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The Schools We Need Now

The Schools We Need Now
A Guide to Designing a Mentally Healthy School

Foreword by David Adams

August 2024 | 216 pages | Corwin

Place mental health at the heart of schooling

Our students have always needed our support, but recent events have brought to the forefront the challenges K-12 schools face in supporting their mental health. Now is the time to transform schools into safe and healthy places that enable students not only to learn but also thrive.

Based on decades of research and proven examples from education professionals and the authors—who are experts in school leadership and social workThe Schools We Need Now highlights the importance of placing mental health at the heart of schooling and shares a vision for schools that prioritizes student well-being. Inside you’ll discover:

  • Practical ways to improve school climate and mitigate the effects of students’ stress, trauma, depression, and anxiety
  • Preventive activities, school transition and crisis response plans, and community collaboration strategies
  • How to create a comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan that is grounded your school’s culture and climate
  • Examples of schools, classrooms, and organizations that are on the leading edge of creating the schools we need now

For every educator who wants to ensure a healthy and equitable school environment for all students, The Schools We Need Now shows you how to create a safe place that protects and supports their academic, social, emotional, and physical growth.

Chapter 1: The Need for Mentally Healthy Schools
Why is Mental Health important in schools?

Creating a Mental Health Action Plan

Overview of the Book and your Plan

A Call to Action

Creating Your Mental Health Action Plan: A Template

Chapter 2: Mental Health and Mental Models
Mental Model: A Developmental Model for the Whole Child

Mental Model: A Whole-School Systems Thinking Approach

Mental Model: A Culture of Caring

Mental Model: A Continuum of Care

Mental Model: Thinking Differently about Mental Health

Mental Model: A Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Approach to Mental Health

Conclusion: Mental Models as the Foundation of your Action Plan

Chapter 3: Tier 1 Mental Health: Universal Supports for All
Tier 1: What do we mean by “universal”?

Tier 1 as Prevention and Early Intervention

Universal Challenges to Everyone

Safety First: “Maslow before you Bloom”

Stigma and stereotypes

Disconnection from Relationships and Community

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Tier 1 Interventions

Social and Emotional Learning

Physical Learning and Wellness

Academic and Cognitive Learning

Chapter 4: Tier 2 Issues and interventions for students, teachers, and parents…and schools!
Tier 1 and Tier 2 Screeners: Building an Early Detection System

Internalized behaviors: Stress, Anxiety, and Trauma

Impact of Stress

School Refusal

The Window of Tolerance

Related Tier 2 Issues: Loneliness, Isolation, Grief, and Loss

Tier II Interventions and Strategies

Knowing the Signs of Distress

Mindfulness in Schools

Student Behavior and Discipline: A Shift to Restorative Practices

Peer helping, Mediation, Mentoring, and Tutoring

Anti-Bullying Programs

Parent/Family education, programs, and engagement

Chapter 5: Tier 3: Supporting Students and Staff with the Greatest Needs
Defining Tier 3 and how it connects to Tier 1 and 2

Defining Mental Illness


Anxiety and Depression

Substance Use

Disordered Eating

Focus on Self-Harm

Suicidal Ideation

Suicide Intervention

Focus on Disruptive Behavior Disorders

Childhood trauma

Equity and Mental Illness

Focus on Neurodiversity

Tier 3 Prevention and Intervention

School Staff Expertise and Training

Parent and Family Support

Community organizations and resources

Crisis Response

Chapter 6: Integrating the Mental Health Action Plan in Your School
Begin with Belonging

Rethinking the Organization of a School

Rethinking the Physical Building

Rethinking Technology and Mental Health

Rethinking Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Rethinking Teachers and Instruction

Rethinking Assessment

Rethinking Transitions

Rethinking After School Activities

Rethinking School Context and Community Assets

Implementing a Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan

A School that is Changing the Game: Wolcott College Prep


Appendix A: Mental Health Action Plan Template

"The Schools We Need Now resonates deeply with the challenges and responsibilities we face in nurturing students in today's schools. This insightful guide offers a crucial perspective, emphasizing the paramount importance of addressing social and emotional concepts during this pivotal stage of students' cognitive development. It serves as an invaluable tool for administrators, providing practical strategies to guide our school communities toward creating environments that prioritize mental health. As a founding principal of a middle school that opened in July 2022, I highly encourage others to utilize this must-read roadmap for fostering positive, supportive spaces where young minds flourish and thrive.

Anne Marie Adkins
Principal, Herbert Akins Road Middle School, NC

"Each day, headlines about devastating mental health issues in schools for students and staff grab our attention. The impact is far-reaching. Better mental health strategies and supports make a lifetime of difference for everyonesometimes a life and death difference. Drs. Tim Dohrer and Tom Golebiewski have lived and studied all aspects of mental health in the school setting. They are experienced in real schoolhouse issues, have researched best practices, and have led powerful, meaningful, and practical professional development for many years. The key elements that differentiate these authors are their authentic experiences, leadership, and passion for strengthening mental health in our schools."

Maureen Cheever
Senior Professional Learning Director, Illinois Principals Association and former school principal

"This book is a paradigm-shifting way to truly understand how to implement the Mental Health Action Plan in K-12 schools. The comprehensive step-by-step approach addresses the development model for the whole child that is so critical to designing mentally healthier schools in this country. It’s a road map to transformational change!”

Sabrina P. Gracias
Founder, Ortus Foundation

"This book ensures that educators have systems and practices in place to support the mental health needs of students. It is a gold mine, packed with reflective questions for school teams to discuss while developing or revising their school plans. It provides many examples of student cases, recent data, and strategies that can be implemented immediately."

Jessica Johnson
District Administrator, Dodgeland School District, WI

"One of the biggest challenges school leaders face is the mental health crisis we’re dealing with in schools around the world. Facing such a huge challenge, we can feel overwhelmed by all we need to do. This book gives people exactly what they need, so they can meet the crisis head on and come up with positive, powerful solutions."

Jim Knight
Founder and Senior Partner of the Instructional Coaching Group, Author of "High-Impact Instruction"

"This is the right book at the right time. Schools are struggling to support students and families who are in crisis and those who are just trying to manage the demands that have led to increased stress and depression, social media addiction, and increased loneliness and isolation. We have to do more and better for our students, and this book provides very helpful templates and suggestions that are actionable immediately."  

Marianne L. Lescher
K-8 School Principal, Kyrene School District, AZ

"The Schools We Need Now offers a practical and holistic approach to fostering mental well-being in schools. The authors have masterfully distilled the complex and ever-evolving landscape of mental health support within an educational context into a clear, actionable, and accessible roadmap. This book serves as a quick and comprehensive guide that is both informative and user-friendly, making it an invaluable asset for educators, administrators, and support staff alike."

Debra Paradowski
Associate Principal, Arrowhead Union High School, WI

"While navigating the adolescent years involves some universal developmental experiences for all individuals, we know that each student brings their own experiences, identities, strengths, and challenges to these transformative years. The same can be said for their families, educators, and communities. While we learn from the past and current best practices, we also have an obligation to understand how we can create the schools of the future; those that are designed to be dynamic learning communities of possibilities, joy, and unlimited growth for all. The Schools We Need Now by Tim Dohrer and Tom Golebiewski is an inclusive and collaborative guide that all community stakeholder groups can use to actively engage in the creation of a mentally healthy school and to use proactive design strategies and a practical roadmap to develop a school where every student, regardless of background or learning style, can thrive."

Miriam Pike
Head of School, Wolcott College Prep High School, Chicago, IL

"In The Schools We Need Now, Timothy Dohrer and Thomas Golebiewski brilliantly blend their extensive expertise in education and mental health to advocate for a transformative perspective on school environments. Their approach, deeply rooted in both classic educational philosophies and contemporary scholarship, emphasizes mental health as an integral, rather than peripheral, component of educational systems. The authors' commitment to this vision is evident through their engaging narrative, offering readers practical, reflective exercises that seamlessly blend mental wellness with educational content. As a clinical social worker, scholar, and youth suicide prevention expert, I find their reframing of schools through a mental health lens both compelling and necessary, offering a fresh, inclusive viewpoint that will resonate with educators of varied experiences and backgrounds. This concise, insightful book not only challenges the status quo, but also equips its readers with the understanding and tools to envision and cultivate schools where mental health is at the heart of education."

Jonathan B. Singer, PhD, LCSW
Professor, Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work, Coauthor of "Suicide in Schools: A Practitioner's Guide to Multilevel Prevention, Assessment, Intervention and Postvention"

"In their informative and instructive book, Tim Dohrer and Tom Golebiewski have accurately identified the mental health crisis that all schools are experiencing in the post-pandemic era. This current reality necessitates establishing a supportive, inclusive, and equitable school community for students, their families, and their teachers.  

The Schools We Need Now calls us to rethink the purpose of schooling and learning. We must attend to students’ social and psychological well-being along with their academic progress. We must prioritize child, adolescent, and adult development and adopt pedagogy that addresses the whole child and culturally responsive teaching. We must understand social and emotional learning domains that create a school culture of care, belonging, and wellness and we must embrace assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning. We must include family mental health education programs and services. Finally, we must create conditions, systems, and structures that maximize support, prevention, intervention, and trauma-informed teaching practices. The Schools We Need Now provides a blueprint to create a multi-tiered school-based mental health action plan that considers childhood trauma, stress, anxiety, grief, loss, transitions, and self-harm."

Richard Streedain
Leadership Coach for Common Foundation

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ISBN: 9781071923948