If you are working in a high performing school, you probably know all too well that you have a lot of stressed out students. Still, you might be startled by new research that classifies students in high performing schools as having the same level of risk for serious mental health problems as students living in poverty, foster care or who have an incarcerated parent.

There’s no magic bullet for addressing the complex set of societal issues that has gotten us to this point. Programs for social-emotional learning (SEL) and suicide prevention can help. Structured programming will take time and fidelity. Clearly, there’s no time to lose.

Here’s a potential “quick win” that could make a big difference for stressed out students, whether they are top performers or struggling learners. It will work in all schools. And it’s not particularly hard to do.

Teach Students to “Know When They Know It

The above graph demonstrates the results of a well known study suggesting that most students, whether they are high or low performers, are terrible at estimating their capabilities. Poor self-awareness undoubtedly can create enormous levels of stress. Just consider.

Top students study longer than they need to. No doubt, some of that studying is interfering with a good night’s sleep. They still get their A, but at what cost? And since their over-studying is producing results, they’re afraid to do less. A cycle of too much stress and too little sleep is a known cause of anxiety and depression.

On the other end of the performance curve are students who aren’t doing well. Unfortunately they often don’t understand why. They take a test thinking they got a good score, and don’t come close. While it might be clear to adults that they didn’t study enough, it’s not obvious to them. Rather than studying longer or smarter, they often stick with their past habits and continue to under-perform, a likely cause of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.

The Approach

Break the cycle by explicitly teaching students how to prepare. Emphasize learning to recognize when they know what they need and when they should continue studying. Follow these steps:

  1. Encourage students to adopt the most important study habits leading up to the test, including re-reading and re-writing class notes and spacing out their studying.
  2. Provide students with practice tests or problem sets. Remind them they must practice remembering and applying the information, not just reading it, just as they will need to do on the test.
  3. Provide a written, preparation checklist that includes self-checking for understanding. You can print this free student checklist that will work for most classes.
  4. Return your students’ results as quickly as possible. Then give time for reflection while their recollections are still clear. Did they get the grade they expected? If not, why not? Should they have studied longer? Differently? Could they have studied less and still gotten the same grade?

Self-awareness is not a panacea for all of our students’ stress. But it is undoubtedly a key lever.

If you’d like to learn how to use Mindprint to help stressed out students  Contact us about one-to-one support or whole class self-awareness skills.