We hear words like burnout, stress, and overwhelm repeatedly used to describe the current feeling of many educators. According to a survey of National Education Association (NEA) members, “more than 55% of [teachers] say they are more likely to leave or retire from education sooner than planned” as a result of the pandemic, while “forty-six percent of teachers say they feel high daily stress.”
So, how do we keep our valued educators in schools? How do we call those who have left back to a profession they once loved? How do we attract new, qualified teachers to the world of education?
There is not a singular, foolproof answer. Instead, different measures can help teachers at distinct stages of their careers:
- New Teachers: For those entering the classroom for the first time, mentorship has proven to increase job satisfaction and retention. This helps new teachers establish healthy routines and appropriate boundaries that will ensure a long, fulfilling career.
- Experienced Teachers: For those questioning their futures in education, NEA members suggest that “raising educator salaries, providing additional mental health support for students… and reducing paperwork load” could offer more support to knowledgeable teachers.
Ultimately, empowering individual teachers and reminding them of their own abilities is a powerful first step. Mindfulness has also increased in popularity among teachers as a tool to help “cope with classroom challenges and manage their feelings,” which in turn allows them to better “manage their students’ big feelings.” Mindfulness can also help foster greater self-awareness, and “teachers report that SEL (social and emotional learning) contributes to their own feelings of happiness, and helps them be more organized and responsive.” As a result, we see classrooms with a strong sense of community where young people feel they belong. Over time, this leads to higher levels of self-esteem, better stress management, stronger relationships, and greater feelings of happiness and optimism.
How do we use all this information to take meaningful action? We recommend the following three quick activities that administrators, school leaders, and educators can use to rebuild, reconnect, and support one another:
1. Start weekly well-being check-ins, and invite faculty to share their answers to any of the following questions in department and staff meetings. If facilitating virtually, consider using a platform like Flip or Padlet.
- What's one thing you're feeling grateful for right now?
- What's something that's bringing you joy in your life?
- How is this month/week/term feeling for you, and why?
2. Use the power of music to build connection, destress, and create a joyful school environment. Ask staff to share one song that makes them feel happy using streaming services like Spotify or Pandora. Assemble these into a playlist to share and play in classrooms and/or staff meetings.
3. Foster empathy and community and help staff reconnect to purpose through a co-created encouragement wall. Provide faculty with sticky notes, and designate a time to write short notes of encouragement, which may be addressed to individuals, the whole staff, or even themselves. Post your encouragement wall in the staff room, and invite everyone to visit it when they need some inspiration. Staff may even peel off supportive notes to keep with them as reminders when needed.
These activities can serve as a starting place for deeper, more meaningful SEL work for both staff and students. In addition to supporting K-12 students to build future-ready and SEL skill sets, Wayfinder can also support educators to facilitate meaningful dialogue among colleagues, build trust, foster a sense of belonging in their broader communities, and deepen their understanding of their Why. With the support of SEL best practices, educators can both teach and utilize these relevant strategies to manage and model true wellness for students. After all, if we really want to take care of students, we must take care of our teachers, too.
Wayfinder was born at Stanford’s d.school, and designs SEL focused on developing future-ready skills. Looking for more ways to support your students and staff? Reach out to us here.