Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Students and Staff through Professional Development

San Diego Unified School District, California

San Diego Unified School District, with support from CDC, leveraged district and community partnerships to provide a series of online trainings and discussions for staff to support their mental health. Trainings also increased staff’s ability to support students’ mental health and improve school connectedness.

San Diego Unified School District provided several online programs during the 2020-2021 school year to help address the mental health needs of staff and students. Close to 1,000 staff participated in online professional development and capacity building sessions, workshops, book clubs, and discussion groups designed to support their own mental health and build skills to better support students’ mental health.

Focused African American teacher reading on her laptop while holding a notebook

To ensure that staff and students’ needs were met, the programs were developed with the help of community-based and non-governmental organizations and offices within San Diego Unified School District that specialize in mental health and youth support and who have long-standing partnerships with the school district. Sessions covered topics such as motivational interviewing, youth mental health first aid, racial healing, and supporting LGBTQ youth.

Staff expressed appreciation for San Diego Unified School District’s intentional and inclusive approach to building staff capacity. Specifically, staff appreciated that they were compensated for sessions completed after work hours; sessions were open to all personnel school-wide, including both teaching and non-teaching staff; and they were able to purchase materials and resources to bring their learnings back to students. Feedback from participants demonstrates the success of these online programs in building a sense of school connectedness, providing staff with space and tools needed to create safe classroom environments, and supporting the mental health of students and staff throughout the district.

“I think one benefit of this Racial Healing Handbook discussion group is providing a space and community for likeminded people to do the work of reflection on their own biases and the application to the classroom. I also think it has a mental health benefit for staff because it provides that connection opportunity, and an opportunity to share in a brave space. And when we see other people doing this work, it encourages us to continue it and to take it further!”

District Principal

“When teachers do the work of unpacking their own biases and reflecting on their own practices, they take that back to their students. It may materialize in lesson plans, or safe classroom environments, or student interactions. It’s especially encouraging to see administrators in the meetings because we know that means they will hopefully bring that back to their staff, even if implicitly in the lens through which they lead.”

District Teacher