Many of our students are suffering with stress and anxiety at the moment. Here are some tutor tips that came from the mental health tutor training chat:
• If lessons are online, some students may feel more comfortable with their cameras switched off.
• Some students benefit from holding a stress ball or other (Blu tac, pen, play with hair). This helps ease their anxiety, so be flexible in your approach. A student who looks like they are fidgeting may need to do this to reduce their anxiety levels.
• Try to make the lesson a shared experience between you and your student. You’re on a joint venture to learn information and be ready for the exams. This approach may help when broaching the subject of anxiety too. You might want to bring yourself into the scenario, by saying things like, “I’m feeling a bit stressed today, how are you?” and follow this with something like, “when I am feeling a little stressed by something, I listen to my Headspace app and do box breathing. Shall we try it?” and so on.
• Our Mental Health Advisor, Dan mentioned how crucial it is for students to know what anxiety is. Explain the body’s physical response to stress; that it’s normal; and then suggest strategies to help overcome that feeling. It’s well worth spending the time in a lesson to do this. In fact, it may be necessary to enable any kind of learning to take place.
• If you feel awkward bringing up the subject of a perceived mental health issue such as depression, it may be useful to use a real or imagined example of ‘another student of mine’. Describe similar symptoms that you are perceiving in the student. You could then suggest that the ‘other student’ went to their GP, or read a particular article that helped etc, and point them in that direction.
• One tutor pointed out that it’s vital for students who appear depressed to see their GP. As 1 in 20 people diagnosed with depression actually have a thyroid condition that is treatable. So, it’s crucial for this advice to be given to rule out any possible medical causes.
• SEN students often suffer from mental health conditions and at the moment many are suffering from anxiety. In particular, a few useful tips came up about working with students on the Autistic spectrum.
• One tutor was having particular difficulty getting more than one-word answers from his student. It was suggested that he needs to break this pattern in a lesson and try something new. Perhaps spend some time talking to the student about his particular interests – get the student to ‘teach’ him about his interest in chess or another hobby, to build a connection. This is very tricky online, but vital for communication and learning to resume.
• ASD students can have huge sensory overload, especially when working online. The buzz of the laptop and the glare of the light can be very stressful. Headphones to block extraneous noise and blue light screen saver glasses may help with the glare. In certain situations, an hour session may also be too much. If possible, could your online lesson be split into two 30 minute sessions?
• The bottom line is, always be aware your student may be stressed and anxious for a variety of reasons, so be as flexible, understanding and patient as you can be.
• In this tutor training chat an important point was raised about what a strain supporting students can sometimes be on ourselves as tutors. It’s just as important for tutors to process our thoughts and emotions and look after our own wellbeing. Do remember that Dan and the rest of the team are always at the end of the phone if you need to talk through anything.
Sarah Cox, SEND Consultant