SMHO Innovation and Scale-Up Lab

In the field of School Mental Health there are a wide variety of innovations that are developed by researchers and/or by practitioners in order to support students’ mental health and wellness. For busy educators and school clinicians, the volume and range of offerings in this area can be overwhelming. It can sometimes be difficult to decide which interventions and approaches should be selected to address local needs. And, once an evidence-based approach has been chosen, it is challenging to introduce, scale, and sustain new practices.

School Mental Health Ontario has been trying to take the guesswork out of this process for many years, by encouraging uptake of evidence-based practices, and shining a light on the importance of tending to issues of implementation and sustainability early on when considering new approaches. More recently, the organization has been searching for and introducing mental health programming that is, by design, both evidence-based, and implementation-sensitive.

These resources and interventions may be universal in nature, designed to promote mental health for all students. Or, they may be more specifically created to serve students who are at risk, or already struggling with emerging or existing mental health problems. In school mental health, we often use a Multi-Tiered System of Support framework to think about services for mental health promotion (Tier 1), prevention and early intervention (Tier 2), and more intensive clinical care (Tier 3). This helps us to organize and coordinate innovations to support students across this continuum of services.

Over the past few years, School Mental Health Ontario has engaged with partners from across North America who are working on innovations that attend to both research and practice simultaneously – those who share a passion for developing and introducing innovations in school mental health that suit the real-world context of schools and school boards. Because this evidence-based, implementation-sensitive area of work is relatively new, there are many questions about how best to do this.

  • Does the innovation work under ideal conditions?
  • Is the innovation feasible and scalable in real school environments?
  • Is the innovation as effective as proven manualized programs?
  • Can the innovation be contextualized for different settings/populations?
  • What factors contribute to successful engagement, uptake, and sustainability?
  • What are the benchmarks for effective implementation of mental health programming in schools?

Through the generosity of partners listed in the initial projects below, allowed School Mental Health Ontario to begin to grapple with such questions. But as the organization moved deeper into this area, the team realized that more questions were emerging (like, What does “implementation-sensitive” really mean? How do manualized programs that are sound and proven fit in when we are thinking to scale?). And School Mental Health Ontario recognized that learning a project at a time was less optimal than learning ACROSS projects. There is much to be gained in considering common learning across initiatives, and in inviting more project partners into the thinking, as this area of work evolves and expands.

And so, School Mental Health Ontario reached out to experts at Western University's Centre for School Mental Health to compare notes and to begin discussions about what might be possible when joining across organizations, given similar interests in advancing the uptake of high-yield school mental health innovations in Ontario. Through productive dialogue, and seizing the opportunity for complementary and connected work, School Mental Health Ontario and the Centre for School Mental Health have partnered to create the Innovation and Scale Up Lab (ISU Lab).