Category Archives: Mental Health


Kindness is the Cure

Kindness is the Cure

For published article, click here. See page 12-13.

A grade 3 student says, “You mean we can be friends again after we make a mistake?” Students learn the “Make it Right Formula” and ah ha moments are visible in their eyes.

The thrill of those ah ha moments gives me great joy!  And it doesn’t matter if that is with children or adults, the thrill is the same.

Principals often want me to address the theme of bullying when I come into a school. I have come to realize that every school struggles with students who need lessons in how to deal with their feelings.  In fact, social/emotional learning is a popular term in education now.  And applying social and emotional intelligence has become more important than academic and technical competence to be “job ready.”  According to the Carnegie Institute of Technology, 85% of your success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead.  Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical skills.”

A Project with a Social/Emotional Learning Focus

Recently, I worked with a school creating an experiential, cross-curricular unit addressing negative student behavior.  The purpose was to make students aware of the impact of their inappropriate behavior.  But I like to be pro-active.  Rather than accepting mediocrity and teaching what was appropriate and inappropriate behavior, the team of teachers and I decided to reach for a more positive goal and outcome.  We created a unit called, “Be Kind.”

The consulting project, included 4 parts, providing a scaffolded approach.  There were 2 classes and 4 teachers participating.

  1. First the teachers participated in a professional development session learning powerful strategies, part of a new methodology, while “living inside a story.” We used a story as an analogy making it safe to explore inside of the story, trying out different responses and learning from the reactions of other characters.
  2. Then demonstration lessons were taught to students while teachers observed and participated. Both teachers and students were engrossed in the process.
  3. Later, teachers worked with students while being mentored.
  4. The cross-curricular unit concluded with a school assembly where the students in the unit shared the learning which they had experienced: dance and drama activities, oral language and singing. Teachers also learned the value and simplicity of sharing the learning process with the rest of the school.

Examples of Activities

Using a powerful story, which acts like an analogy to life, students discover their learning through role play.  This story and some process drama activities are available as a download on my website.

A powerful activity which is prepared before the unit starts and used later in role, is “Showing Appreciation.”  Students write a genuine compliment to a few other students in the class.  They are only a couple of sentences but stem from observation and experience. E.g. “Patrick, I love the way you dive into new topics.  You are not afraid to try new things.  You help people in the class when they look like they need it and you are a great team worker.”  The teacher must make sure that everyone in the class is being written about.  Later in the drama, each student is given one compliment, that they wrote, to read at a ceremony.

  1. Ceremony/Ritual: Students organize a symbolic ritual to remind the community of their values e.g. dances/gestures/giving and receiving compliments (warm fuzzies.)  Students write, draw, create meaningful compliments (warm fuzzies) for each other and present them at the ceremony.  The ceremony can include a chant written by the villagers to remind them of their history with warm fuzzies and the importance to their health.

Relationships Breed Well-Being

Students participate in empowering strategies and learning games that allow them to experience different perspectives, learn to rebuild trust and to repair relationships.  They learn to take responsibility for their actions, inactions and words.  We debrief each experience relating to other texts and real life.  Students learn to speak of real life experiences without pointing fingers at specific individuals.  This allows students an opportunity to learn from community. Students who have played the role of victims, bullies and by-standers benefit from this type of community learning.

We explore the power of the by-stander and call them “up-standers” (a person who stands up for another.)  We explore attitudes and actions of upstanders and students realize how powerful they can be and the difference they can make.

Speaking, Writing, Drawing, Reading, Math, Drama, Dance and Music are included in the unit.  The learning is deep as students’ emotions are engaged.

The homeroom teachers are part of the project as are the Drama/Dance teacher and the Music teacher.  All of us are learners on a journey.  We are teachers for each other and we recognize the students as teachers too.  We are community.  The culture is enriched.  Trust is built.  We experience healthy relationships and that breeds a sense of well-being.

The Impact of the Work Continues…Be Kind

During the unit, Mr. Wallace, the Music teacher, spun his magic.  He created a song with the students.  It was a very catchy song where students sang and played their recorders. The song was part of the sharing assembly.  And months later, it was shared at an international conference, Quest 2017.  Have a look and listen here.

The impact of the work we did together in that school continues in another way as well.  While students entered the gym for an assembly months later, they were asked, “What do I do to be kind?”  Their responses were written on a piece of wide, coloured duct tape which they stuck on a large outline on the gym wall.  It is a permanent reminder of the school pulling together to remember the lessons to be bold “upstanders,” to “make it right” and to “be kind.”




Blog by Margaret Boersma



Well-Being: How do We Grow a Community of Wellness?

Well-Being: How Do We Grow a Community of Wellness? Will it Take a Transformation in Education? Part 1 of 2 A

Case for Well-Being  

“Ms Boersma, can you help me with this Math problem?” “Tommy, please sit down and get to work.” “Stop it! I’m telling on you!” “Go to the office and get a bandage.” “Please take the attendance down.” “Who has money for the field trip?” “Put your projects on the shelf over there.”

Public School teachers are experts at multi-tasking, and by that, I mean keeping a lot of things in our minds at the same time and having eyes all around us. Elementary teachers are generalists in that we do many things, seemingly all at once, and we teach multiple subjects. But, we are specialists because we are nurturing, inspiring, engaging all the time while we deal with many children all at once. We have eyes and ears all around us, plus we are teachers, parents, nurses, bankers, police, psychologists, social workers, guidance counsellors and coaches to these children.

On the side, we are learners in education, plan lessons late at night and in our sleep. We are always thinking about how we can turn something into a valuable lesson for our students. Now I am an entrepreneur, educator, artist, global communicator, inventor, connector, life-long learner and thought leader. Even though my role in education has changed slightly, I still find myself wearing many hats. And, in some projects, I need all the hats.

Well-being as a Pillar  One thing I think about is a transformed education system. Well-being would be the pillar of the new system. Imagine what would it look like? Would we still need skills in multiple areas? I think so. I imagine a day as a teacher in, say, grade 4. Students work independently, they are well nourished, happy, self-confident and come ready to learn. They learn with the best pedagogical strategies neuroscience has discovered. What would that look like?

Bring Joy to Learning  Perhaps we would learn through play, not just in Kindergarten. Even adults love to play. Perhaps it would include free-structured play. Or perhaps the students and the teacher would enter a pretend world…an “as if” world. They would live inside it for a while, then come out to reflect and make connections to their own lives, the lives of others they know about through other texts and the world around them. Living and learning inside an imaginary world allows us to explore, to try things out, to see what works and what doesn’t work and to learn deeply. We get to learn real life lessons without real-life consequences. How great would that be?

Well-Being in Our Relationships  Maybe our students would build each other up, rather than put each other down. Possibly they wouldn’t abuse drugs and alcohol. Perhaps they would be able to look at another point of view and really “get” the other person. How amazing would that be? On the side of the recipient, what would it be like to be totally understood by someone, even though they might not agree with you.

And maybe both students and adults would learn how to make things right because we know, life doesn’t work without trust. That would be liberating! One of my grade 3 students said recently, “You mean we can be friends again after we make a mistake?” They wrote a song with their music teacher during our unit together. I think it would make a powerful school song.

Chronic stress inhibits change.  Did you know you can lower the stress thermometer? Problem solving can only occur in a clearing. Did you know you can eliminate the emotional reaction? These are topics for training in well-being. Teachers can learn and then teach them. The world would be a better place with these lessons learned.
Blog by Margaret Boersma, OCT


Mental Health for Teachers is Essential for Students

As a teacher, my office was often in the centre of the school.  I regularly got visits from colleagues who were stressed.

“I am doing everything I can with the situation I have been given and I still can’t seem to make a difference with Johnny.”

This is a typical complaint from a number of very highly trained, compassionate teachers.  Most of the time, teachers know what to do and how to do it.  A number of factors increase the stress in the teaching profession and I would suggest that time constraints and multiple needs in one classroom with one adult, are among the highest on the list.  However, I am not writing about those circumstances outside of a teacher’s control. Continue reading