5 min read

How to teach about mental health on Outschool
Advice for creating a safe and supportive environment in classes on SEL, mindfulness, or mental health.

Classes on social emotional learning (SEL), managing mental health, and mindfulness are all popular topic areas at Outschool. As more families, schools, and community organizations focus on improving kids’ and teens’ mental health, experienced educators on Outschool have an incredible opportunity to provide guidance, support, and education on mindfulness and managing emotions.

On Outschool, classes on these topics should always be educational, not therapeutic. To protect the safety of all our learners, educators on Outschool may not offer any therapeutic services through our platform. Our class content policy outlines specific guidance for classes on mental health topics, including the following:

“Classes offering information about mental health or non-medical symptom management strategies are allowed, but classes offering individual or group therapy targeted towards learners with diagnosed medical conditions, trauma, or grief are considered a medical service. Classes that focus on learners sharing personal experiences often fall within group therapy. For example, classes offering techniques to handle day-to-day stress or anxiety are allowed, but classes offering therapeutic support specifically for learners suffering from chronic anxiety or anxiety disorders would be a medical service.”

To maintain an inclusive, non-therapeutic environment for your learners in classes on mental health, keep the following best practices in mind.

Create a detailed class listing

We recommend providing as much detail as possible in your class description, including discussion topics, activities, and/or assignments. We even encourage you to write out specific discussion or journaling prompts and key takeaways for each class in your description. These elements help both the Outschool team and families understand what you’ll be teaching in class, how it relates to your expertise, and how you’ll navigate emotional or personal conversations.

Keep personal diagnoses or experiences private

It’s never okay to ask learners or parents to reveal a mental illness or medical diagnosis, and no one should be encouraged to elaborate on experiences with mental illness. While parents may sometimes volunteer information about their learners to help you better connect with and teach their child, we ask that you do not actively solicit this info from enrolled families beyond what is shared in their profile. If a learner shares in class that they have experience with mental illness or a medical condition, gently remind them of Outschool’s policy on sharing personal information and steer the discussion in a new direction.

As with all Outschool classes, make sure you’re familiar with these steps to protecting learner privacy each time you meet with your mental health, SEL, or mindfulness learners.

Teach SEL, but avoid therapeutic practices

Learners are welcome to record their personal feelings and emotions privately, but it cannot be a requirement to share their personal experiences with mental health in class. For example, if learners are invited to make simple feeling statements as a part of an educational SEL lesson, learners should also not be asked or probed to individually expand on those emotions or situations. Feeling statements should only be used to help learners practice recognizing connections between thoughts, actions, and emotions (when applicable to your lesson). Further, specific advice for individual learners on how to process or manage their emotions should not be offered, as that would be considered therapeutic intervention. Instead, focus on designing class activities that help learners understand and practice SEL concepts without divulging details of their personal mental health.

For example, a class about mindfulness meditation to cope with anxiety could focus on general strategies, like breathing exercises, which could help learners manage any situation where they feel anxious (instead of requiring that each learner share their own experience with anxiety). If journaling is an activity, staying away from asking learners to share what they wrote with one another. We encourage educators to explore the CASEL framework for more insight on how to structure these types of discussions in an educational setting.

Therapeutic services such as individual or group counseling, psychiatric evaluations, or evaluations for special education are not permitted on the Outschool platform. General information about how to cope with non-medical symptom management can be shared, but medical diagnosis or suggestions to a learner that they may have a medical condition should not be offered.

Include Parental Guidance

For any classes that will include SEL, mental health, or mindfulness topics, use the Parental Guidance section of your class listing to clearly state that the intention of the class will not be to elicit reports personal experiences with mental health from learners. It may also be helpful to explain to parents how you will respond in the event that a learner does share any personal mental health details (despite not being prompted to do so). For example, you may ask that the learner refrain from further discussion in front of the class and instead continue the conversation with a trusted adult.

We suggest telling parents that if a learner ever shares something that is concerning, you may reach out to parents after class depending on the context. To help learners remember to keep their personal information private, you may recommend to parents that they review Outschool’s Community Standards before class with their child.

Note: If a learner shares details about abuse, self-harm, or neglect, report the incident immediately following these guidelines.

With these thoughts in hand, you’re ready to host an empowering and supportive class on SEL, mental health, or mindfulness with kids and teens. Create a class now.

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