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Building Emotional Support for Teachers

Posted by Hlengiwe Zwane on 29 June 2021 10:50 AM SAST
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Written by Kyndal Easter

Administrators can take several steps to support teachers in facing the stressors of the job. Esspecially during these times, the pandemic isnt easy on anyone. Everyone is facing some sort of harsh reality or dealing with some kind of emotional crisis. As educators it is important tat we know that we are human be fore anything and that we also need emotional support. Here are somethings that our schooling enviroment can d for us.

Focus on building relationships
For schools like mine that reopened our doors this spring, these two simultaneous realities are playing out in real time in our classrooms, compounded by a mounting pressure to close learning gaps. To address this complex and multifaceted challenge at my school, we have decided to start with the one thing we know is at the root of student success: relationships. We know that students can only learn when they feel physically and emotionally safe, and that their sense of safety is deeply rooted in their connection with those around them.

We made it a priority to build the support systems that teachers and staff need to create safe and healing spaces for our students. This often starts with helping them make space for their own healing.

With a comprehensive, whole child approach in mind, it’s clear that relationships have always been at the core of education. But that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy journey. In the beginning of the year, we struggled to find the right balance of support for our students, families, and staff. What we learned and what we continue to learn, again and again is to ask for and listen to feedback.

For example, we thought that teachers may find more professional development opportunities helpful, but they told us that what they really needed was time to disconnect, to turn off the camera, and to know that we trusted them to get the work done.

Additional ways to suppport teachers emotionally:
Offer peer coaching for teachers (without hiring new staff): When we began planning for reentry to in-person learning, one of the first things we did was create a team of wellness coaches to support our teaching staff. But we didn’t hire new people. We redeployed existing team members who had been trained in social and emotional learning and wellness practices to set up weekly meetings with teachers to coach them on addressing social an emotional challenges in their classrooms. This not only gives teachers a thought partner to brainstorm with but also gives them a consistent connection with a peer who can provide encouragement and validation as they navigate new challenges.

Provide regular space for teachers to step back and reflect: 
Teachers won’t always ask for help or even know that they need it. It can be a big challenge for busy teachers to find time to stop and recognize how they are feeling. Since our wellness team had a regular touch point with each teacher, they could help the teachers carve out time to process their own emotions and challenges. Having this time to step back gave them the space to reflect, address their own struggles, and work together with a trusted teammate to identify what they might need to work through them.

Set clear boundaries and let Teachers fill in the blanks: 
There were so many things this year that felt out of our control. On top of that, teachers had to navigate new curricula, new expectations, new teaching methods, and new technologies. This made it understandably frustrating for teachers to adjust and adapt. When our administrative team was able to set clear boundaries and expectations, and let staff choose how they accomplished them, we saw a huge jump in willingness, trust, and morale.

Let teachers support students by sharing their own healing activities:
One of the most important questions our wellness team asks teachers during coaching sessions is: “What do you do when you feel stressed to help you decompress?” Whether it’s listening to music, drawing, cooking, or doing yoga, there’s likely a way to incorporate it into the classroom. This can give teachers a regular daily outlet for their own stress and help expose their students to new types of restorative activities that can help them heal, too.

While many schools are only at the beginning of the reopening process and have much more learning and growth ahead (especially as we look toward the fall), working to support teachers is a critical investment in our community. By giving our teachers and students the space, time, and support they need to process their own emotions, we know we can recover and heal together.

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