Educators have been working smarter and harder throughout our global pandemic to ensure some semblance of connectivity for students. Moreover, while students remain the central focus of the educational experience, we must remember that
the mental health, wellness, and aptitude of classroom-based staff–teachers and paraprofessionals who work directly with students daily are critical to students’ progress.
Finally, we must remember that many educators themselves have had to support the educational plans of the students on their rosters, but also that of their own children who were at home with them. This reality is not meant to minimize the fact that all educational professionals wrestled with the same, but for this moment, let us focus on the classroom teachers.
As the world returns to more face-to-face learning, building administrators have a unique dynamic to navigate: parental, district, state, and federal expectations that remain fixed on the numbers. However, the most critical aspect of leading in this season is to pour into the health and well-being of those who will help those numbers demonstrate student growth. As such, here are a few suggestions to support the transition of face-to-face learning for classroom-based staff.
- Target Your Instructional Culture. We have learned that we can express much of what we do at meetings in an email. Over this next year, be intentional about redirecting meeting agendas to include time for mental health breaks. Be careful not to overwhelm an already overwhelming situation with operational issues. Contributors to Forbes suggest ways to lessen a mandatory meeting culture.
- Structure Safe Spaces. We all have a job to do. I get it, but remember, classroom-based staff, are human. Research from Texas A & M University, Synchronous Teaching: Asynchronous Trauma, found that many teachers say they feel helpless in helping their students cope because they themselves have not had time to process this global pandemic. They are traumatized and fatigued by the global pandemic, and our educational context does not often afford the indulgence to process such beyond taking a personal day. Try these: Schedule for mental health breaks by teams/grade levels. Establish a sensory room that will provide time for staff in need. Encourage support partner check-ins.
- Focus on qualitative data points. Though the field of education functions on the ebbs and flows of quantitative results, consider qualitative structures that focus more heavily on targeting the socio-emotional well-being of classroom-based staff. Consider an app that allows staff to do a morning check-in so building administrators can be proactive with potential hotspots. Try The Feel App: An Emotion Sharing Social Network. It creates an in-house community social-emotional network.
As leaders, we must be mindful that the transition back to face-to-face instruction will come with various masked trauma; we cannot dismiss this. Wisdom warrants that we are proactively intentional in supporting classroom-based staff who are vital to our success.
For other practical ideas surrounding teacher support, read Neila A. Connors updated edition of If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students: Guide to Success for Administrators and Teachers (2000).