Conversations with Learners

Conversations with Learners

Did you feel this too?

I don’t know if it was meant to be an idea dripping with irony, but I was puzzled by the latest government headlines/initiative on mental health in schools. The initiative is intended to focus upon helping new teachers in England to spot the early warning signs of mental illness in pupils.

Mental health is a very important issue, one of the most serious of our times, for all people, however, this initiative is quite puzzling. And quite honestly, I don’t know where to begin.
Aside from the obvious and known links between mental health and learning (research showing that positive mental health is prerequisite for effective learning) and not excepting the obvious care, attention and dedication that the thousands of staff in schools bring to their roles every day; what does the government think staff do in schools? Perhaps they should be thinking more about how the current educational system, along with the undeniable pressures that exist around educational achievement and attainment, creates the landscape within which poor mental health outcomes are much more likely.

The amazing thing is that we, along with all life, are geared towards learning. We are walking, talking learning machines, geared and designed for learning. Learning makes us happy, sending happy chemical through our brains; including serotonin and dopamine (amongst others).For us learning is natural. These natural chemicals result in us feeling good and are the consequence of learning taking place. Learning takes us to a happy place! This is something our current system, based on standardisation; standardised tests, standardised teaching, and standardised schooling does not always encourage, because as we know, one-size does not fit all.

This is where the disconnect comes from, this is where the detachment comes from, this is where the disengagement comes from. But academic disengagement allied to academic social pressure; now, there is a heady cocktail and one that is not a good one for mental health. Not all learning is desirable.

A dad and son approached me last week. Dad was speaking about his son’s learning at school, he was concerned. He knew his son was bright, he knew his son was well behaved and wanted to do the right thing, but he was concerned that his son was just being taught how to pass exams and was not developing a love of learning. He was concerned that he was to some extent disengaged, that he was not becoming the independent, confident, self-motivated, self-managing learner that was his aspiration for him. Will the sticking plaster of a mental health initiative (only for newly qualified teachers mind you) help him? Or is something more profound required?

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