If you work in an educational setting, then you know, there’s no cooler ‘job’ than the one where you get to experience the countless impact moments educators have for not only students, but for families, colleagues, and communities. We know that on the other end of this continuum of joy and limitless impact, there can be a tireless effort and self-sacrifice of educators that often lives in a school building’s culture. All the unseen moments: grading papers at home, developing lessons plans, scrolling the internet for those perfect stickers to spark joy for students, snacks tailored to all the dietary needs of students who need a boost during the school day or for students who may have not had enough to eat, reviewing the new instructional practices to stay current, being all the roles youth need educators to be, sleepless nights worrying about a student who’s living in a difficult environment – the list is endless. Part of dismantling the narrative of seemingly endless self-sacrifice surrounding educators, is to build climates and cultures that cultivate self and collective efficacy, celebrate self-care, and routinely have meaningful check-ins with educators in the building.
With the ever changing demands of being an educator, it’s well-documented that we are continually facing a national shortage of educators. While it’s important to understand the ‘why’ behind what’s causing educators to leave the profession, it’s also equally imperative that we highlight the positive impacts that fostering a climate and culture of efficacy for all can have for each individual school building collectively. A school staff that believes it can collectively accomplish great things is vital for the wellness of a school and according to John Hattie and his team, collective teacher efficacy (CTE) is the new number one influence related to student achievement. CTE can bring a powerful effect on student achievement – it’s twice more effective than feedback, and three times more effective than classroom management.
To move from ‘we think we can’ to ‘we know we can’, here are some wellness interventions are foundational qualities that promote a productive, proactive, and healthy school building:
Wellness plans are one of the key protective factors for educators
Chronic stress without wellness reserves depletes energy, increases burnout and fatigue, and ultimately undermines performance. Implementing wellness strategies for educators boosts these reserves. Self-care strategies allow educators to effectively navigate the numerous challenges that occur during the course of an educator’s career. To ensure that wellness is non-negotiable in your culture, it’s important to begin the process of building wellness right at the start of the school year, and revisit various times throughout the year. Dedicating this invaluable time for educators to prioritise taking care of themselves, which is in turn taking care of others, promotes wellness and efficacy.
Personal mission statements anchor our ‘why’.
The famous philosopher, Viktor Frankl, said it well: ‘If you know your “why”, you can endure any “how”.’ Educators who develop their personal mission statement grounded in foundational values, goals, and aspirations, collectively build relationships within the team by sharing it with others. Encouraging educators to celebrate their individuality by posting their personal mission in their classroom, fosters and increases ownership of self efficacy.
Staff meetings already exist as a structure in schools
Evolving from the typical pressure box and dissemination of information into participant-centred opportunities to prioritise self efficacy for individuals and build collective efficacy as a staff. This requires a shift of mindset for how staff meetings are structured and facilitated. Meetings need to have time tailored specific to teachers to improve not only their teaching skills but also their mental wellness. With these structures in place the purpose of meetings moves from the feeling of ‘have to’ to ‘get to’. Some examples of strategies may include:
- Start your meeting with 5–10 minutes dedicated to staff successes that are focused on what they’re personally proud of, separate from the accomplishments of their students. Maybe it’s a new curriculum, self care goal, took some extra time for themselves, etc. Educators are often comfortable sitting in the space of recognition of students, but not in a space of self-reflection and recognition.
- Guided small group discussions (such as forward focus questions, gratitude prompts, mindset activities, goal setting, funny this or thats, etc)
- ‘Ask a teacher’ comment box filled with student questions. This brings both connection and laughter.
Implement meaningful check-in
provides qualitative and quantitative data to ensure that what’s been implemented, or will be implemented, is seen as valuable, based on feedback received from educators in the building. Checking in on climate and culture is two-fold; gathering the right data is equally important to leadership being willing to utilise and follow through with the information received. Check-ins should be structured to not only gather positive feedback but allow for constructive feedback as well. Addressing areas of struggle may be the more difficult of the two, but in utilising this feedback to make changes that benefit the whole, can also be one of the most powerful. Check-ins should be a mix of in-person and surveys and range from a systems level focus down to individuals’ wellbeing.
Communication processes are important
Communication processes are the glue that holds all the pieces together and invaluable for setting intentions and tone for school buildings. Communication within a system must be reciprocal. Oftentimes, information comes from one direction, but for communication to be truly effective individuals must be comfortable both giving and receiving information. Communicating goals, intent, and reasoning, while also allowing for questions and feedback helps build cohesiveness and understanding between individuals, while decreasing confusion, conflict, and frustration. In systems where communication allows for participation and joint decision-making, it has been shown that employee turnover, absenteeism and grievances are significantly reduced, and psychological safety notably increased.
Navigating remote, hybrid, and in-person learning during a global pandemic has shown not only the resilience and necessity of educators, but also highlighted the emotional toll that educators navigate daily, regardless of a pandemic. In order to mitigate the educator shortage and address the emotional toll, we need to be willing to adjust what we have control over, the climate and culture of our school buildings. There’s no better time than now to cultivate a culture and climate through the aforementioned strategies that even on shaky ground, blooms self and collective efficacy.
Jen McNally is a director of mental health and wellness, psychotherapist and a national speaker. She consults nationally by helping private and public institutions implement effective strategies to promote engagement and minimise professional burnout in the educational setting.
Jamie Mapp is a nationally certified school psychologist who has been providing mental and behavioural health services for over 10 years to children and families in the educational setting.
Cole Stark is a psychotherapist who has worked with individuals in a wide range of clinical settings, including residential treatment, inpatient hospitalisation, outpatient clinic, and school systems for over 10 years.