All participants said it is important to make sure everyone is clear about responsibilities and how to deal with issues. Teachers need to talk about issues that might arise with clients and be up front about asking questions such as what to do if the client is having a bad day.
“What needs to happen if you are too unwell to be here?” Clients can explain how the teacher can recognize problems.
“You can tell I am not doing well when ...” or
“I can’t always tell when things are going wrong. If you see ... happening you need to …” They suggested asking about potential triggers such as stress, noise or being around men. They recommended being open with questions about medication, for example what it is for and its impact on learning. They stressed the importance of being explicit, including letting the client/learner know what will happen if they stop coming to a program. They suggested explaining procedures and asking if it would be all right to call a contact person if the program couldn’t get in touch with the client directly. Participants recommended giving clients an opportunity to explain what they would like staff to do and under what circumstances there should be contact between mental health staff and teachers. It was also suggested that staff ask clients to let them know the questions that it is all right to ask.
Participants recommended having ongoing communication between teacher and worker, if the client is open.
Literacy staff suggested agreeing on an attendance schedule that will not overwhelm the client/learner. It is important to start slowly. Mental health workers said that clients may agree to commit but they may not be able to follow through. They should be given the chance to change their minds. Mental health workers suggested checking in to see how clients are doing and finding out if the schedule is working – be open to re-negotiation.
Participants suggested encouraging learners to practise or complete homework assignments within reasonable limits, as long as it is not reinforcing obsessive behaviour.
Mental health clients work best in the middle of the day. They cannot attend classes early in the morning as their medication often makes it difficult to start a class until mid-morning. Also, evening classes do not work well as some clients take medication around 7 p.m. and are then too tired to focus on learning.
It was recommended that instructors talk to learners if attendance becomes an issue, for example if the client is often late because he or she misses the bus. Often talking through the issue and providing explicit information about alternatives can help the client to find a solution. If attendance continues to be an issue and the learner is working with a support person, the instructor should follow the protocol that was agreed upon when the learner entered the program.