This episode of Conversations About Student Mental Health explores the mindset shift that is necessary to create a culture and climate of mental health and wellness in your school. Making this shift is one of three critical facets of maximizing the mental health and wellness of students.
Chris Leonard talks with Dr. Ricki Gibbs, Principal of Warner Arts Magnet Elementary in Nashville, who has assumed stewardship of the climate and culture of mental wellness in his school and is seeing meaningful results. Under Dr. Gibbs’ leadership, Warner transformed from one of the lowest performing schools in the Metro Nashville Public Schools to being the first and only Metro Nashville Public School to be recognized as a Blue Ribbon Beacon School in 2021.
- Why schools must support students’ emotional wellbeing along with academics
- The three facets of maximizing mental wellness, and why proactive school leaders need to shift the focus to improve climate and culture
- How trauma-informed practices, including mindfulness, movement, and breathing, can help students develop self-regulating strategies
- How to avoid power struggles and fear tactics that harm everyone
- Giving school staff the tools and training they need for classroom management also helps to build morale and retain staff
Excerpt from this episode:
Welcome to Conversations About Student Mental Health. In this podcast, I talk with school administrators, educators, clinicians, and parents, to open a dialogue that will help the growing number of students struggling with mental illness.
My name is Chris Leonard and I am the Chief Learning Officer of the Thrive Alliance Group. Thrive provides mental health training, coaching, and certification to help our participants become Certified School Mental-Wellness Specialists. When everyone at your school is better equipped to identify student mental health issues and intervene effectively it helps improve your climate and culture of mental wellness.
So why culture and climate? You may ask, “if I’m already facilitating access to acute care and already providing embedded mental health support, why do I need to work on my school’s culture and climate?”
As someone who has worked in both urban and suburban public schools and has owned and operated therapeutic private schools, I have seen the positive impacts when school leaders see themselves as stewards of culture and climate and the negative impacts when school leaders do not prioritize culture and climate. This was true when I started teaching in the 1980s, and it is even more true now than it was then.
Prior to the pandemic, our country was already showing clear signs of a mental health crisis. By 2019 we knew that 1 in 6 U.S. children aged 6-17 had a diagnosable mental health condition. Furthermore, the CDC has estimated that 1 in 8 American children has been mistreated. And we know that such Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACES have lifelong negative impacts on not only mental, but physical, financial, and relational health. This is evidenced in the number of US adults exhibiting mental health difficulties. According to the CDC, the number of US adults taking antidepressants increased from 13 million in the year 2000 to 35 million by 2014.
We have highlighted the collective trauma wrought by COVID-19 during previous episodes. It is not just students but the adults in school communities who are struggling and need support. In order to recover, people who have experienced trauma need signals of safety and attunement in their environments. There is no more important place to provide these safety signals than school.
My guest today has assumed stewardship of the climate and culture of mental wellness in his school and is seeing meaningful results. The American political activist Angela Davis said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept.” This quote has been the driving force behind Dr. Ricki Gibbs’ passion to change lives through the power of a great education.
Dr. Gibbs earned his B.S. in Elementary Education and M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision from Tennessee State University. He then went on to earn a Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Leadership and Strategic Change from Lipscomb University. He started his career teaching third grade at Paragon Mills Elementary in Nashville, TN for four years. He served as an assistant principal and principal in the Metro Nashville Public Schools and currently has the honor of leading the transformation work as Principal of Warner Arts Magnet Elementary. In 2020, Dr. Gibbs was named Elementary Principal of the Year for the Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Dr. Gibbs’ work was featured in season 2 of The Promise, a podcast produced by Nashville Public Radio that received the Peabody Award for most compelling and empowering stories released in broadcasting and streaming media in 2020. Under Dr. Gibbs’ leadership, Warner transformed from one of the lowest performing schools in the Metro Nashville Public Schools to being the first and only Metro Nashville Public School to be recognized as a Blue Ribbon Beacon School in 2021.
Dr. Gibbs attributes much of the schools’ success to their adoption of trauma-informed practices for classroom management with their non-profit partner, BeWell. At Warner, teachers utilize mindfulness, movement, and breathing to help students develop emotional self-regulation strategies. Dr. Gibbs’ passion for student-centered discipline is personal: as a child growing up in an inner-city Miami community similar to the East Nashville community where most Warner students live, Gibbs struggled with anger management and was often suspended from school for fighting. He credits mentors and educators for making the difference in his life, and seeks to “pay it forward” for the students he serves at Warner.
Click on the recording above to listen to the rest of the conversation.
Conversations About Student Mental Health is brought to you by Thrive Alliance Group, partners in school-based mental wellness.