Helping teachers address mental health in their classrooms

- September 20, 2017

Inside the classroom. (Creative Commons image)
Inside the classroom. (Creative Commons image)

There are growing demands on teachers to meet the needs of students with mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders in their classrooms. However, most teachers report that they do not have adequate training for this.

Teacher Help, developed at Dalhousie, is a potential solution. It’s an eHealth professional development program that assists classroom teachers in providing evidence-based interventions to students in grades 1 to 12 with mental health disorders in the typical classroom setting.

The program is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) eHealth Innovation Partnership Program (eHIPP), along with the industry partner, Velsoft Training Materials, a private e-Learning company based in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

Working with teachers and school boards

The vision for this program came from over 10 years of previous research led by Dr. Penny Corkum, a professor in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, and in Psychiatry. With a background in school and clinical psychology as well as working with teachers and kids for a long time, Dr. Corkum wanted to help teachers to meet the needs of these students in their classrooms.

“We worked with one school board here in Nova Scotia to figure out how to best help teachers help children with autism,” says Dr. Corkum (left). “What we found was that teachers wanted information at the time it was needed, and they wanted the experts to vet the information so they know it is evidence-based. That’s the idea behind eHealth: rather than waiting until a professional development day, they can access evidence-based information when its needed.”

Focusing on neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning Disabilities (LD), and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), this program has the potential to directly benefit Canadian children and youth.

Teacher Help will promote positive belief systems toward students with NDDs by increasing teachers’ mental health literacy and knowledge about NDDs. By supporting teachers in developing and implementing evidence-based interventions in the classroom, the goal is to increase students’ social-emotional, learning, and behavioural success throughout the school system.

Putting power in teachers’ hands

With the support of Dalhousie Industry Liaison & Innovation, this novel approach was first explored using Springboard Atlantic proof of concept funding, and in March of 2016, this Nova Scotia-based eHealth professional development program was ranked first in Canada and was the only successful application from Nova Scotia in the CIHR eHIPP competition. Teacher Help received $300,000 in funding from CIHR, which was industry matched by Velsoft Training Materials for a total project value of $600,000.

Developing the Teacher Help program was a truly collaborative effort, one that included health researchers and members of the education community. The current eHIPP project’s Research and Development team is led by Dr. Corkum and consists of Isabel Smith, PhD from Dalhousie; Nezihe Elik, PhD and Terry Bennett, MD from McMaster University; Melissa McGonnell, PhD from MSVU; and Project Manager Sarah Brine, MASP. The knowledge-user partner for this grant is Annie Baert from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. The team also includes a fantastic group of stakeholders, partners, and collaborators from a range of disciplines and institutions across Canada.

“To be involved with Teacher Help in a nutshell is pretty amazing,” said Project Manager Brine. “Dr. Corkum is involved with such progressive and important research, and it’s really fantastic to be a part of research that is directly applicable and offers a solution to the many barriers educators, youth and families face.”

Bringing the product to market

A Canada-wide randomized controlled trial (RCT) is set to launch this fall testing the effectiveness of the Teacher Help program in Canadian school systems. The hope is that the final tested program will on the market by the 2019/2020 school year with the help of Velsoft Training Materials Inc.

For nearly 20 years, Jim Fitt, CEO of Velsoft Training Materials, has powered 11,000 online learning programs to organizations in 164 countries worldwide. A combination of experience, expertise, and dedication to improving mental health care is driving this particular project to completion.

“The work Dr. Corkum and her team have been accomplishing is world-class, with significant potential to change the classroom dynamic. I feel incredibly proud to have Velsoft involved in Teacher Help”, says Fitt. “Learning is a part of life we all experience, but each individual learns differently. We now have the opportunity to support the learning process and provide teachers with the resources, skills and tools needed to identify and address the developmental needs of students.”

For more information on collaborative opportunities, contact the Dalhousie Industry Liaison and Innovation Office and to follow the success of the Teacher Help program check out


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