Supporting Teacher Wellness

A shout out to teachers everywhere

I love this poster from Washington School PTA. Isn’t it true though? If not for creative, flexible, diligent teachers everywhere, virtual learning from March to July would not have have been a reality for many students.

 

Since the lockdown in March, teachers have scrambled to get their beautifully prepared lessons ready to share with their students remotely. Almost immediately, social media platforms were awash with wonderfully creative ways teachers responded to the sudden move to remote learning.  Some used their music skills to make parodies of songs to help their students learn historical facts, some made recordings of themselves reading picture books or chapters from novels, some wrote and mailed personal notes to their students, some used their own homes and resources as ‘labs’ for science experiments, some provided hotspots for their students, some collected resources for projects and dropped of boxes of resources at students homes, some… well you get the idea.  Teachers expended time, energy and often their own resources to create memorable learning moments for their students.

A shout out to the tech industry and educational organizations

Just a quick shout-out to all the organizations involved in Education for their quick pivot as well. For example, by March 19, Teaching Tolerance had surveyed teachers and responded to their needs with a curated list of free resources. All the biggies like Microsoft, Google, and Adobe as well as other companies involved in developing integrated digital education have been offering free resources and training. Organizations that specifically serve educators such as ISTE, Common Sense Media, and Global Online Academy have created free or highly subsidized online training for teachers as they move to a hybrid or blended learning model.

Teaching Through Coronavirus: What Educators Need Right Now by Cory Collins

As a teacher, I have gratefully accepted all the help I can get to make the transition to remote learning efficient and effective. And, like most teachers everywhere, the learning did not stop on the last day of school. Most of immediately went into preparing for the uncertain return to school in the fall. Now that my kids are grown, my summer calendar is typically filled with doctors appointments and dinner dates with friends, with the odd weekend camping. But this year, my calendar is filled with webinars, online courses, professional development and department meetings. The time I usually take to rest, relax and rejuvenate has been swallowed up by prep for the Fall.

Summer 2020 … Summer of learning

Can you relate?

 

What does the future hold?

But that’s not all. Like everybody, teachers are dealing with emotional turmoil: daily news broadcasts regarding COVID-19 are disheartening; the Black Lives Matter movement has drawn attention to repugnant social inequities; it’s voting season, and fraught with tension; the near future is uncertain or unknown.

Teachers are also dealing with the emotional trauma of loss, according to Antero Garcia and Nicole Mirra in their post for EdSource, Teachers need opportunities to heal before the school year begins. Garcia and Mirra reckon that teachers will need to “process and heal from their own feelings of loss and grief.” They suggest that Administrators should acknowledge that “in the face of racial violence and the immense loss of life due to the global pandemic, teachers are coping with tremendous loss, anxiety and sorrow even as they work harder than ever at their rapidly evolving jobs.” The writers make a good point when they suggest that supporting the well-being of teachers by providing more professional development and resources is counter-productive. Teachers need time and space to heal.

Five ways coaches and mentors can support teacher wellness

Recognize the emotional labor of teachers.
I had never heard of the term ’emotional labor’ until I read Ashley Previte’s post. She explains that emotional labor is, “Emotional labor is the practice of managing one’s own feelings in order to manage others … students bring out some of the strongest emotional reactions in their teachers but, for the sake and sanity of the classroom, teachers must demonstrate an illusion of calmness and complete control.” Well, isn’t that a great description of all teachers moving into remote mode!

As I move into a coaching role, I hope to not take the emotional labor of teachers for granted. Ashley Previte suggested nine ways teachers could take care of their emotional labor, and I think coaches and mentors would do well to remind teachers of these suggestions as and when they may be needed: know you’re not alone; stay consistent; reward yourself with success stories; recognize your allies; be proactive; take care of yourself, make personal connections; focus on the positive; make a time map.

Coach teachers through adversity to find resilience
In their article Coaching for Teacher Resilience during COVID-19: Coaching for Resilience, Catherine Hart and Fredrica Nash explain the process developed by RTI’s Center for Education Services (CES) to build teacher resilience.  The acronym VASI stands for the four steps in the process: 1. Explore Values Related to Teaching and Learning; Identify Potential Action; Build Self-Efficacy (Beliefs about Self); Design Impact. Each step is described and examples of questions coaches can ask are provided in the post.

Have a toolbox of strategies ready to share with others
In an introduction to the teacher wellness blog series, Sarah Rosenthal illustrates the importance of self-care for teachers with the following analogy: We face a long road ahead, filled with blind curves and confusing signage. To safely drive your busload of students and other assorted humans down that road, you need to be at your best – alert and resourceful, friendly and compassionate, limit-setting yet flexible. And that requires filling your own wellness tank.

I recommend that you read through Rosenthal’s toolbox of strategies. Coaches can use the information provided for themselves and the teachers they serve as a reminder of the importance of keeping their wellness tank full as they share this journey with their students. I especially found the post Teacher wellness practice #2: Engaging wisely with news and social media thought-provoking, especially since I’ve noticed how my mood changes depending on how much time I’ve spent watching the news.

Encourage teachers to discuss or write about their emotions
Coaches shouldn’t be afraid to ‘go there’, gently encouraging teachers to share their feelings of anxiety or emotional state. I have been looking for writing prompts and ideas for my own students and came across the following tip in an article titled Student Journaling During Corona Virus Pandemic, on the Facing History and Ourselves website: Tip #3 Write Alongside your Students. If we are expecting our kids to be vulnerable and process life in journals, then it might be good for teachers to do so as well. I have no space here to explain how brilliant this idea is, but please, if you are still reading go to the article and read through the writing prompts and maybe write a few yourself.

Find the funny
Mark Twain said the Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing and although I don’t think it’s the greatest blessing, I do think it’s one of the most important ways we can deal with difficult times. One of the consequences of Covid-19 is the tidal wave of fun and funny creative responses from students and teachers to lockdown restrictions. I’ll end with two that I have enjoyed.

When Schools Reopen

I will Survive Parody by Michael Bruening

References

Bruening, M. (2020, March 16). I will survive: Corona virus version for teachers going online. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMtkUvfLTDiKqFCawY2b82w

Collins, C. (2020, March 19). Teaching Through Coronavirus: What Educators Need Right Now. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/teaching-through-coronavirus-what-educators-need-right-now

Hart, C., & Nash, F. (2020, July 30). Coaching for Teacher Resilience during COVID-19: Coaching for Resilience. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://www.rti.org/insights/coaching-teacher-resilience-during-covid-19-coaching-resilience

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