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Responding effectively to students learning needs in the classroom

As a teacher there will be many different learning needs within each classroom
and your role is to lead, orchestrate, direct, facilitate and support the learning
development of each student; however pursuing this goal will be affected by the
influence of the characteristics of students within your class and what they carry
with them from their own lifes cultural context (McGee, 2012). When we think
about learning needs of students we could create a long list of what might be
presented in classrooms and ways we can deal with these; but from my
experience as a school counsellor there is a learning need that is not being
talked about very much in school settings and yet we are seeing an increased
rates of it within students of all ages. The need I am talking about are mental
health issues. Such as depression and more commonly anxiety. Research on
anxiety has indicated that the prevalence rates for any anxiety disorder in
children and adolescents range from 2.4% to 17%... Furthermore anxiety
symptoms in middle adolescence have been shown to predict an increased risk
for adult anxiety symptoms (Duchesne, Vitaro, Larose & Tremblay, 2007, p.
1135).
So why then is this becoming such an issue; first and foremost we need to
understand that in the adolescence years is a stage of a persons life between
childhood to adulthood that goes through major development from dependency
to independence, from autonomy to maturity and moving away from a family
group towards being a part of a peer group to then making choices on their own
as an adult. In this time adolescence will present many challenges as they face
biological, cognitive, psychological, social and moral/spiritual changes. It is when
these challenges and changes are impacted with other stressful influences; we
begin to see unhelpful emotional, psychological and behavioural consequences
(Geldard & Geldard, 2005). In the meantime an adolescent brain is undergoing
some major growth and pruning, when stressful situations are faced the cortex of
the brain begins to shut down effecting their ability to deal well emotionally and
psychologically (Bailey, 2015). There are many influencing factors that will cause
stressful situations of the adolescences we teach; from the increasing pressures
in schools to meet achievement standards (Von Der Embse & Hasson, 2012). The
expectations their families have relating to their schooling, choices of subjects
and career pathways, also the pressure to live up to the socio-economic status
and/or cultural society the family lives within (Jepson, Walsh & Turner, 2009). The
environmental and behavioural influences that is modelled and/or reinforced
within the family and social context (Stallard, 2009). The influence of peer
pressure and standards peers place on appearance and social grouping. As well
as any past and/or present unhelpful behaviour in the young persons society
/context such as any form of bullying, violence and abuse (Geldard & Geldard,
2005).
As teachers we need to become aware of the pressures and demands that have
already been placed on our students and be a little more understanding of what
demands we plan to place on them. Each student develops at different speeds
depending on their psychosocial development and context if we can differentiate

those that are struggling and personalise their learning, give them responsibility
that are achievable to help give them a belief in their own ability that will
increase self-confidence for them to try something new (Jepson, Walsh & Turner,
2009). I also believe that there is power in knowledge; our New Zealand
curriculum gives us the scope to explore issues and themes that are relevant to
our schools needs (McGee, 2012). Therefore if increasing number of students
are experiencing anxiety maybe it is our job as teachers to teach openly about
managing stress and anxiety and what to do when it becomes too much as well
as creating a safe and calm classroom environment.