Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! This week, we need to go beyond the "Thank you’s" and explore concrete ways to support teacher mental health. Studies show that educators experience stress and burnout at alarming rates, with many reporting symptoms like anxiety and depression at much higher levels than other professions. This takes a toll on not only their well-being but also their ability to effectively guide and inspire students. They need help and support.

 

Today, we’re sharing 5 ways that administrators and other school leaders can support the mental health of teachers, as well as some additional mental health tips for teachers themselves.

 

Make mental health support easily accessible

Many districts offer mental health support for their staff. For example, your district might have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers free access to a mental health app, or covers mental health services with insurance benefits. 

 

If you don’t offer additional mental health benefits (on top of those that your health insurance covers), it may be worthwhile to research options that you could add to your list of benefits. Talk to your teachers to see what would be most convenient for them. Would it be access to an online therapy app? Mental health course and workshop offerings? Just ask!

 

Even if your district does offer additional mental health benefits, it’s important to make sure your staff is aware of them. Reports show that less than 5% of covered employees actually use their EAP benefits. Make mental health benefits well-known (signage and emails are a good start). Encourage their use; host workshops to teach staff about every resource that’s available to them.

 

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Listen to teachers’ feedback

When teachers tell you what they need to make their jobs more sustainable, make it a priority to listen to them. Of course, it may be challenging to implement all of their suggestions for changes, especially immediately – but genuinely listening, and focusing on making the changes that you can, makes a big difference.

 

For example, if teachers let you know they’re feeling overwhelmed by a series of new initiatives, try to space them out more so they’re not being pushed out all at once. Provide teachers with as much autonomy as possible over their jobs. Seek teacher feedback as much as possible.

 

When teachers do share their feedback with you, thank them for their transparency. Practice active listening skills, and ask open questions to deepen the conversation.

 

Normalize taking time away for mental health

Taking “mental health days,” or taking a sick day to recharge your mental health, is becoming normalized in many other professions. But for teaching, taking time away for any reason can be a lot more complicated – teachers need to make extensive plans for their absences, and often report that the stress that this preparation

 

Think about ways that you can make “mental health days” easier and more normalized for your teachers. Accept teachers’ requests for personal days off without questioning them, regardless of the reason. Offer to support teachers in building sub plans if you can, and always have a backup plan in case teachers aren’t able to make detailed lesson plans for substitutes.

 

It’s a challenge to lose a teacher for a day, but it’s much harder to lose a teacher to burnout for good.

 

Understand that self-care may not be enough

Lastly, we all know how important self-care is. But it’s also important to understand that self-care, alone, is not enough to combat the serious issues that cause teacher burnout and depression. 

 

Research shows that teacher burnout isn’t typically caused by underlying mental health issues or individual lifestyle habits – it’s caused by systemic problems like low salary, being undervalued in society, and lack of autonomy over curriculum. While you may feel powerless to change these things – one of the most painful and challenging parts of being an administrator – touting “self-care” as the solution to every problem may just be rubbing salt into the wound.

 

Teacher self-care is important – but we need to move the conversation further.

 

Focus on SEL

SEL lessons, even when they’re designed for the students, not the adults, can improve overall school morale and benefit teachers as well. Research shows that teachers with higher social-emotional skills have higher job satisfaction and lower burnout rates. They also have strong relationships with their students and have less teaching-related anxiety.

 

Our internal research found that after implementing Calm Classroom, 78% of teachers experienced a reduction in stress and anxiety in themselves, and 84% felt more physically relaxed.

 

It’s clear that SEL is effective, not only for students but for educators as well.

 

Ways that teachers can improve their own mental health

Teachers can also feel empowered knowing that there are steps you can take to improve your own mental health and well-being. Here are some tips to start with:

  • Schedule short mindfulness breaks throughout the day, even if it's just for a few minutes. Try deep breathing exercises, meditation apps, or even some mindful stretching. These practices can significantly reduce stress in the moment and improve your overall focus throughout the day.
  • Engage in physical activity during your free time. It doesn't have to be a huge commitment – a brisk walk during your lunch break, a short jog in the morning, or even a quick gym class can be a powerful stress reliever. Regular exercise can boost your mood, improve sleep quality, and leave you feeling more energized.
  • Don’t hesitate to say no to extra commitments or volunteer work when you’re asked, especially if it adds to your stress. It can feel uncomfortable to decline these requests at first, but it’s more than okay to prioritize your mental health. By taking care of yourself, you'll be better equipped to handle the demands of teaching.
  • Seek out a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or counselor. Talking about your feelings and challenges can be incredibly helpful. This support system can provide a safe space to vent, gain clarity, and receive emotional support. Sharing your experiences with others who understand the demands of teaching can be a powerful tool for managing stress.
  • Celebrate the small victories, both yours and your students'. Take time to acknowledge and appreciate the positive moments, no matter how big or small. Acing a test, a heartfelt student note, or simply a successful classroom discussion can all be sources of positive reinforcement. Focusing on these wins can boost your mood and motivation.
  • Embrace imperfection and focus on doing your best. There will be good days and bad days, that's just life. Don't put undue pressure on yourself to be everything for everyone. Focus on what you can control and let go of the things you can't. Remember, a happy and healthy teacher is a more effective teacher.
  • Schedule as many breaks and vacations as you can. Don't underestimate the power of taking time away from the classroom. Whether it's a single mental health day or a longer career break, disconnecting from work allows you to recharge and return with renewed focus and energy. This time away can also be an opportunity to reassess your career path and decide if teaching remains fulfilling for you.
  • Advocate for change to combat helplessness. Feeling like you have no control over your work environment can be incredibly draining. Get involved in discussions with colleagues and school administration. Research and propose solutions to address common teacher challenges, like workload or classroom resources. Working towards positive change within the system can empower you and foster a sense of agency in your career.

Happy Teacher Appreciation from Calm Classroom

At Calm Classroom, we value teachers not only this week but all year round. We are here to support districts, administrators, and teachers in the important work that you do, and research shows that our school-based mindfulness program can help improve mental health and morale district-wide.

 

Get in touch with us to learn more about how we can support you and your teachers. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week from all of us at Calm Classroom!

 

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