Addressing Student Anxiety Through In-School and Local Programming

Area(s) of Focus: well being
Level(s): Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5, Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8

Building our professional knowledge about anxiety disorders at the school age child level to develop and implement a school-based program to reduce and/or manage student anxiety using the FRIENDS for Life model incorporating other wellness tools.

Develop an on-site student anxiety reduction/management program with its goal being a small group, recess program model easily transferable to other board sites.


  • Identify target students in grades 3 to 6 in need of wellness and support training (targeting anxiety) at two sites in the DSB
  • Attain recognized certification and anxiety reduction training
  • Implement an in-school recess or instructional-time withdrawal program for identified students
  • Provide in-class support for students and colleagues
  • Participate in out-of-school programming to assist students of concern

Team Members

  • Lorraine Perry

    Ottawa Carleton District School Board

  • Jilian MacOdrum

    Ottawa Carleton District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

The professional learning goals achieved by doing this project can be summarized as deepening our understanding of anxiety and its role in student learning and behaviour, observation of current practices used in the reduction and management of student anxiety, project management expertise through the development and implementation of a student program at two sites,  and improving our networking and collaboration skills.

By attending a community sponsored FRIENDS for Life Facilitator Certification Program, both members of the team were able to become instructors in a globally accepted program with documented successful outcomes. Reference: Murphy, J.M. et al., Scope, Scale, and Dose of the World’s Largest School-Based Mental Health Programs, 2017

The FRIENDS for Life and My Friends for Youth training session allowed the team members to network with the facilitator from Toronto, health and wellness professionals from the local community, and other local teachers. It was an opportunity to become a certified instructor in a well-established social skills and resilience building program that has been recognized by the World Health Organisation as an effective means to prevent anxiety for children aged eight to 11. The program is proven to reduce anxiety and provide participants with the tools to rise to life’s challenges, and make the most of setbacks and adversity. FRIENDS for Life also improves participants’ social and emotional skills, ability to focus, confidence, and the capacity to relax and regulate emotions.

Once the groundwork was laid, the team was able to collaborate to develop a plan to implement a site-specific program to meet the needs of the students and work within the teaching and learning environment at two different schools. The collaborative process of working to create a bridge across two schools with differing teaching assignments, differing student populations and unique administration procedures was a highlight for the team members. Having the release time to meet at the school sites and see each school in action helped to broaden our individual understanding of how schools operate. Working together to develop a program delivery model made the workload manageable and the product better.

By expanding our knowledge of anxiety disorders through personal research and collaborating with professionals inside and outside our schools, we were able to acquaint ourselves with a variety of methodologies currently in place locally. We were then able to include theories and practices from Zones of Regulation, Social Learning, Nurtured Heart Approach and Collaborative Problem-Solving within the FRIENDS for Life framework that the team used to lead weekly programs at each of our respective schools.

Being able to meet in various settings extended our appreciation of learning in a variety of work spaces and validated our understanding that pushing your learning means going outside the walls of the school.

The team was able to develop contacts in the public and private sector who are tasked with implementing anxiety management programs and explore a wide range of published materials.

Working outside the classroom and across the school with a group of diverse students allowed us to further develop peer relationships and meet students we would not normally encounter in our everyday teaching practices. It also required liaising with the administrative staff with greater depth and helped build our understanding of the school and board procedures currently in place. Our indirect interactions with the parent council resulted in a positive experience.

Managing time and resources efficiently was an area of growth for the project leader as it required a co-ordination between two schools. There were material and staff shortages that required timely creative problem-solving. The unexpected challenges made the project management aspect of our program a continued opportunity for new learning for the whole team and provided an unforeseen goal that furthered our professional development in areas outside the typical teacher purview. 

Having the opportunity to explore and observe other teaching strategies and learning programs in action was made possible through the funding from this project. Without the funding, it would have been impossible to get the coverage so we could visit other sites during the school day. The partnerships are priceless.

Activities and Resources

  • Western Ottawa Carleton Community Resource Centre Sponsored Training Course offered in Ottawa to certify facilitators in FRIENDS for Life and My Friends for Youth
  • Friends Resilience: Home Page
  • Nurtured Heart Approach – Visit to local practising classroom
  • Heart Lifting Solutions – Bright futures for challenging children – Carolyn McGuire
  • OTF TLC 2018 – Wellness Google plus community
  • Ottawa Carleton ETFO/FEEO Professional Development Day 2018 – Be Curious
  • Site-specific Google Forms, certificates and documents shared with parents and staff
  • End-of-program celebrations at both schools shared with students and staff


Unexpected Challenges

  • Staffing shortages that resulted in a cancellation of all DSB professional development absences in November, December, January and February that drastically changed the timelines of the project. Once the memoratarium was lifted, continued staffing shortages throughout the course of the project meant much of the planning was done outside school time. Release time was at a premium and sick leave took precedence over professional development activities. Although the administration tried to compensate for the staff shortage, it meant that our collaboration and sharing with in-school colleagues could not happen during instructional time and was very minimal.
  • Scheduling challenges across two schools to enable time-sensitive collaboration that resulted in project goals being delayed
  • Using program materials originating from Australia that were available online, but required a significant learning curve
  • With the delayed release-time timeline using the funding before the project end deadline made for a flurry of activity when teacher demands were at a much increased level due to year-end activities that made for a stressful finish to an anxiety reduction program
  • The identification process for students who would benefit from the program would be more effective if the school offered program was better publicized especially at the parent level. Most school-age children are not mature enough to reliable self-identify so it fell to the educators to nominate students. If there was more parent involvement and awareness before the program startup, we could discover the anxious children who are falling between the cracks. The challenges with school-based anxiety programs is first target-student identification and then continued participation due to the members inherent apprehension and risk-taking difficulties.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

Our project resulted in school-based FRIENDS for Life programs being offered to 22 students in two schools over three sessions from February to June 2018.

The children selected from grades 3 to 6 were introduced to a system that empowered each participant to learn that they have the power to influence their thoughts and emotions, and to feel good. Both team members were able to provide support for students in and out of class to help them manage their anxiety and mental well-being. We were able to reach out to colleagues to assist them in supporting these students and make an impact on the interactions of administration, teachers, educational assistants and students throughout the schools.

The students left the program with an online workbook, visual reminders of the lessons learned, a certificate of completion and positive memories.

The parents of the students in the program expressed their satisfaction with the program being offered without charge during the school day and commented on the the students’ at home discussion and application of the skills learned at school.

The focus of our project was the implementation of a student program that addressed selected children with anxiety and it was successfully run at both schools this school year. We found that the targeted students were in need of a scheduled time and place to be heard and meet to discuss their understanding of their feelings and experiences. The children and their parents in the programs at both schools expressed their appreciation and demonstrated their engagement in the learning process evidenced by their comments and regular attendance.


  • Due to the unexpected release time challenges, this is an area that saw the biggest deviation from our original plan
  • Our team has used the Google Plus community to share resources we have found that was set up by our mentor from ETFO
  • We were able to meet with a colleague from another board school in our district and introduce her to our program briefly as we went to observe the Nurtured Heart Approach in action at her location. Introduced her to the TLC funding from ETFO for her program.
  • We have shared informally with the educational staff and parents at both of our respective schools as situations presented themselves
  • We have shared formally with the parents of the students in the programs throughout the running of the student classes
  • We have networked with community health-care providers, exchange teachers and colleagues as the opportunities arose at professional development sessions
  • We have added to our professional learning communities with new contacts over the year
  • Hopefully in the near future and next year we will be able to continue to extend our sharing of knowledge, practices and resources further through social media and formal presentations

Project Evaluation


Goals met by conducting three anxiety reduction/management programs at two schools for 22 children. Professional development on a personal level for each of the team members was extraordinary.

Resources Used

FRIENDS for Life website


Portal for training, participants, facilitators

Overview of program and related blog, resources and contacts

Nurtured Heart Approach

Link to Carolyn McGuire site for Ottawa teachers and parents.

Link to Children’s Success Foundation with a mission to advance work of NHA