Competitions and Awards, Schools

04 October, 2023

Meet our Mission Possible judges

Photograph of Sinéad Smith, a teacher in Willow Grove Adolescent Unit in St Patrick's Mental Health Services and a judge in Walk in My Shoes' Mission Possible awards

We’re delighted to welcome a practicing teacher to judge our Mission Possible school achievement awards in 2023.

Our Mission Possible awards celebrate the invaluable role that schools across Ireland play in supporting students and promoting positive mental health.

Nobody knows the work that goes into this better than teachers and school staff – and so we’re delighted to welcome a teacher to the judging panel for Mission Possible 2023. Sinéad Smith is the teacher in Willow Grove Adolescent Unit, which is the dedicated service from St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS) for young people aged 12 to 27. Sinéad works as part of the multidisciplinary team (MDT) in Willow Grove, developing an individual education plan with and supprorting young people who are receiving mental healthcare in Willow Grove.

Joining Sinéad on the judging panel is Áine Lynch, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Parents Council, supporting parents to support their children in early years, primary and post-primary education. The National Parents Council works closely with SPMHS, supporting parents to support their children’s positive mental health, as the council believes that positive mental health is fundamental to children and young people’s growth and learning.

The third member of our judging panel is Tamara Nolan, Director of Communications and Advocacy in SPMHS. In her role, Tamara is responsible for delivering SPMHS’ mental health promotion remit, and oversees our Walk in My Shoes’ team’s work with schools and young people. Tamara strongly believes in the important role mental health promotion and prevention approaches play in reducing stigma and discrimination, building mental health literacy and awareness, strengthening resilience, and reducing prevalence of mental health difficulties. She is currently leading on an SPMHS project to develop an interactive Education Centre on its campus in Dublin 8. The centre will tackle misinformation about mental health; challenge stigma; and educate people, particularly young people, about the practical tools we can all use throughout our lives to support our wellbeing and mental health.

We invited Sinéad, Áine and Tamara to our judging panel for Mission Possible in recognition of their ongoing advocacy for children and young people's mental health, and of their experience and expertise in the role and impact of teachers and educators. Below, Sinéad explores her own experience and highlights how teachers can create compassionate, supportive and nurturing school experiences for young people.

Building safe, inclusive classrooms

Building safe, inclusive classrooms

I am delighted to be part of the Walk in My Shoes (WIMS) campaign, such a wonderful initiative in breaking down barriers to positive mental health.

I have a deep understanding of the unique challenges faced by teenagers and the ongoing stigma around mental health. As the teacher in Willow Grove Adolescent Unit, I am committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students, one that is calm and recovery-focused.  

Within the therapeutic milieu of the nurturing environment Willow Grove offers, I am very fortunate to work as part of a highly dedicated multidisciplinary team. As a team, we communicate daily in supporting all young people on their journey to mental health recovery.

I believe that promoting diversity is important in the classroom, making the learning environment inclusive to all. Participating in different Continuous Professional Development (CPD) courses based on diversity, learning difficulties, and trauma-informed care are very important aspects of my work: having empathy for diverse perspectives and cultures allows me to gain more understanding into the everyday struggles faced by teenagers, both academically and socially.

Supporting students' goals

Supporting students' goals

Each day, my role is to help each young person identify their strengths and develop these beyond the classroom, always offering a listening ear so that they feel safe and supported in the classroom environment.

I am always looking for innovative ways to engage each student so that they can achieve their academic and personal goals while in Willow Grove. Following an initial education assessment, I develop an individual education plan with each young person, allowing them to feel included in their education journey and to focus on areas that they feel comfortable working on.

Returning to mainstream school following admission can be daunting. I spend time with each young person putting a return to school plan in place, liaising with their schools and recommending supports to aid their transition.

It is the stigma that many young people worry about upon returning to school, again highlighting the importance of the WIMS initiative.

Practicing self-care

Practicing self-care

Outside of the classroom, I love reading, especially books based on different cultures. I also enjoy yoga and find this very beneficial at the end of the day when I switch off from work, allowing me to reconnect with the present moment. I am passionate about English literature and enjoy writing poetry, my way of journalling.