At a recent Tech & Learning Regional Leadership Summit, one session led by Amy Bigbee Grosso, PhD focused on teacher and student well-being, which was a new session for the event. It was a much-needed and well-attended opportunity because all the participants agreed that learning cannot happen when there isn’t a safe and engaging classroom environment.
The participants focused on empathy, student well-being, and creating psychologically safe classroom cultures. We discussed many topics to support student learning and well-being, and made sure to also address our educators’ needs, coming away with many strategies that will support our learning communities, learners, and educators.
Teachers need to be able to create emotionally safe spaces in their classrooms and be willing to play a critical role in the emotional well-being of their students. Providing strategies for them to do so is critical.
Practices for Supporting Student Well-Being
Foster a Feeling of Empowerment
Equipping students with structure, consistency, and choices is crucial for fostering their sense of empowerment and control. Classroom consistency builds a sense of normalcy and safety. Routines such as posted schedules, daily greetings, collaborative problem-solving methods, and focusing on process over product are methods teachers can start with.
Allow the Use of Digital Creative Tools
Teachers can offer a range of digital tools. However, some students prefer open-ended drawing or drawing from prompts. For example, our group discussed anti-coloring books to explore student expression with a comic creator such as Pixton, which provides templates for SEL lesson ideas, or Shape Collage to allow students to design a collage in any shape of their interest.
There are many opportunities to stream music into the classroom. Playing music and allowing movement or yoga are effective methods of promoting a sense of calmness in class.
Understanding Student Behaviors
Disruptive student behavior, such as interrupting, calling out, not finishing an assignment, teasing, and saying "no," can be seen as attention-seeking. These behaviors are often misunderstood or lead to the teacher saying, "You are making bad choices." We often take time to try to punish the bad behavior instead of finding methods to correct the behavior and highlight the desired behavior. Focusing on the desired behavior will refocus the students and create a positive focusing climate, and the student will find attention by being positive.
Supporting Teacher Well-Being
In addition to the need for student well-being, teachers are at genuine risk of burnout. Our group discussed how teacher stress affects students' well-being and achievement. A common theme was that if teachers lack belonging and connection, their students will feel the same way, impacting their excitement for learning and development.
Our group discussed ideas for school and district leaders to support teacher well-being. This discussion empowered our group, and these strategies can also support you.
Value Your Staff
A major theme was asking leaders to focus on kindness and gratitude. An act of thanks or kindness produces positive sentiments, stronger professional connections, and improved well-being. So utilize simple ways to build appreciation and compassion into staff's day. Kindness and gratitude are contagious, so imagine the benefit to your classroom!
Provide Time To Talk To Peers
Teaching can be an emotionally demanding job with daily challenges. Create structures that allow teachers time to discuss issues and focus on solutions rather than constantly venting about the problems. While a venting session may make educators feel better in the short term, it doesn't solve problems that cause stress. In turn, teachers feel stuck. Instead, allow teachers to spend time with a supportive colleague and implement a problem-solving protocol. The more solutions a school creates, the better the environment will be for teachers.
We talked about how teachers feel alone and need time to collaborate. The participants shared that teachers in their schools who employed collaborative practices were more innovative in the classroom and less stressed about the job. In many cases, teachers may have solved problems with access to the same resources in the same context as others who haven't been able to solve them. So why not share? Sharing knowledge and ideas allows teachers to feel supported and reach the desired results much more quickly. Additionally, collaborating greatly benefits the teacher who shares the knowledge and ideas.
Manage Administrative Communication
How often have education leaders sent an email the second something pops into their head, regardless of the time of day? We discussed that this practice might be tempting in order to "communicate" but could place unnecessary pressure on staff who feel they shouldn’t be available via email 24/7. Our groups suggested that leaders should send emails at reasonable times and ban sending emails on weekends. It was recommended for teachers to delete or, better yet, never add work email to their personal phones. When they leave the school, it is time to get refreshed and enjoy time away from the role. Not be tied in 24/7.
Create a Space Where Teachers Feel Welcome
Teaching can feel like a lonely and overwhelming job sometimes, and staff must have the time and space to relax during the day. One suggestion was to create a staff room that is open to all with a relaxed atmosphere. Also, providing healthy snacks, treats, drinks, and music can deliver staff the opportunity to take a real break from the classroom.
It is essential to continually monitor and support staff well-being throughout the year. It’s no mystery that teachers typically have overwhelming workloads, high-stress levels, and a significant risk of exhaustion. Conversations such as these during professional development events and implementing strategies are critical to support our educators and leaders.