My work supporting schools and districts with SEL implementation changed during the pandemic—it went from focusing on the technical aspects of developing students’ social and emotional skills before COVID to prioritizing the human aspects needed to face traumatic events, such as living through a pandemic and its consequences for children and schools.
This pandemic has taught students, educators and leaders that the way we used to do things is not sustainable. Given the mental health issues that students are experiencing, and the high levels of stress that educators carry, we cannot move forward without meaningful and systemic change.
I have been responding to school and district leaders’ calls for help. They see that teachers are struggling and want to support them, but they are hesitant or don’t know how to change the unsustainable system we currently have. We can develop educators’ resilience (ask me how) and positively impact the classroom culture and climate, teachers’ ability to deal with stress and establish meaningful relationships with students, AND we also need to examine the conditions that are blocking educators’ ability to do their job well.
Too many educators feel that their work is not valued, and that there is no progress despite their best efforts. What’s the result? Teachers are leaving the profession, because they are burned out, mentally exhausted, and they have no hope things will get better. They cannot teach from an empty vessel.
So, what’s the alternative?
When we intentionally focus on making sure that our educators feel supported and seen, we are sending a powerful message: “you matter.”
We may not be able to take away all the challenges of being a teacher, but we will be creating a community where adults take care of each other. Educators matter and we need to do what we can to support their wellbeing and create communities of belonging.
If you are an educational leader consider:
- Asking educators how you can support them and follow through on their requests.
- Make your staff meetings a time for connection.
- Support teachers to practice their HEART skills on a regular basis.
- Protect teachers’ prep time and when not possible, take something off their plate.
- Consider pausing any new initiatives or programs.
This time calls upon us to re-humanize schools and classrooms, so educators and students can find joy in being and learning together. Educational leaders are given an opportunity to focus on what’s really important—to dismantle the social and emotional barriers that hinder students’ ability to learn and educators’ capacity to teach. This needs to be a systemic and planned effort where all the stakeholders in the learning community are involved in creating the change we all know is needed and our students and educators deserve.