in-depth training, with practical advice on how they can support young people’s mental health and wellbeing through their daily interactions.

Recent surveys suggest that the vast majority of teachers see supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing as a priority (98% in an EIF survey of teachers, winter 2021/22), but too many don’t feel confident helping students with their mental health (43% in a TeacherTapp survey for EIF, conducted in August 2022) or have not received relevant training in the last 12 months (64%, TeacherTapp). The EIF survey highlighted demand for tangible strategies that can be applied through day-to-day interactions that support pupils’ mental health and wellbeing, as well as to support young people to manage stress and anxiety, including around exams, and strategies that can be applied to support young people with identified mental health difficulties.

Focusing on a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing

Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic the already elevated rate of young people experiencing mental health difficulties has further grown. At the same time, there has also been an increased awareness of the urgency of providing effective mental health support early on.

Schools are in an excellent position to support young people’s mental health – ideally by developing a whole-school approach, which embeds measures to support good mental health in every part of school life, inside and outside the classroom. The senior mental health lead training and mental health support teams that are being rolled out can play a key role in supporting schools to develop a school-wide ethos, working with external stakeholders as well as with students, parents and carers, and promoting mental health across the curriculum through RSHE/PSHE lessons, universal mental health promotion programmes for all students, and targeted support for students at particular risk of experiencing problems.

Another key part of a whole-school approach is creating a supportive environment that is anchored in the school’s ethos and shaped by daily interactions. That’s where the Classroom Wellbeing Toolkit comes in: while existing guidance tends to provide lesson plans for specialist teachers or strategic advice for senior leadership, the Toolkit suggests practical tips and strategies on how subject teachers can support young people’s mental health and wellbeing as part of their day-to-day roles.

The Toolkit is structured around teachers’ questions on:

  • building supportive relationships
  • creating a classroom environment where all students feel they belong
  • promoting good mental health
  • responding to stress, low mood and anxiety
  • preventing bullying, cyberbullying and sexual harassment.

Find out more about the toolkit, and developing a whole-school approach to supporting wellbeing, in a free after-school seminar with speakers from EIF and the Anna Freud Centre 

Co-creating an evidence-based toolkit

The Classroom Wellbeing Toolkit is firmly rooted in the evidence of what works to support young people’s mental health in schools. In 2021, we published a comprehensive review of the evidence of school-based mental health interventions, including findings from 34 systematic reviews and 97 primary studies. Through this review, we gained a better understanding of which approaches tend to be effective in the short and long term to improve wellbeing or decrease mental health or behavioural difficulties. It found consistent evidence that secondary school-based social and emotional learning programmes improve students’ mental health. Positive psychology programmes also have promising results, and several mindfulness-based programmes were found to be effective.

Now, the Classroom Wellbeing Toolkit translates this evidence into practical advice that secondary school teachers can apply through day-to-day interactions with students. As part of this translation phase, we conducted a review to identify the common components of evidence-based mental health interventions delivered in secondary schools. We supplemented this with a review of the wider research literature and consulted with experts with practice experience. We also sought input from an advisory board of practitioners, academics, and policymakers.

Throughout the development process, we worked closely with a group of young people and a group of teachers and school staff. This was crucial to ensuring the Toolkit addresses the right questions, is easy to understand, intuitive to navigate, reflective of young people’s experiences, and empowering for secondary school staff. We received some very positive feedback through this process, with teachers telling us:

“I really like the questions. I think the questions covered are questions asked by staff, whether in emails or conversations in the corridor, or in professional development programmes.”

“It’s quite empowering. It’s not dumbed down. There’s research backing it up, and the “Why this?” boxes really root it in proper practice and theory, and reasoning and logic.”

“The graphics, presentation, and speech bubbles really bring it to life.”

While the Classroom Wellbeing Toolkit is based on high-quality evidence and features insights from practice experience, we are keen to learn more about how teachers are using the Toolkit and what difference it makes. Please get in touch to share any feedback, or let us know directly if you would be interested in helping us formally evaluate the resource in the future.

About the author

Miriam Sorgenfrei

Miriam is a senior research officer at EIF.