The Highest of Highs and the Lowest of Lows
The final dress rehearsal for the annual high school musical. An incredibly shy and hesitant ninth-grader was asked to stand on a chair and stop a brawl happening in one scene of the annual musical. After some encouragement from the director, the ninth-grader met the expectations and the full cast erupted in cheers and pats on the back. The school community lifted the ninth grader up.
Student-led conference night. A long day of teaching followed by back-to-back conferences with each student and their family after school. When the final conference wrapped up, a voicemail awaited the teacher. A close family member passed away unexpectedly. Lost, confused, and uncertain of what to say or do, colleagues and administration lifted this exhausted teacher up.
The day before Spring Break 2020. Educators across the globe sent their students home uncertain of what was to come. A few weeks later, educators created a new reality to connect with students. Burnt out, dejected, and exhausted, online communities of support including chat rooms and Facebook groups crowdsourced resources that lifted teachers up.
All three of these stories share a common thread: Community was there in moments of joy and struggle. Take a moment to reflect on a high and/or low moment in your life. Was an element of your community there to lift you up?
The ninth-grade student, fifth-grade teacher, and educator thrust into a global pandemic also share one more personal connection to your author: they’re all part of my story! My community has always defined the highest and lowest points in my life. We might choose to define our community as family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, pets, podcast hosts, or members of an online group.
The Great Paradox
Teaching is one of the most fulfilling professions in the world. Teaching is also one of the most demanding and exhausting professions in the world. Both statements can be true at once. This is the great paradox of our profession. Teaching is an intersection of profession, passion, vocation, and mission. So why have so many educators left the profession altogether? If we surveyed a random sample of one hundred educators who left, each would provide a unique answer centered around their story. Creating a system of support for each educator to form a community of support where they are, as they are should be our ultimate goal.
Centering the Educator
When designing mentoring programs and teacher wellness initiatives, we often create a set of supports for educators from the district and programmatic levels. Each educator is viewed as the same and given a similar set of supports to find success in their context. The problem with this view is that one size does not fit all. One size fits one. Today, I challenge you to think of educator support from the bottom up. From the educator out. How might we create a circle of support and community for each of our educators to not just survive, but thrive? With the educator at the center of our work, I offer a set of questions and ideas to challenge your thinking.
- Are you asking educators how they’re doing and acting on the data? Often, we ask educators to complete climate surveys, check-ins, and other measures and fail to inform the educators who participated in the study what we’re doing with the data. Make the data public. Acknowledge each educator’s voice by listing what you can and can’t change and why.
- Do you have a crowdsourced area for educators to share their resources and creations? There are so many educators who do so many amazing things. Make the space for educators to crowdsource and share their magic with colleagues near and far. Platforms such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Padlet, Wakelet, and Flip are great ways to share with the world.
- How do you model setting boundaries between work and home? Educators take their lead from their school leaders. Get to know each teacher’s story, schedule send emails for working hours, and celebrate when teachers leave at a decent hour.
- How is time utilized during staff meetings? Providing structured time for educators to share time with their school community is key. Teaching can be an isolating job and providing time for educators to connect with their community allows them to realize they’re not alone and have a community of support.
- Can you name three people or groups of people you consider part of your community? Join a weekly Twitter chat, Facebook group, or affinity group. EdTech is stepping up to provide global connections at your fingertips, on your own time, for free! Find your marigold(s!)
- Do you have a list of boundaries? Create one. And stick to the list. My principal used to tell me that school would take as much from me as I’m willing to give to it. That can be a daunting thought. Leave at the end of the day. Respond to emails during working hours only. The work will be there tomorrow.
- What is one thing you love to do that isn’t school related? Many educators have a hard time answering this question. I know I sure did for a long time. We’re so used to giving to others that we forget to give to ourselves. Set a reminder on your phone to do the thing you love most at least once a week. Make this your sacred time for you.
Community will always be there for us when we’re uncertain of what to do next. In times of joy, hardship, and stress a strong community will help to stem educator decline and bring back the joy in the work we know and love.
“There are two ways of spreading the light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” -Edith Wharton
Dan Reichard is the Coordinator of New Teacher Support at Stafford County Public Schools in Virginia, and the 2018 Washington Post Teacher of the Year.