Mental Health and Curriculum Design

Although October is quickly coming to a close, we didn’t want to miss out on highlighting Mental Health Awareness Month. With 2020 being a year for the history books (i.e. a global pandemic, economic downturn, school closures), many of us, including students, faculty and staff have had to focus our attention on the importance of good mental health practices.

Mental Health Facts

Some may believe that poor mental health is caused by a single thing or event, but it is most often due to a combination of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors—and those environmental factors can oftentimes include school pressures or work in the classroom.

With depression and anxiety on the rise and 59.3 per cent of Ontario students revealing that over the course of one year, that their academics were too hard or traumatic (NCHA, 2016), it is evident that stress can lead students to experience mental health issues and those issues can lead to negative impacts on their ability to learn.

In the same study, faculty members also expressed having increased stress levels with workload expansions, larger classrooms, and more work assignments. Plus, although there are resources out there to support students, they will often encounter barriers accessing them, they don’t know where to start, or are just too embarrassed to use them.

Curriculum Design and Curriculum Development

Curriculum design is a term used to describe the purposeful and systematic organization of curriculum within a class or course. Simply put, it is a way for teachers to plan for instruction. When teachers design curriculum, they identify what will be done, who will do it, and what schedule to follow. Additionally, curriculum development comprises of two categories—the product and process model.

The product model is results-oriented, while the process model is more open-ended and focuses on how learning develops over time. Although both methods need to be considered when designing curriculum, the product model has historically taken precedent, which can definitely lead to stress and anxiety.

Both curriculum development and design can have major impacts on mental health since it impacts workloads, due dates, anxiety and the mental wellness of both students and teachers.

Subject-Centred Curriculum Design

Subject-centred curriculum design is one of three approaches to curriculum design. The other two are: learner-centred and problem-centred. For K-12 schools, subject-centred curriculum is the type of curriculum most often used and tends to focus on the subject rather than the individual. It usually describes what needs to be studied and how it needs to be studied. Although K-12 schools tend to adopt this model, the primary drawback is that it is not student-centred and is constructed without considering the specific learning styles of the students.

Curriculum Design and Mental Well-Being

When teachers are designing curriculum, the learning environment needs to include space for mental health considerations. Further, when a curriculum is designed through an intersectional approach—meaning, it considers the context of the students’ lives with regard to cultural and social backgrounds and shapes programs based on their needs and experiences—and it will also inadvertently consider the mental well-being of the students who are engaging with it as well.

As the evidence mounts towards student mental health and well-being as fundamental attributes to their learning and to their academic success, the student mental health ‘movement’ has moved from being at the periphery to a central component of academic success with which staff and faculty must engage for the overall success of schools and boards.

Key Takeaways

These 5 tips are a great start to ensuring your students and staff are mentally fit and academically successful:

  • Ensure that work has a manageable scope of learning and a variety of outcomes. This can help to avoid unnecessary burdens on both faculty and students.
  • Make sure the virtual or in-person classrooms are designed to promote well-being.
  • Take an intersectional approach to curriculum design whereby students’ social, cultural, and mental well-beings are taken into consideration.
  • Try to include a learner-centred or process model approach to curriculum.
  • Design a flexible curriculum by using universal design (where possible). This eliminates the need for numerous individual student adjustments on an impromptu basis.

In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness, regardless of age, education, income level and culture. Contact one of our education specialists at Edsembli today and book a demo to find out how we can assist your school or board in placing mental health at the forefront of your curriculum program with our software. Whether you are a student, staff, faculty, or board member, mental health is key to the holistic success of your schools and districts.

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