With all the talk of teacher wellness, I find that in the lives of the teachers I know, and in the lives of teachers they know, there is a lot of yoga, a lot of meditation, a lot of emoji checking in and tons of surveys about what’s working. What classroom educators are missing is time; and that means working in schools that support a healthy work-life balance.
While it’s common knowledge that teacher workload and stress have increased over the last few decades, the common solutions don’t seem to address the stressors in a way that makes teachers feel supported. According to EdWeek, chart 1 clearly shows that wellness initiatives popular with district administrators are among the least popular with teachers.
What are districts missing? There are many reasons that teachers have a higher burnout rate than any other US workers, but work life balance is one of teachers’s top concerns. Yet, Google searches for teacher wellness are full of SEL strategies, yoga, meditation and other band-aids that could be effective, if teachers had the time to practice them consistently. How can administrators give teachers the one thing they really need—time?
1. Conduct blind surveys on wellness initiatives (really blind, requiring no campus or grade level information).
Combat the fear of being disparaged because of educator anonymity. Teachers need to comfortable sharing their thoughts without fear of retribution.
2. Shadow beginning and seasoned teachers to pilot every initiative before district-wide implementation.
Like with most tasks, everything takes longer than you expect. By shadowing teachers in the real-world classroom, you’ll be able to evaluate (and tweak) your initiative’s implementation, not just implement an idea with no real world testing.
3. Adjust your scope or year-at-a-glance documents to utilize 80%, rather than 100% of the instructional block.
The awards ceremony, the field trip, the fire drill, the active shooter practice, the student melt down, the emergency coverage—these are all regular events that influence the number of minutes actually available for instructional purposes. If your scope is based on bell-to-bell teaching, teachers will be perpetually behind. And remember, mindful moments, brain breaks, student questions, ‘wait time’, classroom clean up and many other class community activities are also instructional, even if they are not connected to the content.
Wellness initiatives often look good on paper but lack impact. Reducing teacher workload is the number one way to retain a quality teaching staff. And a retaining a quality teaching staff is at the core of equitable learning experiences for all students.