Teachers are stressed out. With the demands of classroom management and the pressures of meeting national standards, the expanded role of teachers in the US is causing chronic mental health issues. As educators, we are quick to tend to the needs of our classroom community. In the process, we disregard our own mental health needs. This is undoubtedly contributing to the high attrition rate that is seen within the teaching profession. As we seek to build school communities that meet the needs of all of its members, this pattern in behavior must be interrupted.
Teacher mental health matters
Recent surveys suggest that the majority of teachers feel alarmingly stressed at work, and there has been a significant spike in the number of teachers describing their mental health as poor. As an administrator, it is your responsibility to support the well-being of your teaching staff. One of your most important tasks is establishing a culture of care that supports the holistic health of your teachers. Studies also suggest that establishing such a culture will have a significant impact on your students’ achievement in the classroom and their overall well-being. Therefore, this shift in culture will have a positive impact far beyond the confines of your school building. Here are four tangible ways to support the mental health of your teaching staff.
1. Model self-care practices, like guided meditation
Taking care of yourself and being open about the reasons you do can be one of the most powerful tools utilized in support of your teachers. What are the ways that you are modeling self-care practices? Often times, the structure of the school day may inhibit staff from taking time for themselves. However, by encouraging teachers to take even five minutes out of their day to practice self-focus or a guided meditation will have an impact. It starts by doing this yourself. Be transparent about why you practice self-care and allow your teachers to see the importance of it. This will give them encouragement to practice mindfulness in their own lives.
Alan Brown, a high school dean in New York City, says, “When you work with children, it’s really easy to ignore our own needs. Mindfulness has given me a greater sense of balance and calm, which is a benefit to the other people around me.”
2. Reward and recognize your teachers for self-care
Incentivizing the practice of self-care may motivate your teachers to incorporate self-care activities into their daily routines. I work at a university with a robust wellness program that rewards healthy behaviors. The university rewards me for things like curbing my sugar intake and practicing deep-breathing exercises. You can implement this type of system in your school building. How can you reward teachers for taking care of themselves?
If you have budgetary restraints, get creative with this! When your teachers prioritize their mental health, publicly recognize them. Offer to take over one of your teachers’ lunch or recess duties for a week. Already work lunch and recess duty? Offer to teach an hour of their day so they can get an extra hour of sleep! You can even surprise your staff with a special coffee or bagel day. When your teachers feel supported, their mental health will be stronger.
3. Incorporate self-care during staff meetings and PD days
What if you set aside time during a staff meeting or professional development to practice yoga or guided meditation with your teaching staff? This might feel a little out of the box at first, but it can really set the tempo for your time with teachers. There are some fantastic resources available that will help guide you in your attempts to incorporate self-care in your teacher-development plans. Consider completing this fantastic self-care-plan template during your next teacher in-service day. Hopefully by practicing yoga or meditation in a group, teachers can take these practices with them to use by themselves.
4. Advocate for district and statewide policies that support mental health
Beyond modeling and rewarding your teachers, how are you creating systemic change to foster a culture of self-care that will long outlive your tenure as a school leader? Talk with your superintendent about the importance of teacher mental health. Advocate on behalf of your teaching staff. Beyond your district’s superintendent, think of ways that you can advocate on a statewide level. For instance, some states are beginning to mandate teaching about mental health in the classroom. However, there are currently no statewide initiatives aimed at supporting the mental health of teachers. Strategize with your teachers, with union groups, and other advocacy groups that can help raise the level of awareness for teacher mental health.
Teachers need to fill their own cups
Teachers have a lot on their plates. Ultimately, when it comes down to choosing between their own health and the health of their students, teachers almost always choose their students. This is why self-care practices are so vital. As an administrator, it is up to you to ensure your teachers meet their own needs. In doing so, you will create a school environment where everyone can thrive physically and mentally.
Plus, check out this article about 10 of the Best Principal Stunts We’ve Ever Seen.