Teachers striving to build healthy learning environments

Stressing humor, support and open-mindedness, math teacher Joshua Wilkinson and family and consumer science teacher Kaitlynn Botkin teachers have striven to create environments where students can feel comfortable and safe. 

Botkin has a more visual approach to her classroom. “I use posters, a diffuser, lights, anything to make it feel not like a prison. I also take the time to get to know my students and their interests, I think that helps create a more comfortable environment.”

Wilkinson has a very similar approach, such as “trying to get students’ names, interests. If there’s little side conversations besides just work content, that can help to get to know them.”

When it comes to students’ mental health, both Wikinson and Botkin say teachers can become a big factor in assisting positive outcomes. “Power Hour is a big time where we talk about mental health and where students can reach services they need, but a big part is getting to understand what the student is dealing with and when their plate gets too full,” Wilkinson said.

Botkin expresses her support by normalizing open conversations and said even adults get overwhelmed and need support. “I like to be completely open with my students about where I’m at. It breaks a barrier between students and adults. Students also know they can come to me for advice or support whenever.”

Botkin said, “I don’t necessarily think mental health is a Cedar Falls issue. I think it could be handled better all over the world. People don’t do a good job at talking about it or de-stigmatizing mental health problems, and I think that’s the problem.”

On the other hand, Wilkinson said teachers trying to help all their students, all while also supporting the current programs carry a heavy load. “It’s almost like you have to know every single student and what they need to be able to help, which can be really hard. What we (teachers) try to do is make sure every student has an adult they are comfortable with. This way, there’s at least one teacher who can offer a student individual aid.”

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