Teacher burnout and stress are skyrocketing as results of the past two years of chaos and pressure from the pandemic. Expectations are high for educators to bridge the learning gap, and students are behind because of the disruption of the past two years. More than ever, these students who are struggling need educators to empathize and support them as they overcome their challenges. But teachers can’t pour from an empty cup. They need to put their own mental health on the front burner — and build their educator well-being — if they are going to support student well-being. As the dean of students at a Minnesota public school, I’m a better teacher and school leader when I am focused on my own mental wellness.
An inner coach to aid educator well-being
This summer, I invested in my mental health by taking a self-paced online course on educator self-care and resilience training from EmpowerU. It offered positive, forward-thinking skills and strategies that are supported by a one-on-one coach. Each evening, I would work on a 15- to 20-minute lesson that led me through a new concept or taught me a new strategy. The personalized instructional path kept my focus on changes and goals to increase my resilience.
At the end of each lesson, I received feedback, encouragement and support from my online instructor/coach. The coach offered a balance of support and accountability that helped me overcome my persistent negative thoughts by building my “inner coach,” reframing the way I was looking at myself, my job and life.
I have learned specifically how to stay calm and focused during moments that, in the past, would have triggered escalation and anxiety that could fuel overreaction or exhaustion. Now, I listen to my inner coach to help me stay focused in the moment, trusting my gut and tackling the most difficult situations in an effective and positive way. I also learned how and when to ask for help from my most trusted and supportive team members. Asking for support is not a sign of weakness, but a strategy I needed so that I keep my cup full.
Self-care training pays it forward
As I start the new school year, I am in a much better place to support all the teachers and students at my school. I am more effective at calming myself down in stressful situations, and therefore I am better prepared to help a teacher or student in a time of stress.
Recently, I was working with a student who was struggling with relationships at home and at school. In the past, I would have experienced anxiety during what turned out to be a frustrating and difficult conversation. Because I was focusing on breathing deeply and slowly, I could respond in an unemotional way and keep the student calm and focused as well. I listened to my inner coach and was able to keep the positive vibes flowing.
Our district, like so many others in Minnesota, has seen a great deal of turnover and the addition of new staff. I have used much of my resilience training to help support these new teachers in times of high stress. I recently counseled a new teacher who was frustrated with a group of students not understanding the purpose of a lesson. The teacher had not yet been able to build relationships and connect to these kids. Because I had my EmpowerU Tool Box and a renewed, calm focus, I was better equipped to support this staff member. That, in turn, positioned the teacher to regroup and positively update the lesson and better help the students.
In short, I am better and a stronger administrator because I took the time to equip myself with the tools I need to deal with high-stress situations. I am hoping that my school will have the opportunity to enroll more staff into similar educator well-being training throughout the year.
Michelle Rinke Koch is the dean of students for the Menahga Public School District in Minnesota, where she used EmpowerU’s Educator Self-Care and Resilience Training. She can be reached via at email@example.com.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.