8 ways to help teachers regenerate and heal after a year of trauma and resilience

The events of the last 12 months have shown us that teachers have superpowers when it comes to their resilience – they have regenerated their approach to teaching and their energy levels, repaired wounds both physical and emotional, and made themselves and their students whole again in ways too numerous to count. (In fact, teachers may be more like jellyfish than we had ever thought possible…but in a good way!) As school communities faced unending cycles of trauma and disruption, teachers have been charged with helping their students heal and become more resilient as well.

All of this regeneration and resilience has come at a steep cost to teachers’ own emotional health, and in some cases teachers’ feelings about whether or not to continue in the profession next year. As teachers strain to hold on — and question whether or not to return in August — here are 8 things that school leaders can do right now to support teacher emotional health and strengthen retention.

Send a Spotlight 

Research has shown that gratitude and positive feedback both can have a mitigating effect on stress and improve an employee’s feelings about their job. Sometimes, a “simple compliment can make a big difference!” Send a Spotlight in myFolio, and consider doubling-down with a handwritten card, if possible.

Acknowledge that Emotions and Feelings Matter

Take time in a faculty meeting to acknowledge a range of feelings and to provide space for faculty and staff to share emotions. Use the Mindful Minute to see where people are right now. Take time in coaching conversations to ask “How are you doing, really?” and keep track of what you learn in a Conversation Note.

Provide Space and Time for Collective Joy and Pain

Brene Brown describes collective joy and pain as “sacred experiences” and identifies them an essential quality of our shared humanity. When faculty meetings moved to Zoom, it took away some of the moments teachers where teachers could experience spontaneous joy, or pain, together. Research has shown that collective assembly provides an essential opportunity to feel joy, social connection, and meaning. Administrators can model using the myFolio Community Feed to share collective joys, to provide public acknowledgement of personal triumphs, and to create moments of collective assembly, even virtually.

Prioritize Reflection

As you consider your “end of year asks” of your teachers, take the time to prioritize reflection, both individually and as a group. After a year marked by change and disruption, it is so important for teachers to take time to consider what worked, where they struggled, how they grew, and what aspects of their growth this year they want to keep in their practice moving forward. Reflection is a critical tool to helping teachers and school communities consolidate their learning and look ahead. To frame your discussion, consider Folio’s End of Year Reflection Packet as a helpful set of resources. 

Keep an Eye on Goals and Create Wins

Although their emotional resources are depleted, teachers everywhere are committed to improving their practice. As we get close to the end of the school year, don’t lose sight of teachers’ goals, especially when it comes to helping them see the progress and the wins they have had with respect to their goals. There is great power in “small wins”. Use your classroom observation time to observe teacher progress toward their goals, and use check-ins and meetings as a space for focused goal-orientated coaching discussions. It is important that observations and conversations create spaces for teachers to complete actionable tasks and feel the progress they have made. 

Make Space for Options, Including a Pause

School leaders should give choices, options, and flexible due dates where they can to allow teachers to choose the ways in which they will accomplish each task. Remember that one option that is available is the option to pause! Now might not be the time to have the annual faculty meeting focused on prizes, or another deep dive discussion into student engagement on Zoom. While these things are important, perhaps the mental health of your faculty might improve by a pause instead. It’s ok to create the gift of found time without an agenda beyond to reflect and pause.

Name, Nourish, Connect and Grow

Jal Mehta reflects that the job of school leaders is to “name, nourish, connect, and grow.” Start by naming what is happening that is going particularly well, then create opportunities to nourish that action, create connections between groups who might not otherwise be linked in the school, and grow those networks to create a lasting impact. Keep these four words in mind as a hook to mark good practice.

Validate the Discomfort that Comes from the Unknown

As teachers consider whether or not to return to the classroom next year, they are reflecting the natural stress and anxiety related to the unknown. We know that next year will not look like this year, but we know it won’t resemble the pre-pandemic world either. As schools take stock in all that they have learned from the last 14 months, they will continue to make changes in what school looks like moving forward. Teachers are wrestling with the effects of a year of constant changes and unknowns and wondering if they have another year of shifts in them. Good administrators would be wise to validate this discomfort. Say: “we might not know what this looks like, but what we do know is that we will face it together.”

Want a thinking partner as you consider how to nurture faculty emotional health at the end of the year? Or want a hand using myFolio to make it happen? Drop us a line at members@foliocollaborative.org.


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