Youth Mental Health Day is a great opportunity to raise further awareness of young people and their mental health.
We recently had the pleasure of talking to Adam Craddock-Wright, Teacher of Psychology at King Edward VI College (KE6) in Nuneaton about the new roll-out of Fundamental Wellbeing First Aid training. Adam has trained to become a Fundamental Wellbeing Instructor with us and deliver the course to their sixth-form students.
Adam’s obvious passion for supporting and coaching students to achieve and be who they need to be is so wonderful to see and brings much-needed energy to the importance of having conversations about mental health and providing a practical toolkit to do so confidently.
Hi Adam! Tell me a bit about yourself and what you do at KE6?
My name is Adam Craddock-Wright and I am a Teacher of Psychology. I actually did my A Levels here at King Edward VI College in Nuneaton then joined the team in a pastoral role in 2011 and completed my teacher training whilst working.
What were the reasons for providing Fundamental Wellbeing First Aid for KE6?
I think if you were to talk to any member of a teaching team whether that be as a teacher, pastoral, management, and so on, it can feel like you are almost pinballing from this person over here to that person over there and the other person in the middle with various mental health concerns. Unsure of what you can and can’t say or do or how to help.
As teachers, it is our role to equip students with the skills and knowledge to take forward and sit their exams, as we of course cannot sit their exams for them. We prep them with everything they need so that when the time comes and they are met with that academic challenge they can achieve it.
From a personal perspective our own sons have additional needs and we know if their emotional needs are met first, the academic comes after, and more easily, but I know from being a teacher we have it flipped and the academic needs are first which of course is what we are here to do but if we thought about how to meet and reach those emotional needs properly we would certainly do better overall!
We have fantastic safeguarding training here at the college which I’m sure varies in each education provider, but talking to others and on the teaching training itself it didn’t cover training such as first aid and certainly not any kind of mental health training and yet I have responsibility for those young people in my care. As a parent now it’s more apparent to me that my expectations when sending my children to school is that if anything happened to them the adult in charge would know what to do and leap into action!
“Following the lockdown and absence from school and college, we have found that young people are presenting with significantly poorer mental health. We have already invested in training for staff to give them more confidence in supporting students. By offering the Fundamental Wellbeing First Aid course to students, we are empowering them to help their peers as well”.
– Sujata Smith, Assistant Principal, KE6
Why was it important to you to provide this additional mental health training for your students?
I first sought it out for myself to be able to manage these rooms of teenagers better. Meeting the needs of my job role but also I know I can only get the best out of them if I can meet their needs, in the limited contact hours I have with them. It’s so common that you can have someone in your room that is physically presenting with signs of either a decline in wellbeing or is known to us to have mental ill-health, whether that be in the form of a diagnosis or not. It’s actually happened today where I can see quite clearly that a young person in my class was struggling with physical symptoms of mental ill-health. I wanted to not only have the knowledge myself to meet their needs but also empower them and their peers along with the right toolkit to help themselves.
I’ve always been quite front and centre with PHSE topics such as sexual health with my students because of the age bracket I work with. Students can forget you are there and hearing their conversations sometimes so I am privy to a lot of information and will chime in when appropriate to offer guidance, it’s interesting that on the subject of sexual health you get some kind of reaction back whether that be one of horror (!) or please tell me more. Whereas with conversations around mental health, which for me I feel is part of my core specialty, it felt like I was speaking into a void sometimes. There is a general underlying awareness but actually when you talk more than surface level there is fear and unknown.
I think fundamentally there is vocabulary and mental health literacy missing.
“The course will develop skills outside of their academic curriculum and these will enhance their preparation for life in and beyond college. The popularity of the Fundamental Wellbeing First Aid course this term also reflects how students want to support each other. The course was chosen by 38 students, so it was oversubscribed by over three times the number we could accommodate”.
– Sujata Smith, Assistant Principal, KE6
What do you see the benefits being for the students and what is the impact of the training?
It’s really hard to manage a classroom when a student is struggling, for example, if they feel overwhelmed and need to leave I would love to spend time with them, support them and listen to what’s going on for them but I have 23 other students in the room who also need me and rightly deserve my time.
We know poor mental health is prevalent amongst young people and rising. I see this in front of me, I see some of my family and friends less than I do the students I teach all academic year. So you really connect with some of them. I can’t help but think I could do more to help them achieve their potential. My teaching is about coaching people to their potential. If one person thanks me or tells me what they’ve learned in the year it is so worth it. The mental health crises are increasing in frequency and diversity so we need to acknowledge this and face it. In 2014 I can’t really remember many of my students having anxiety, in 2022 it is so much more prevalent and impacts the movement of a lesson, planning of a lesson, meeting specific needs, and so on.
My biggest hope in delivering the Fundamental Wellbeing First Aid course is that it rolls out across everyone and staff so that when that student needs to leave the space they can find someone who can be in a space of empathy who has some form of a toolkit who can at least listen and offer appropriate help.
Having been through the Fundamental Wellbeing Instructor training, what do you think this particular course brings to the market?
There is lots more out there these days in terms of mental health support, from great charities, websites and apps so the topic is quite rightly more at the forefront but what this can do is lend the assumption of knowledge.
I get frustrated with assumed learning, just because when I was turning 18 I had experiences that allowed me to have empathic skills doesn’t mean anyone in my classroom does.
I liken it to one of the subjects I teach, attachment theory, where the earliest experiences of a child frame the adult. In my personal life of adopting children who were older, and didn’t have that youngest experience I sometimes find myself then doing the things I am teaching! Just because you know it, does not mean you then always have the confidence to put it into practice. The assumption that because I have some knowledge and reading about a topic doesn’t give me the practical application and toolkit. This course looks at not only the education but how to apply it in real life alongside the psychology of what might be going on for that person.
I believe in the course, I believe there is such a void in mental health literacy. We all know it, we know when something isn’t right but we don’t have the confidence or words to do something about it.
How do you connect with your students?
My specialism lends me into many conversations which has served me in various job roles in my life but it was becoming more prevalent that as time goes on and the age gap widens between myself and the students I was realising their life experience is wildly different to mine at their age and you can find yourself unable to reach them and connect on a shared experience level, bearing in mind when I first started teaching I was around 22 so it was a far closer gap and I felt that connection much more often.
By giving them the vocabulary and shared education it helps to provide a connection and understanding from teacher/staff to student which is what the Fundamental Wellbeing First Aid course so brilliantly does.
You are currently at the beginning of the Fundamental Wellbeing First Aid roll-out, what are your hopes the training will bring to the students? What would this look like to you as a success?
I would love to see one of those students in action one day, I would love to walk past them in the corridor and overhear them saying to another student ‘i noticed you haven’t been around recently, is everything ok?’ To hear those instinctual conversations going on. That’s my big hope.
What advice would you offer other education providers who are thinking about implementing mental health training?
I would want leaders to imagine a place of work where every member of your staff feels able to help with something that they will face in any given academic year. The impact this is going to have on your staff first and foremost to have the confidence, the toolkit, the literacy to have conversations about mental health and wellbeing and how that naturally filters down to the students in terms of role modelling and a safe space.
I see it like you have someone screaming at you but you just don’t notice it, then you are given the training and suddenly you hear them because you have been upskilled and your literacy is now there to be able to interact with them.
Taking a moment to imagine what that would be like, this is what this course can do! It’s grabbing your leaders and saying your staff don’t know how to mange this effectively- so many things you have to deal with day to day you can be tooled up with. You don’t expect students to go into exams without being taught how to do them, so why expect staff to interact with people in ways they are not trained on how to.
If you could pick 1 teaching from the course that you particularly enjoy what would it be?
I love the cognitive cycle, particularly how the resources are put together – you can see the students actively making sense of it and feeling like they really get it and can apply it to their own lives easily.
Have you had any feedback so far from the students?
We are quite early on in the delivery but so far I’ve loved seeing their reactions to when something really clicks, it’s body language and cues and turning to talk to their friend excitedly about examples that give me the sense it is really embedding. Seeing the spark in conversations is so encouraging!
3 words to sum up the course, go!
Confidence / Practical / Literacy
Any last thoughts?
By working with teenagers you should have that hope that they will go on as the next generation to be impactful and bring about change. So let’s help them be the most impactful they can be. Let’s send across that generation a standardised literacy about the crises that are happening so they can keep pushing that agenda. When you think about big social changes like LGBTQ+ for example, where it was and where it is today. It takes a really long time but it has to start, so let’s get that ball rolling!
A huge thank you to Adam for sharing your thoughts today with us!
There are a number of resources you can access on Stem4, organiser of Youth Mental Health Day here! These include information and resource packs for schools, young people, adults and workplaces.