You don’t have to work in the education industry to know that the last few years have been tough for teachers. While educators have always faced challenges, the stress and constant changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have made the situation even more difficult. A recent Gallup poll revealed that K-12 workers have the highest level of burnout across all industries nationally. This burnout has led to increasing numbers of educators leaving the field, putting even more pressure on remaining teachers.
While there’s no magic cure for burnout, one of the best ways to combat it is to prioritize wellness. You’ve probably heard different phrases emphasizing the importance of self-care, like “you can’t pour from an empty cup” or the popular airplane safety tip to “put your own mask on first.” No matter how it’s expressed, the sentiment is true. Making time for wellness is as important for teachers as grading tests or creating lesson plans – and it’s not only students’ mental health that needs to be a priority for schools.
In honor of August being National Wellness Month, here are some suggestions of ways schools can take the initiative and promote wellness for teachers and staff.
Give Permission to Set Boundaries
Whether we like it or not, technology has made it so that we can work from wherever we are, whenever we want. While this was great during the days of stay-at-home orders, it also means that employees across all industries never feel like they’re truly “off.” Chances are the teachers at your school are checking their email and working on projects long after the final bell rings.
Although emergencies do arise, it’s important to give educators permission to disconnect so that their time off is actually restorative and restful. Set expectations as early as possible that emails sent after a certain time do not have to be answered until the next day. Encourage teachers to establish times when they will shut down for the night and stop checking for new messages. Make sure to communicate this to parents too, so they know what response time to expect when contacting their children’s teachers.
Start the Conversation and Listen to the Answers
Every school faces different challenges that affect staff wellness. It’s important to ask teachers what particular obstacles they’re facing and what changes they’d like to see before deciding how to allocate time or budget. Getting this feedback can take place through group meetings, surveys, one-on-one meetings, or any other form of communication that works best for your school.
Make sure to keep this conversation going with consistent mental health check-ins. This is important not only to see what changes occur during different times of the year or as classroom situations change, but also to see if wellness tactics that have been implemented are working. Most importantly, however, it opens up an ongoing conversation with staff about their overall mental health and lets them know that their school is committed to creating a healthy work environment.
Provide the Tools for Success
Even educators prioritizing wellness through self-care like meditation, eating well, and sleeping enough will experience burnout and stress if they’re constantly asked to do things they’re not trained to do. With nationwide teacher shortages, educators are now often taking on roles they have no experience in, raising their stress levels and speeding up the timeline to burnout and potential resignation.
Give teachers the tools they need to succeed by providing customizable coaching or professional development opportunities like those offered through FACTS Education Solutions. Whether they need a deep dive into social-emotional learning or to brush up on the best practices for virtual learning, providing teachers with the education they need to instruct confidently will make a huge difference in overall workplace satisfaction. Championing a learning mindset that encourages professional development is crucial for staff retention, with LinkedIn reporting that 94% of employees are more likely to stay in a job that invests in helping them learn.
Offer Additional Support for Employee Groups That Need It Most
New teachers are especially susceptible to burnout and turnover, especially when they’ve begun their teaching careers during one of the most chaotic periods in the history of education. Build additional check-ins with new teachers into your school’s wellness plan, including anything from quickly stopping by their classrooms to ask how their day is going to more structured meetings. Encouraging mentorships is another great way to ensure that your newest teachers have what they need to stay afloat.
It’s important to remember that not all teachers are struggling with the same problems. Research shows that racism can play a role in teachers of color leaving the profession. Black and Latino teachers are also more likely to be dealing with the aftermath of losing a loved one to COVID-19. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when it comes to wellness. Take into account all the factors that can be affecting your staff’s mental health, ask questions, and make your plan accordingly.
Create a Culture of Wellness
Let staff know that creating a work-life balance is a priority at your school. While it’s always great to encourage self-care, setting an example by putting wellness into action in the workplace is even more important. Discussing mental health openly is the best place to start, but there are other fun changes you can make around campus to demonstrate your commitment to wellness.
Get your team excited to stay hydrated with easy-to-access water stations and fun branded reusable water bottles. Encourage teachers to build quick “stretch breaks” into their schedules, to give both them and their students a chance to get up and get their bodies moving. You can even start incorporating movement and mindfulness into staff meetings. Consider hosting a walking meeting in the school’s gym or around the parking lot or begin team meetings with a short meditation guided by an app to get everyone in the right headspace. Just adding plants to staff break rooms or opening up blinds can do wonders for everyone’s moods.
Show Your Appreciation
The idea of a company pizza party has become almost a joke at this point – just another example of bosses not actually listening to what their employees need. That being said, recognition continues to be incredibly important to employee engagement and satisfaction. Everyone wants to be celebrated for a job well done, whether it’s through a shoutout in a meeting or with a candle or special snack.
When small tokens of gratitude are offered in conjunction with schoolwide wellness efforts, teachers can see that their school is not only trying to create a better environment for everyone, but is also aware of how they specifically are contributing. Make sure gifts are accompanied with a note of thanks and remind teachers that you know they’re doing work worth being celebrated every day.