In this piece of literature, I will examine how a teacher’s understanding of adolescent psychology can support an effective classroom learning environment and overall student well-being. I will discuss the psychology of adolescents through their struggle to form an identity and their overall mental health struggles. These areas can lead to difficulties for both students and teachers within a learning environment and teachers play a vital role in recognising and supporting students in overcoming these issues. Through recognition and promotion of mental well-being the teacher can form an effective learning environment and improve the overall student well-being. Creating a whole school ethos which promotes and builds strengths among students is extremely important however it is also important to note that every teacher must play their part in this and can make different in their everyday actions within the classroom. As a new teacher entering the Irish post-primary education system the promotion of positive well-being within my classroom and school speaks to the values, beliefs and commitments which are at the core of my teacher identity. Amelia Earhart who is celebrated as the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean states that “a single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees” (Figure 1). Every action no matter how small with intent to promote positive well-being by an individual teacher leads to the creation of a whole school ethos which promotes overall student well-being and an effective learning environment.
One aspect of psychology which must be examined in order to understand the development of adolescents is that of identity formation. Identity refers to ‘the extent to which an individual knows who they are in the world’ (Smith, M.L., Mann, M.J. and Kristiansson, A.L., 2020). Throughout adolescence, individuals are forming their sense of identity as their attachment to their parents weakens and their link to their peers grows stronger. This can in turn lead to a new sense of worry and anxiety in terms of how they are viewed by their peers and whether they are accepted for who they are. Positive identity formation can lead to a number of beneficial outcomes such as a sense of responsibility for oneself, control during decision making, being able to overcome challenges, and positive psychological well-being (Côté, J, 2000). Conversely, a negative identity formation or an underdevelopment of identity results in individuals being unprepared for the future or can result negatively on their academic results or behaviour in school. Erikson’s (1968) theory of psychological development includes identity formation as one of the eight psychological stages that occur during an individual’s life. Erikson believes that the identity of an individual is formed during their childhood experiences and that in adolescence their identity is re-organised. Teachers and schools play a significant role in the re-organisation of an adolescent’s identity (Erikson, 1968). Teachers are naturally role models for young people within this environment and ‘to a large extent the type of people in the school context frames and shapes the experiences that serve as material for adolescents’’ identity exploration and formation’ (Sinai et al., 2012, p. 196). Addressing student well-being in school must begin with teachers helping students to feel as though they are each valued and known as individuals in his/her own right, and that school life has a meaning and purpose for them. Teachers providing the sufficient academic support necessary for students to overcome challenges successfully has been shown to positively aid identity formation. Markus & Nurius (1986) demonstrated the negative side of this relationship by showing that positive identity development suffers when academic support is lacking.
Another aspect of adolescent psychology is the umbrella of mental health which refers to one’s psychological and emotional state. Most major mental health disorders emerge during adolescence. According to the HSE (2006) ‘concepts of mental health include the ideas of subjective well-being, personal autonomy and the ability to realise one’s potential in life’. Two of the most common mental health issues among adolescents are depression and anxiety and if they are left untreated can lead to negative impacts on their performance, attendance and behaviour in school. Addressing these issues with early and appropriate help makes a huge difference to the lives of young people. Schools and teachers play an important role in supporting students with such mental health problems. The teachers must recognise these issues and take appropriate actions and teachers must also promote mental well-being for all students. Mental health promotion and preventions programmes within the Irish education system such as ‘Planning for Junior Cycle Wellbeing Programmes 2020-21’ by NCCA have significant benefits for adolescents. The earlier this intervention and treatment is provided the better the long-term outcome for the students. One Irish guide which was created for teachers is ‘Mental Health in Children and Adolescents’, each chapter looks at a different mental illness and highlights real life scenarios and ways in which teachers can use these to better their understanding and recognition of them. The aim of this guide is to provide teachers with strategies to encourage positive behaviour and to identify individuals with behaviour difficulties secondary to mental health. This will in turn lead to teachers creating a more effective classroom learning environment for all and will improve student well being significantly.
The above critical discussion of a teachers understanding of adolescent psychology and its use in creating an effective classroom environment and contributing to overall student well-being has given me a greater insight into my roles and responsibilities as a teacher. Teachers are the best placed professional to work with students consistently and sensitively and as a result they can have a powerful impact in all aspects of student well-being (Educate.ie, 2018). Having examine the area of identity formation there are clear benefits linked to the positive development of identity in the classroom. Student mental health is as an area which must be addressed within the classroom and with early intervention and appropriate action as a result of teacher’s knowledge of mental health issue the teacher will create a more effective learning environment and will significantly improve student well-being.
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Côté, J. E. (2000). Arrested adulthood: The changing nature of maturity and identity. New York: University of Press.
Erikson, E. H. (1968) Identity, youth and crisis. Norton.
Ireland. Department of Health and Children, Health Service Executive (2006) A Vision For Change. [Online] Available at:
https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/publications/mentalhealth/mental-health—a-vision-for-change.pdf (Accessed 7 February 2021)
Ireland. Department of Education and Skills (2018) Best practice guidance for post primary schools in the use of programmes and/or external facilitators in promoting wellbeing consistent with the Department of Education and Skills’ Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice. [Online] Available at: https://www.education.ie/en/Circulars-and-Forms/Active-Circulars/cl0043_2018.pdf (Accessed 7 February 2021)
Markus, H. R., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41, pp.954–969.
Sinai, M., Kaplan, A., & Flum, H. (2012). Promoting identity exploration within the school curriculum: A design-based study in a Junior High literature lesson in Israel. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 37, pp.195–205.
Smith, M. L., Mann, M. J. and Kristjansson, A. L. (2020) ‘School Climate, Developmental Support, and Adolescent Identity Formation’, Journal of Behavioral & Social Sciences, 7(3), pp. 255–268. [Online] Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=a9h&AN=148462773&site=eds-live (Accessed: 7 February 2021).