Welcome to Mental Health Awareness Month. Here are four ways to support teachers’ mental health.
I recently wrote about Teacher Appreciation Week and seven things you can do to thank your educators this week and all other weeks of the year.
While the tone of that post was quite lighthearted, something significantly less lighthearted is that of the current mental health crisis among teachers.
With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, there’s no better time to implement strategies and direct community resources to support your teachers’ mental health.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the theme of Mental Health Awareness Month 2022 is Together for Mental Health.
Show your teachers, administrators, staff, and community that you’re in this together by making a real, concerted effort to support your teachers’ mental health.
Since a high-quality, happy teacher is the primary driver of student achievement, it’s critical to keeping your teachers happy in the classroom for years to come.
Together for Mental Health: Supporting Teachers’ Wellbeing
This comes as no surprise to anyone in K-12 education: prior to the pandemic, teaching was a demanding, stressful job. In fact, a 2016 study reported that teaching was as stressing an occupation as nursing.
And that was years before the pandemic. COVID-19 hasn’t made teaching any easier.
Teachers report higher symptoms of depression than adults in other professions. Burnout is at an all-time high. And while teachers are experiencing their own mental health crisis, students are, too. Students who teachers are desperately trying to keep in the classroom and catch up on academics.
All of this is exacerbated by the fact that many tasks, such as lesson planning and grading, often go home with educators.
Where’s the reprieve?
Education is rapidly approaching a tipping point — if not surpassed it already.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, here are four strategies for supporting your teachers’ mental wellbeing.
1. Cultivate a Positive, Supportive School Climate
One of the top reasons teachers leave the profession early is a lack of support. When teachers feel isolated in the walls of their classroom and unsupported by their peers and leaders, they are far more likely to leave the classroom — if not the profession entirely.
For educators who find teaching their calling in life, exiting the classroom long before they intend to leave or retire can be a devastating decision.
However, it’s also important to focus on relationships.
Peer-to-peer mentorships between teachers can help newer teachers feel they have someone at their level — someone who understands their day-to-day, week-to-week struggles — to lean on for support and advice.
While a teacher may not be comfortable opening up to their boss about their struggle with mental health, they may be comfortable opening up with a more experienced teacher.
Additionally, build trust with your teachers. Be inclusive of their perspectives, invite their feedback, and let them know they’ve been heard and that you’re working on a solution (or compromise, if need be). You want teachers to know you’re receptive to their feedback, even when it’s not positive, and that they won’t face repercussions for coming to you with concerns.
Rather than writing off a concern as someone being dramatic or saying something for the nth time, listen. We all want to be heard.
2. Raise Awareness in Your School and Community
Problems don’t go away by ignoring them.
Raising awareness — getting people to talk about their mental health struggles in safe, supportive environments — reduces the stigma. When people feel they can talk about their struggles without shame or backlash, they’re far more likely to seek support.
- To raise awareness in your community, use the hashtags #MHAM and #Together4MH on your school’s social media accounts.
- If you have teachers who are willing to share their stories, ask them to do so! A brief paragraph or two will work. It may even spark open conversation with their peers.
- Furthermore, using your social media platforms to raise awareness helps humanize your school as a place that cares about its staff. This makes you a more appealing option not only to prospective families but also to job-seeking teachers and administrative staff.
NAMI has provided free graphics you can use on your school’s social media accounts to show your support.
3. Encourage Teachers to Practice Mental Fitness
In Supporting Mental Fitness, an episode of the ChangeAgents in K-12 podcast, Dr. Andrew Miki of Starling Minds discusses the concept of mental fitness and how, through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), people can improve their resilience to stress.
With the episode’s special emphasis on teachers, you’ll learn why teachers can benefit from practicing mental fitness and from easily accessible therapy.
You can learn more in How Mental Fitness Eases Teacher Burnout. We also offer a transcript on the episode page.
This video, courtesy of Education Week, highlights how one New York teacher, Vera Ahiyya, deals with burnout and the questions she asks herself when she feels overwhelmed:
4. Advocate for Teachers
The best way to show support is to walk the walk. See what supports are available in your local community and your state — and see which aren’t but should be available.
One quick and easy way you can get started is by signing up with NAMI to be a mental health advocate. Other things you can do include:
- Write to your local and state lawmakers to sign and sponsor bills related to mental health. At the prior link, NAMI lists a few of those bills.
- Sign and share petitions with your staff. When you do so, highlight the importance of everyone’s support: why you’re doing this, who it will affect, and what will happen if the bill(s) passes. If possible, be specific and personal with your who, what, and why.
- Donate to organizations (such as NAMI) to help them continue the fight for mental health healthcare, systems, education, and change.
- Share your story. Give a community presentation and talk about your situation and how everyone, including students and their families, can get involved. Let them know why keeping teachers in the classroom matters.
The pandemic has placed new emphasis on the demands of teaching. While education is heading into dark, uncertain waters, there’s hope.
Large organizations like NAMI will continue to push for change at large levels. But at the micro, more immediate level — that is, inside your school’s walls and community — you can make a change.
Take a task off someone’s plate. Direct community resources to your staff, or gather information on their behalf. Offer meaningful, positive feedback just because. And listen with empathy and kindness.
It might just be the thing that keeps a teacher in the classroom and fulfilled for many years to come.
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