Welcome to the third and final episode of the Stand With Educators series. In the first two episodes, I did a deep dive into toxic teacher narratives and I explored how these narratives contribute to many teacher-administrator relationships and the way teachers perceive how we can or can’t address school leaders. In this episode, I’m going to offer some actionable steps that any teacher (or administrator), anywhere can take to begin establishing or growing cultures of wellness in their schools.
In previous episodes, we’ve addressed the toxic narratives that are the basis for much of our limiting beliefs, and we’ve also discussed how our limiting beliefs can affect our relationships with our principals. Now, is the time for us to integrate the conversations from the previous two episodes so we can take steps to create an environment that supports rather than suppresses teacher wellness.
We know the problem of burnout and overwhelm is systemic. Through no fault of our own, teachers have been subjected to a host of expectations that are impossible to meet on a consistent basis, and a sustainable classroom career is becoming more and more of an abnormality. Currently, our nation is facing a teacher shortage crisis due to fewer people wanting to be teachers and the statistic that 50% of new teachers leave teaching within the first 5 years,
Since this problem is systemic, we must begin to reimagine systems where whole teachers are prioritized in the same way that whole students are. As a teacher, it’s difficult to reach the whole student when you aren’t whole - or at least working towards it - yourself. Addressing the needs of the whole student requires an immense investment of time, emotional, mental, and even physical energy. We - teachers - have to be at our best if that is to happen, but self-care can’t just be about what we can do ourselves. Yes, self-care begins with the individual, but our communities and our villages, also have to be invested in promoting the wellbeing of each other. It’s going to be difficult for me to maintain my wellness as a priority if you don’t think my wellness is a priority.
Creating cultures of wellness in schools is about developing norms that address some chronic issues, most of which stem from teachers not being in rooms where decisions are made. Cultures of wellness extend beyond a “hey how are you?” - it’s about investing in and creating an environment where how you are truly matters and pre-emptive actions are taken to address stressors and/or provide staff with real support for their struggles.
So, let’s dream. Let’s talk action.
Here are some things for you to consider as we close one school year and reflect on how we can make the next one better. I believe that all of the recommendations are best executed if teachers and administration are involved. Remember, it takes a community. However, if this isn’t possible, these are items that can be coordinated by small groups of teachers. These suggestions can also be adapted for small groups such as grade-level teams or a “pilot” group of teachers at your school who volunteer to help.
But remember, before we attempt to shift norms and systems for our entire school, we have to start that change within ourselves. I talked with you about this in the first episode of this 3-part Stand with Educator Series as well as the importance of reframing our own beliefs about what it actually means to teach well (click here to listen to that episode: The First Step to Systemic Change).
Steps for Creating Cultures of Wellness in Your School
Be mindful of opportunities to use your self-work to help a colleague.
The systems and cultures in our schools, and around teaching, are so deeply embedded that we can’t just tell our colleagues to do “a” and “b", they have to demonstrate a readiness to receive it. Oftentimes, the individuals who need or would benefit from change the most are the ones who are most resistant. You aren’t going to change anyone’s mind, but you can share your experiences.
When you share your experiences, you invite someone else into the idea that they too can create boundaries, for example, or lead a life that doesn’t entail working endless hours after school. This opens the door to influence. By sharing your experiences you may (and likely will) inspire or motivate someone to reflect on their own situation and maybe they will be inspired to reframe their own narrative.
Imagine and consider what systems could be in place that could help you and other staff be better- longer.
This is the part where we begin to take action in uprooting the old norms and seeding new ones.
For example, this could be implementing consistent wellness checks with staff. This is something I do weekly with my students as a way to make sure I’m aware of what’s going on in their lives both inside and outside of school.
Consider scheduling wellness checks for staff during grading periods. In my district, every four-and-a-half weeks, there’s either a progress report or a report card. Since the end of a grading period tends to be stressful with finalizing grades and conferences, this might be a good time for school leaders to check in with staff to find out how they are really doing and to provide tangible support to help teachers in their overwhelm and frustration.
Keep in mind that this is would be a new system, so starting with more spaced checks will help create a routine that’s sustainable.
If you’re interested in starting wellness checks, click here to view the weekly wellness check I do with my students.
Establish Wellness “Committees”
A group of several teachers and other staff members could be created with the purpose of being available for checking in on staff members who need immediate support. This space can also function as a mastermind of sorts where grade-level team members can offer support and collaborate around solutions to problems that may be causing stress.
Here are a couple of my favorite professional development courses that support teachers with self-care and productivity strategies:
Creating and maintaining a culture of wellness is a win-win-win situation. It promotes trust between admin and staff, leads to sustainability for teachers, produces concerted pushback against the norms of toxic teacher narratives, increases creativity, and also improves staff morale.
Last - but most importantly - it gives teachers the energy and capacity they need to continue doing the work for students.
Reframing toxic teaching narratives is the foundation for exercising our agency. When we view ourselves and our roles beyond the limiting beliefs, we can advocate for long-overdue change. We can also have the confidence to invite our school leaders to step up and be part of that change by investing in co-creating cultures of wellness.
It’s not all on us to affect change in our schools, but we can spark little fires of change that ignite a larger movement. It’s not always easy but change is always worth it.
Resources from this episode
Other Episodes from the Stand With Educators Series
Teacher Self-Care Professional Development