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MN Teacher Conference Focuses On Mental Illness, Behavior Issues

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Many students are starting a long weekend tonight. That's because most schools are closed Thursday and Friday for an annual statewide teachers' conference.

On Wednesday, we found exhibitors setting up booths at RiverCentre in St. Paul.

Education Minnesota's professional conference attracts as many as 10,000 educators every year.

Dr. Brenda Cassellius, state commissioner of education, is speaking to the group Thursday morning.

"Sometimes, getting out of your comfort zone and getting out of your school and seeing how it is working in another school or hearing or talking with another teacher, getting another perspective, opens up new ideas. I think that is a real benefit of having these statewide conversations," Cassellius said.

This year, the emotional health of children is getting as much attention as academics. Two of the topics teachers will be learning about: mental health issues and behavioral problems.

"Increasingly, as children experience crisis in their families, or they have social or emotional issues, just from adolescence, then it's really important that we address those in the classroom. It you can't think straight, it's really hard to learn," Cassellius said.

Both Thursday and Friday, teachers will hear from speakers who are experts in mental health and behavioral issues, as well as relationships.

"So, we want to make sure we have good nurses, psychologists, mental health services. This past legislative session we doubled our mental health grants to schools because we just know this is a really important topic that is hitting our students," she said.

The grants will pay for counselors or can be used to train school staff.

"We all haven't had those life experiences to be able to understand or know how to work with students with mental health issues or significant issues, so we want to make sure they know what to do if these issues present themselves in the classroom," she said.

Cassellius said millions of dollars are set aside for mental health grants that schools can apply for through the Department of Human Services.

Other topics at the conference include ways to narrow the achievement gap, ways to help students when they are doing research online and ways to improve school safety.

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