The Impact of Poor Mental Health on School Attendance and Supporting Student Motivation

It’s of little surprise to know that mental health issues have been linked with school absences, particularly during secondary and further education. Having said that there is a worrying trend that primary school K-6 students are increasingly entering these statistics. This eventually leads to a decline in school performance and could cause further developmental issues if the problem issue left unresolved. Knowing how to respond to mental health issues and develop resilience through intrinsic motivation can go a long way in helping reduce school absenteeism.

Increasing Awareness of Mental Health Issues in Schools

Mental health issues can affect anyone at any age, which is why it’s important for teachers and school staff to be even more aware of terms used, the conditions described and also learn how to assist those with mental health needs. This results in more awareness of mental health issues and can actually help in how to respond and refer to appropriate team members inside and outside of school to (if necessary) diagnose a child’s potential health issues.

Often raising the issue of specialised help (particularly with an assessment or to diagnose) creates much resistance. This is to be expected, as parents may react out of fear and the desire to not “label my child”. Teachers and school staff can help parents understand the importance of referral if helping with future strategies and approaches. 

Parent surveys have shown that the first person to identify a child’s mental health problem is actually their teacher or someone within the school faculty. Because of this, it’s vital that we start to inform teachers and make them more aware of the types of things they may see and how to deal with them.

Being able to help students is incredibly important, but teachers cannot do so unless they have more knowledge of how these mental health conditions work, the signs, symptoms and also how to accommodate and respond to a child’s needs if they do have a mental health condition.
This is why the Accidental Counsellor Training is so important.

Intrinsic Motivation In Students

To help manage mental health issues and develop resilience is obviously very important in helping decrease school absence. An increasingly popular method of helping students stay motivated in order to increase their attendance, performance and focus is to use intrinsic motivation. This is a concept that focuses on naturally building up a student’s motivation by offering them four valuable options; choice, challenge, collaboration and control.

Many teachers are still working under the assumption that they must direct their students and control each aspect of the learning process. However, this forced method offers no feedback from the students and it restricts them from making decisions on their own, drastically lowering their motivation. The alternative is to focus on intrinsic motivation which allows a student to make choices for themselves so they feel motivated, not forced, to learn.

There are four principles to intrinsic motivation;

  • Choice – Offering students more choice in their lessons and homework means that they are more invested into their decisions. Instead of being told what to read or study for homework, the focus shifts on letting them decide and make their own choices. This means that’ll be more interested in the subject material they chose and it leverages student autonomy, meaning the students work harder and are mentally stimulated while the teacher has to do less micromanagement of each student.
  • Challenge – The principle of challenge is to remind teachers that students are often smarter than they seem. In order to truly test their capabilities and push what they can achieve, it’s necessary to challenge them. Not only does this allow the teacher to gauge their students’ progress but it also gives them a way to measure their own progress too. We see this often in “gamification” a concept that is taken from the world of onlnie gaming!
  • Collaboration – Collaboration helps students learn to communicate and work together on tasks. Discussions will help students reach conclusions on their own and combining their abilities and knowledge will help them overcome more difficult challenges, stimulating their minds and training them for when they become a part of the future workforce.
  • Control – Control focuses on training students to ask questions so that they can reach conclusions using past experiences or by sharing knowledge with other students through collaboration. By teaching students to take more control of their own studies, it gives them the ability to be more critical of their own work and self motivate themselves to find solutions to problems.

How Self-Compassion Supports Academic Motivation and Emotional Wellness 

Self-criticism can be a way to motivate oneself. It’s often described as the voice in our head that helps to remind us of the actions we’ve taken and the potential consequences we could face. However, self-criticism can often go too far, resulting in fear, anxiety or even depression depending on the results of said consequences. In fact, some students may focus too much on perfectionism and this can lead to serious motivational issues.

This is where self-compassion can help to balance the criticism so that a student does not descend into fears and anxiety which can override their academic motivation. Thankfully, self-compassion can be taught by parents and educators, even if it’s discouraged by our culture. It’s important to differentiate self-compassion with self-pity or even arrogance. It should focus on understanding one’s shortcomings and flaws and being supportive of oneself as one would support other people. Teaching a child to treat others well is easy; it’s teaching themselves to give them the same compassion that is difficult.

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