What does 21st Century Learning have to do with our students’ Mental Health?

I made the most remarkable discovery this morning – in the introduction to Ontario’s new Elementary Social Studies Curriculum document, there are a couple of final paragraphs entitled “Mental Health“!

Are you kidding me? How can my students’ mental health have anything to do with learning Social Studies?!?

Apparently in Ontario, a lot.

The Ontario Ministry of Education Elementary Curriculum (2013)
Social Studies – Grades 1 to 6
History and Geography – Grades 7 and 8
The Role of Mental Health
“Mental health touches all components of development. Mental health is much more than the absence of mental illness. Well-being is influenced not only by the absence of problems and risks but by the presence of factors that contribute to healthy growth and development. By nurturing and supporting students’ strengths and assets, educators help promote positive mental health in the classroom. At the same time, they can identify students who need additional support and connect them with the appropriate services.2
What happens at school can have a significant influence on a student’s well-being. With a broader awareness of mental health, educators can plan instructional strategies that contribute to a supportive classroom climate for learning in all subject areas, build awareness of mental health, and reduce stigma associated with mental illness. Taking students’ well-being, including their mental  health, into account when planning instructional approaches helps establish a strong foundation for learning.”


 This is brilliant! Major kudo’s to the people who decided that this section even needed to be included. For the sake of our kids, I’m optimistic that this new document will be a real game-changer in Ontario. This official Ministry of Education curriculum document is chock-full of 21st Century learning, using 21st Century tools and pedagogies:  critical thinking, inquiry-based learning, building collaborative and co-operative relationships, developing local and global citizenship skills, participating in student-directed problem-solving activities and using appropriate technological tools

These are the very strategies and skills which lie at the heart of the learning our students need to be doing to support their mental health in this day and age! For far too many of them, an out-dated school system is one of the things that is actually contributing to their childhood unhappiness. 

I learned this the hard way. A couple of years ago, some of my very brightest and best students sadly admitted to me that they were just going through the motions with all my lessons that I had thought were so absolutely lovely: watching exciting demonstrations and participating in group activities, acquiring interesting new content and skills, doing the very cool projects that I’d designed. They rather sheepishly admitted that they weren’t really interested or engaged in any of the learning; they were just doing everything really well because they didn’t want to offend me.

And I’d been wondering why so many of my other students were becoming so disengaged, especially some of my boys and more marginalized students…


How complacent I’d let myself become. And so I learned some very hard truths from these students, and I will be forever grateful to them. I learned that my students were born into a new century, and they really wanted a teacher who was at least learning and using the same new technologies as they were using, if not teaching them new ones. And they needed a teacher who was willing to un-learn, and then starting learning all over again, new teaching pedagogies which would engage them in rewarding and authentic learning experiences — of their own design.

Admittedly, it’s been hard work.
And am I still struggling?  You bet I am.
Continuing to climb a steep learning curve?  Absolutely.
Are my students and their mental health worth it?

A million times over, Yes.


What do you think? Am I absolutely dreaming? Do you think teachers learning and implementing these new teaching and learning strategies can help to improve our kids’ mental health?  Will help?  Or do you think what kids do at school doesn’t have any significant correlation with their mental health? Do you have any educational research on this? I’d be interested to know…



About Cathy Beach

Recently retired elementary teacher and outdoor educator in rural Ontario, Canada. My Olympic Journeys may be over, but they lead me into some very exciting adventures with teachers and kids and the world of connected learning...
This entry was posted in 21st Century Learning, education, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What does 21st Century Learning have to do with our students’ Mental Health?

  1. Pingback: What does 21st C Learning have to do with our students’ Mental Health? | Inquiry-Based Teaching

  2. Pingback: OTR Links 08/04/2013 | doug --- off the record

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