There is no argument that teachers are exhausted, but the constant strain on leaders for time and resources leaves the focus on the Whole Teacher low on the priority list. Here are some quick and easy strategies schools can start implementing immediately to improve teacher, and therefore student, wellbeing.
“A good teacher is a candle that consumes itself to light the way for others.” This quote makes me cringe as I scroll past it on educator friends’ social media feeds. Where did the idea that teachers are supposed to devour themselves for their work come from? However, many structures set up in schools contribute to the narrative that teachers’ lives are their work. As a classroom teacher for 19 years, I can say with certainty that this is not far from the truth. The expectations, both spoken and unspoken, have created a culture in education that leaves teachers exhausted, overwhelmed, unsupported, and exiting the classroom. Worse, we have witnessed this for years and have done little to change its trajectory. What we do instead is continue to throw more initiatives and expectations at teachers without any extra support to go with them. We need to help schools put structures in place that will not only support but care for, equip and celebrate the whole teacher.
It is time for districts and schools to shift their focus from improving test scores to improving the morale and health of their staff members. By helping staff become more connected to their school communities, feel supported and appreciated, and equipped to take on the workload expected of them, we can address the whole teacher. When teachers thrive, all the other desired results will follow.
How do we accomplish this? It doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or time-consuming.
It does have to be intentional.
At CharacterStrong, our Staff CharacterDares are easy ways to help schools focus on self-care, build more intention in nurturing relationships, and combine personal and professional development.
Here are three examples:
1) Relationship Building
A good way to start building relationships as a staff is our “Relationship WD-40” CharacterDare. Take a look at your staff list and label next to each person whether you are E (establishing), M (maintaining) or R (restoring) that relationship and challenge yourself each week to choose a staff member to connect with. Shelleyann Keelean, Principal at Monteith Elementary School in Michigan, believes in creating a family feel for the staff. “My mom once told me, ‘you can only be as happy as your most unhappy child’. As a school leader, this is so true! You have to pay attention to how your staff and students are feeling. If I have a staff member who is going through a tough time, you better believe I'm going to be there to support them every step of the way, because once you are a part of my staff you are a part of my family. So if this means they need to leave earlier for an emergency or something for their family, I will be the first one to go in that classroom and teach for them. Once you establish this trust in the staff, you will realize they won’t abuse it because they know we have each other’s backs.”
2) Wellness Activities
Our “Staff Lounge Surprise” CharacterDare challenges educators to bring a little fun to their staff lounges. For example, setting up trivia table tents or bringing in an old ping pong table. This can positively shake up a traditionally uninspiring place. Kyle Berger, from North Penn High School in Lansdale, PA, says that his school leadership sets aside an hour at the end of every in-service called “Wellness Hour.” Staff are encouraged to walk, run, play basketball, take a spin class, or anything else that gets them moving. “Having an opportunity to interact with my coworkers who I might not normally see,” he says, “in a non-academic setting is always fun. An hour of wellness time at the end of a day of in-service is a great way to have conversations about academic (and non- academic) topics while working off stress.”
The “Put Your Oxygen Mask on First” CharacterDare challenges teachers to choose a week where they do not take work home, doing three things for themselves they might not normally do, like get a massage or visit a friend. With a purposeful mentoring and coaching model in place, schools can support new teachers and invest in them to stay long-term. Kjell Stroomer-Rowe, Ph.D. and NBCT, Mentor Program Specialist for Kent School District, WA, knows how critical it is for teachers to take care of themselves so they can take care of their students. “We do mindful minutes, talk about different calm apps, and even meditate with new teachers. As a result, we have seen them use these strategies in their classes, which is so great for their kids! Our focus in supporting new teachers is supporting student outcomes; if the teacher feels better, that’s obviously best for their students!”
Supporting the Whole Teacher will never be a wasted investment. Social-Emotional Learning is not just a buzzword; it’s as much for the adults in our building as for our students. When individuals who make up a community are healthier and happier, the community as a whole is healthier, happier and more productive. Isn’t that exactly what we want in our schools?
Download our full 40-Week Staff CharacterDare series here!
This article was published in the National ASCD Ed Advantage ejournal.
Krista Gypton taught for 19 years and has received numerous awards for her teaching and student community service, including the 2008 Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. She is an emphatic believer in the power of service to others and has traveled as far as South Africa with students to give back. She has been a keynote speaker and trainer for the past 11 years, both nationally and internationally.