‘Discover and discuss’: Supporting teachers to address diversity in the classroom

The number of young people seeking mental health services is dramatically increasing in Canada. International students are particularly at-risk because, as a group, they typically face additional challenges that might be cultural, academic, linguistic, social and/or adjustment-related.

Fraser International College (FIC) has previously shared strategies to support students’ mental health needs directly, through scalable outreach strategies as well as creative approaches like art therapy groups.

But colleges also need to be supporting teachers so they can support students’ diverse needs that may present in the classroom.

Mental health in the classroom

The concerns that present to instructional staff in classrooms across institutions can include: anxiety, depression, adjustment difficulty, racism and discrimination, stigma, suicidal ideation, history of family violence, trauma, intimate partner violence, sexual assault or abuse, psychiatric disorders, grief or loss, intergenerational conflict with parents, identity issues, learning disabilities, autism spectrum and ADHD.

Student experiences in class need to be enjoyable and engaging, not alienating. But often teachers do not receive the training needed to identify and respond to these increasing demands being placed on their role.

Inspired by a document from Simon Fraser University on supporting diversity in the classroom, we at FIC began our own initiative to encourage teachers to discover issues in their classes and discuss them with peers and trained counsellors.

The ‘Discover and Discuss’ Sessions

In 2016, we developed a program for weekly ‘Discover and Discuss’ lunchtime sessions to support our teachers to facilitate safety and address diversity in the classroom.

Every September, which coincides with our biggest intake of students and new teachers, our teachers can connect with peers and the case manager over a weekly lunchtime session. The 10-week program includes active participation for those who come in-person to learn about resources to support students with diverse needs and discuss issues they are noticing in their classrooms. Resources are also sent out to the teachers who can’t make the lunchtime sessions.

Below you can explore the resources we share across the ten sessions:

The feedback from our teachers has been encouraging. For example, we’ve heard from an instructor: ‘Thank you for offering these information and collaborative sessions. They helped me think about the impact I have on the whole student and not just on their grades and the subject.’

Regularly trying to see things from a student perspective is a valuable exercise. It’s essential that we actively seek out student voices and research what students actually want from their college. They are the current experts in the changing classroom. An example we recently shared with our instructors was this publication from a student’s perspective: ‘Dealing with mental health: A guide for professors’.

If you would like to discuss these ideas or compare notes, please contact Deputy College Director Sharla Reid or Case Manager and Registered Clinical Counsellor Nadina Dodd.

This post has summarised a presentation Nadina and Sharla shared, which you can watch in full here.