Stop the Stress in Schools: Mental Health Strategies Teachers Can Use to Build a Kinder Gentler Classroom (2014), by Joey Mandel

The fourth in my set of reviews of pedagogical texts.

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 20.4.

Stop the Stress in Schools

Mandel - StressOne of the real strengths of Joey Mandel’s Stop the Stress in Schools is that Mandel not only underpins her argument with strong theory, but also constructs situational examples with various response options for her readers to consider. Short of actual role-playing (which of course is an excellent way to learn behavioural techniques), this is probably the best way of explaining what she is talking about. Her language is clear, her psychology sound, and the structure of her argument easy to follow. If her ideas were implemented, there is no doubt in my mind that our children would have far more convivial educational experiences. The only problem, and one Mandel herself articulates, is that teachers in our school systems are themselves stressed by (for example) the lack of support for special needs children, large class sizes, and dwindling resources on a number of fronts.

Mandel’s approach in many ways parallels parts of a sophisticated dialectic behavioural therapy program; the ideas of emotional regulation and developing interpersonal relationships are carefully distilled to be understood and internalized by her readers. Her ideas, though, might seem overwhelming to a teacher who reads Stop the Stress in Schools and thinks “I have to do all this to be effective!” Fortunately, while no teacher will be able to do it all, any movement towards Mandel’s ideal educational experience is a step forward. Any little part of the process will benefit students and improve the classroom experience.

The fundamental concept is that teachers and students need learn how to build effective, respectful relationships as a community, and to understand their own emotional responses and behaviours as individuals. Integrating these two forms of knowledge will lead to calmer, more rational responses to external stimuli and thus a calmer, more productive environment. Mandel presents a methodology for teachers to understand and modify their own behaviours; this in turn enables them to facilitate understanding in their students. Awareness and acceptance are the cornerstones of her theories: individuals need to be aware of who they are—their strengths and weaknesses, how stress is manifested in their bodies, what stress looks like in others—as well as accepting what is real in their lives—those strengths and weaknesses, the validity of others’ positions, the need to sometimes adapt. As awareness and acceptance grow, students and teacher alike will be better able to manage the stresses they experience in the educational setting: the final step in the process.

Mandel provides a number of scenarios for readers to consider, as well as numerous worksheets and exercises for teachers to use in their classrooms. Working through this text will enhance any teacher’s knowledge of the relationship dynamics functioning in the classroom (and in the halls, and on the playground), and implementation of any of her ideas will be of benefit to the community as a whole.

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