TYF SCHOOLS: A TEACHER’S PERSPECTIVE
‘The whole program is about structuring your life to promote positive mental health’
The Current Wellbeing of Our Youth
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, adolescents have been categorised as the most vulnerable group at risk of mental health decline and for some, the impact will be lifelong (United Nations Sustainable Development Group, 2020). The Tackle Your Feelings (TYF) Schools Program, funded by Zurich Ireland and the Z Zurich Foundation, aims to curb this mental health vulnerability in young people.
TYF is an e-health program featuring some of Ireland’s best known Rugby players, who share their experiences, and act as role models to instil an openness and honesty towards positive mental health and wellbeing. This aims to empower younger adults and teenagers to take control of their mental wellbeing in schools across Ireland. TYF is a classroom based, teacher-led programme which aims to equip students with tools and techniques based in positive psychological constructs via the TYF School’s App and workbook enabling students to track their progress throughout the program.
A Teacher’s Perspective
It is widely acknowledged that teachers often report a lack of confidence in promoting mental wellbeing in the classroom. However, teachers are often a trusted adult with a positive connection to students and most teachers believe they have an important role in promoting student wellbeing: “I’m here to make a difference and to add value to the lives of people I come in contact with”.
In association with the University of Limerick a pilot study (with 8 teachers) was conducted to assess teacher’s perspectives on the experience of facilitating the TYF programme on youth mental wellbeing. Specifically, the researchers were interested in teacher’s confidence in and attitudes towards delivering a mental wellbeing programme, their perceived impact of the programme on students and how the programme might be improved for the context of diverse and busy schools.
Teachers’ responses were thematically analysed to form an in-depth narrative depicting their experiences of the programme. Most teachers viewed their role as encompassing more than the job of an educator (“some teachers are there for the job and some are there for more”). A number of teachers reported they strive to support their student’s wellbeing by developing a positive connection with them,
“How am I going to be that one good person?”
While teachers were found to hold a holistic view of education, multiple teachers suggested that there is “definitely not enough resources and time to actually look after children’s mental health” to enable this holistic approach. Teachers acknowledged there has been a shift in the ethos of schools as there is “less emphasis on the academic result and more on how students are feeling during the process”.
The TYF Schools programme can be seen to facilitate this shift through providing schools with such a resource that can act as a “a toolbox of resources to use that support your mental health.” Teachers felt the TYF School’s programme provides students with “a real 360 look at I think your own life and you know how your life should be structured” due to the programme’s multi-component nature, such that “it’s not just about like mindfulness meditation or…it’s not just about reflection or, it’s not just about optimism…it looks at all areas” of positive mental wellbeing.
Teachers also felt that TYF Schools can be seen to encourage proactive engagement with your mental wellbeing as it is “planting a seed there… in their mind… that your mental health is not just something that happens to you… you can impact it. You can influence it.”
Teachers felt the programme ‘has changed their [students] thinking”, with one teacher feeling the impact of the programme to have the potential to have an impact across a student’s life-span, “the impact of this might not impact them until they’re 30…especially as they come across difficulties…they’ll have something they can connect back to”
What’s Working Well
Teachers commented that they felt that Tackle Your Feelings is interactive, engaging, and has an appealing nature. Teachers appreciated that the programme was in a ready-to-go format as interventions can be challenging to implement. “it’s always a godsend if you have something already set up that you can just click into…there isn’t a lot of extra time”.
Teachers also felt that TYF normalised conversations around mental wellbeing, as discussing wellbeing is “not the norm…not everyone is doing it… it should be instilled…in the whole curriculum”. Implementing TYF Schools encouraged dialogue around mental wellbeing by acting as “a catalyst for them to talk about it”
Teachers also acknowledged that the involvement of Ireland’s well-known rugby players acted as “a huge motivator for me…”, to get engaged with the TYF Schools programme due to “…the fact that like it was connected to what the IRFU were doing”. One teacher suggested “the videos are the best thing about the app.” when referring to the ambassador videos which allowed Ireland’s well known rugby players to talk about their own mental wellbeing journey.
Teachers felt that students were able to relate to the ambassador videos who had dealt with similar issues “we do have a few students who have anxiety issues themselves…they were looking at the rugby players like…oh, I know him or I’ve seen him…I did this to”. Teachers felt that the ambassador videos “are very good and insightful”. With students gaining an insight into the rugby players own mental wellbeing struggles, the students “were able to relate it back to their own experience”. Evidently, the Irish rugby players discussing their own mental wellbeing journey has inspired and encouraged students to take a stance in their own mental wellbeing.
Adaptability of the Programme
Teachers found themselves adapting the programme to meet the individual needs of their students and schools, as one teacher suggested;
“each school situation is going to be a little different…each set of students is going to be a little bit different”
Teachers also noted that the lesson plans were “very straightforward and self-explanatory”. Teachers felt “they’re really helpful…it makes my life easier ‘cause I didn’t have to plan anything.” While TYF provides teachers with a timely structured format to ensure ease in rolling out the programme, teachers also found that the lesson plans were easily adaptable to suit their individual timeframes. Whereas one teacher implemented it during their “15 minutes tutor time.”, others carried the programme out “over the whole year, one class a week”.
Teachers also felt the programme to be easily implantable and accessible to students across the senior cycle. With one teacher noting they completed the programme with “sixth years… the first time around” and found “they are more open about it” And subsequently rolled out the programme with “transition years this year” also finding “they’re more comfortable having class discussions about their wellbeing.” One teacher also noted the benefit of the programme to one of their students who may find it difficult to keep engaged in school, “they really struggle to communicate and make eye contact… for him coming in on a one-to-one class with me… he was quite happy to sit there…if he could stare at the phone, it was like a crutch for him.”
Improving the programme
The Tackle Your Feelings team feel feedback from teachers on the TYF Schools Programme to be vital to ensure the continued improvement and sustainability of an effective mental wellbeing programme for students across Ireland. Various mediums of delivering the programme were utilised by teachers to ensure the programme is “accessible to all kids”. Whereas some schools found delivering the programme using the app to be “what gets me to deliver it as best possible”. With the app receiving very positive feedback as teachers described it as “really easy to engage with and to follow” With another teacher noting “there’s nothing too challenging about it, the kids were able to figure it out themselves”.
Other schools opted to deliver the programme using the TYF Schools Workbook provided to all schools, with one teacher noting .” “I’ve actually gone to the workbook.”, as they felt “having content that we could print out…might be more useful”. Further, one teacher suggested having a desktop version “or the website that looks like their app so that I can show them better and how where to go” which the Tackle Your Feelings team are currently developing to further increase the accessibility and ease of implementation of the programme for students across Ireland.
Teachers also felt the linear progression format of the app to provide them with ease in implementing the programme with their students as one teacher suggested, “I love the way it won’t let you move on because I’m demonstrating it”. Feedback obtained from teachers suggests that exploring the material freely rather than in linear progression format could further benefit the individual circumstances of their students. As one teacher suggested, “Recognising…and communicating anger would be really important for my group … whereas you know talking about self-compassion first…they might be disinterested”. This will also be taken into account by the Tackle Your Feelings team to further ensure the programme is adaptable and considerate of the individual circumstances in schools.
In this study, teachers overall found that the TYF Schools programme is an easily implementable, adaptable and engaging programme which meets its aims of normalising and encouraging self-exploration of mental wellbeing in students. There is an opportunity to further enhance and the programme to better support students across Ireland to be proactive in taking control of their mental wellbeing.
TYF strives to pave the way towards easily accessible mental wellbeing programmes in secondary schools around the country, constantly seeking ways to improve the resource for both teachers and students alike. A programme of research with the University of Limerick led by Dr Jennifer McMahon and supported by the TYF team will further evidence the impact of the programme on students and support schools to maximise the delivery of the TYF Schools Programme.