Through various interviews with teachers and a school counsellor, we discovered that most Dutch schools do not teach children how to deal with their personal problems. Although teachers are aware that students frequently suffer from issues such as stress, there is a large implementation gap into practice. Mentor hour, which could serve as a platform to tackle these factors, is oftentimes left unused, leading to students considering them superfluous.
Our redesign is centered around using mentor hour more efficiently, by implementing Social and Emotional Learning. This is an existing practice designed to teach children emotional intelligence and contributes to personal and academic growth. In order to be able to apply this directly to the classroom, we created Mentor Portal. This is an interactive online portal that helps mentors design their lessons by providing examples, learning materials, and inspiration. Mentor Portal also serves as a communication platform between students and teachers, which makes it easier for mentors to stay up to date with new insights. Mentor Portal can fill the translational gap between theory and practice, helping mentors to teach students how to cope with the many challenges of education and adolescence.
We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build the youth for our future. —Franklin D. Roosevelt
According to the WHO (2018), up to 20% of the adolescents experience mental health problems, of which half start during secondary school. Poor mental health influences individual academic performance and can lead to significant disruptions in the classroom (Farrington, 1992), yet majority of cases remain undetected and untreated. Although it has been shown that secondary school environments can play a major role in the development of mental health issues (Bond et al., 2007), many teachers are unaware of how to tackle this in the classroom (Graham et al., 2011). School mental health services that are currently available often work around a “wait-and-see” principle, where students are offered help only after they present with complaints or other externalising behaviour. Preventive measures that teach coping behaviours at an early stage are rare, even though there is substantial evidence that this can help reduce problems in the long-run. This is not only true for adolescents with emerging mental health problems or problematic behaviour (Greenberg, 2003), but for all students in the classroom. Research has shown, for example, that increasing the emotional and social wellbeing of adolescents improves inter-personal competencies and promotes youth development, proving itself to be beneficial on a larger scale (Greenberg, 2003).
In The Netherlands, “mentor hour” is a class where students are collectively assigned a teacher to discuss various kinds of problems. Although mentor hour is thus an ideal space for teachers to tackle these emotional and social skills, these classes are generally not well spent. Our personal experience has shown that students are often free to go during mentor hour, and that mentor hour is frequently not part of the obligatory curriculum. At the moment, there are also no clear lesson plans for mentors to employ any of the preventive measures described above, making it difficult for teachers and students alike to make mentor hour as productive and beneficial as possible.
To get a better insight into how mentor hour is currently used, we planned a fieldtrip to Bindelmeer College in Amsterdam, where we interviewed various mentors. In the school there are 8 mentors for the first year students, each mentor generally has 15-20 students. The students have mentor hour in their schedule 4 times a week. There is no specific curriculum that the mentors follow during these hours, meaning that they are free to plan the lessons themselves. During the mentor hours problems can be discussed as they come up, and students can always talk to their mentor about personal issues. For more serious issues the students are referred to the school counsellor. The school counsellor offers immediate help, but can also sign a student up for certain courses, which could be related social skills and emotional skills. These courses are provided after school and the lessons are taught by professionals.
Furthermore, we conducted a survey on 5 VWO students from the Roelof van Echten College in Hoogeveen. We asked the students about their experiences with mentor hour and what they would want to change about it. About half of the students did not experience mentor hour as helpful, and one student even wrote that mentor hour was unnecessary. This indicates that mentor hour is not optimally used, and that students do not experience the hours as useful. Another student mentioned that the class does not have to attend the mentor hour, and that in case of personal issues they can always approach the mentor. This could be attributed to the fact that mentors have no specific guidance on how to use mentor hour, which leads to the class being left as optional.
Social and emotional learning, however, can provide a framework for mentors to design their mentor hours. As mentioned previously, social and emotional learning, also abbreviated as SEL, has been shown to be beneficial in improving various life skills of adolescents. A large meta-analysis by Payton et al. (2008) showed that SEL programmes in middle school students do not only improve social-emotional skills and attitudes about self and others, but also improve academic performance. Moreover, SEL programmes improve positive social behaviour and lead to fewer conduct problems, less emotional distress and better general performance. Ever since the importance of social and emotional learning has been recognized, SEL-programmes have been refined. Currently, there are five well-defined competencies of SEL, also known as:
Hence, mentor hour offers the ideal time to teach adolescents social and emotional skills. But the problem is that teachers do not know how to incorporate SEL programmes in their lessons. Therefore a framework should be presented that provides examples and inspires teachers to teach students social and emotional skills. Teaching these skills will not only cause personal development, but will also improve mental health among the youth and prepare them for a better future.
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The educational system today is dominated by a mindset where the output of the schools is a primary concern, which parallels the mindset that has persisted since the industrial revolution. To some extent, schools are treated like farms that have to increase their yield, such as focusing on improving test results and raising the number of graduates (Robinson and Aronica, 2015). Through the increasing demand of the students and teachers alike to improve, their personal lives and well-being have too easily been neglected. This has not been helped along by the common view that emotion and reason are in direct opposition, and that certain subjects cater to only one aspect or the other. R. S. Peters emphasises that the way we feel about a subject depends on how we understand it, and that a passion for logic and rational thinking is the driving force to develop reasoning skills (Bailey et al., 2010). Emotional intelligence of students can greatly impact their attitude towards school: A study on secondary school students showed that emotional intelligence relates positively with positive emotions, which then positively influences the self-motivation and resilience of students towards physical education (Trigueros et al., 2019). It is likely that teaching students emotional intelligence could lead to better performance in other subjects as well, and prove very beneficial to succeed in their careers later on in life (Brackett, Rivers and Salovey, 2011).
Another important aspect of education that Peters describes, is that it functions as a mediator of the transition from the private sphere and personal lives of the students, and towards the initiation into the adult world of society. In this way, the education of the student includes the development of beliefs, cognitive skills and a moral sense to guide the student in the right direction towards being a member of a community (Peters, 1972). This line of thinking is also expressed by Hannah Arendt, who signifies the importance for children to have an experienced adult to guide them through the challenges of the adult world (Arendt, 1954). In our redesign, the mentors will work as a representative of the world in which the students will someday be a part. They have the role to guide the students in the right direction, to help them develop their own moral compasses and identities.
The mentors have the role to guide and inspire the students to better themselves. The Mentor Portal is flexible in the sense that it encompasses many different teaching styles and techniques to ensure that any mentor will find tools that will be useful during their mentor hour. It is however, not solely the task of the teacher to guide the mentor hour, but it is encouraged that the students themselves engage with the classes, and have a say in what they want to learn more about. The Student Portal gives the students the opportunities to be proactive in their own learning, and encourages them to seek out information on their own. It will be possible for the students to set their own personal goals for the mentor hours, which the mentors can then guide them towards achieving in a safe and empowering setting. Giving students the right amount of guidance and support can greatly influence their engagement with school, which in turn leads to better academic performance (Klem and Connell, 2004).
Arendt, H. (1954). The Crisis in Education. [Essay] Available at: https://thecriticalreader.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/ArendtCrisisInEdTable.pdf [Accessed 2 Nov. 2019].
Bailey, R., Barrow, R., Carr, D., McCarthy, C. and Degenhardt, M. (2010). The SAGE handbook of philosophy of education. London: SAGE Publications Ltd, pp.125-138.
Brackett, M., Rivers, S. and Salovey, P. (2011). Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Personal, Social, Academic, and Workplace Success. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, [online] 5(1), pp.88-103. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00334.x [Accessed 2 Nov. 2019].
Klem, A. and Connell, J. (2004). Relationships Matter: Linking Teacher Support to Student Engagement and Achievement. Journal of School Health, [online] 74(7), pp.262-273. Available at: https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.vu-nl.idm.oclc.org/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1746-1561.2004.tb08283.x?sid=worldcat.org [Accessed 2 Nov. 2019].
Peters, R. (1972). Education as initiation. London: University of London, Institute of Education, pp.107-108.
Robinson, K. and Aronica, L. (2015). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. New York: Viking, chapter two.
Trigueros, R., Aguilar-Parra, J., Cangas, A., Bermejo, R., Ferrandiz, C. and López-Liria, R. (2019). Influence of Emotional Intelligence, Motivation and Resilience on Academic Performance and the Adoption of Healthy Lifestyle Habits among Adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, [online] 16(16). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31394722 [Accessed 2 Nov. 2019].