Addressing student stress: ‘Take five; feel better’

Blog post by Katie Neville-Jones, Teacher Research Lead, Bottisham Village College

With changes in the GCSE exams and the new 1-9 grading, the stress faced by students is increasing, and so is the urgency schools feel to find ways to help. At our Cambridgeshire 11-16 comprehensive, we’ve decided to start early and begin supporting children to cope with stress from Year 7 as they enter the school, with the aim of embedding helpful techniques from the outset. The initiative has not only helped pupils entering the school – which can be a stressful time in itself – but it has encouraged their Year 10 mentors to understand and manage their own stress better through supporting their younger peers.

In our work with Year 7 pupils here at Bottisham Village College, we adopted the Stress LESS strategy from the mental health charity Mind. The initiative aims to empower students to find positive ways of coping with school and exam stress using the message ‘Take five; feel better’. This involved all our students in Year 7 students deciding on five small changes that they can make to reduce their own stress levels, and trialling them over a five-week period. The changes are simple, every-day activities, such as talking to someone, taking a ten-minute walk and going to bed earlier. Students worked with older mentors to complete a simple action plan of changes, using the grid below:

stressless grid KNJ

During the StressLess workshops the Year 7 students avoided procrastination and got straight into deciding on the changes that they could make. Most students were able to recognise an area that they could make a small change to in order to reduce their stress.  Following the workshop, pupils had adopted some of the following strategies:

  • ‘Five minutes to relax each day’
  • ‘Listening to music’
  • ‘Be more organised’
  • ‘Drink more water’
  • ‘Focus on what I can do’

Why mentor?

Year 7 students were led in workshops to create their Stress LESS plans by the older mentors, and we found this peer-to-peer relationship has had powerful mutual benefits. With the Year 10 pupils approaching their own GCSE exams, being mentors gave them a fresh perspective on managing their own stress, and encouraged them to share strategies amongst friends.

In their feedback, their comments included: ‘The programme made me realise how important it is to stress less’ and ‘It gave me valuable techniques to help cope with certain periods such as exams’. This feedback from the mentors was what we had hoped to gain, illustrating the benefits for all participants.

What have we learned?

The Mind technique was a simple and effective strategy that we could adopt within the setting of a school. It is an initiative that we can continue to use and build capacity in the student mentors. We have shared our experiences with another local school and they are also trailing the initiative. I believe that introducing the ideas to 11-year-olds is useful supports students’ wellbeing and equips students with tools to manage stress. With all students understanding more about the causes and possible management options for stress, it is a small step to empower individuals to look after their own wellbeing.

Final thought, should we really be creating pressures that require this kind of stress management for our youngest pupils? And should we also be exploring ways to reduce teacher stress, rather than looking for ways to cope with it?

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