Posted By: Jacqueline Levine AASPA Blog,

As we enter the month of November, pausing for reflection feels incredibly important. Without a doubt, the past two years have been a trying time for educators everywhere, and finding the bright spots can seem challenging sometimes. As the holiday season approaches, it can be a good time to look around at our colleagues and our students and consider all for which we can be grateful.

It has never been more important to see the hard work all of our colleagues have been doing, and to actively, explicitly share how grateful you are for each and every one of them.

It is always important to remind one another how much we are seen, valued, and loved, but this is especially important during the holiday season. There is research to confirm the holidays bring increased mental health issues, especially for those already struggling with mental health disorders. Increasingly, we are seeing statistics of mental health concerns cited in teachers and students. We are bringing attention to these issues more and more, but often the solutions and strategies involve increased pressure and work on the part of the already afflicted and burnt colleagues who we are trying to help. Suggestions of self-care, from increasing the amount someone engages in exercise to healthy eating habits, put an almost unrealistic expectation on people to give more of the one thing they don’t have and that we often don’t have to give - time - to the things that will make them feel better.

We recognize schools are most likely not in a position to give the solutions that would truly help:  more planning time, more personnel to share the work, or smaller class sizes. These solutions cost money, resources, and personnel we most likely cannot spare.

That frustrating truth could cause anyone to say, “Well then I don’t know what to do!” In reality, just trying to solve the issue of teacher burnout can lead to administrator burnout, if you are not there already! So we have to find other ways to give one another a boost and lend themselves to keeping the school community whole and connected. 

This month, our district engaged in a Gratitude Project. Every staff member in the district was provided with a thank you card to write a personal message, now or at a later date, to a colleague or student. Studies show there are mental health benefits to a regular practice of gratitude. While it may not be a practice folks choose to adopt, we invited our colleagues to consider sending a note to someone telling them they are seen and valued, and that someone is grateful for them. They are even welcome to hold onto it well beyond the holidays, as you never know when someone is going to need to feel seen and appreciated.

Earlier this month, we incorporated a Wellness Expo into our Superintendent’s Conference Day. As faculty and staff emerged from morning learning, we handed out special snacks for every colleague and invited them to tour a host of tables featuring local gyms, physical therapy centers, and vegan restaurants. We brought the options to our colleagues to at least take the leg work out of having to research and find something that would work for their self-care. It is not a solution, but a start. 

Finding small ways to boost moods and well-being is essential during a time like this, and it helps to bring a community together in what could be a very lonely and difficult time. Take time during your next cabinet meeting to reflect as a team on the ways you can support and elevate your faculty and staff. Of course, don’t forget to include yourselves on that important mission, because you deserve to feel seen and valued, too, and should be celebrated for all that you have done to keep your communities whole during the past two years.