The Key to Helping Students Right Now Is to Invest in Teachers’ Well-Being

Writing for the 74, Candice Bobo, DC Executive Director of Rocketship Public Schools, provides a perspective that the best way to help students is to support their teachers. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

The pandemic, plus the current socio-political climate, has compounded everything that was already hard about teaching in public schools. So it’s no surprise that districts across the country are reporting high levels of teacher burnout. Some media reports are calling it a crisis

At Rocketship Public Schools, we believe the key to helping students right now is to invest in the well-being of our teachers. Public education has often sacrificed teacher health in order to meet the social-emotional and academic needs of students. But here’s the reality: Teachers can’t serve students’ emotional and mental needs if their needs aren’t being met as well. Our school wellness manager likens the effort to “putting your oxygen mask on first before helping others.” 

It’s time to rethink how schools approach wellness and extend mental health supports that are regularly provided for students to school staff, as well. This undertaking has to be as multifaceted as the issue itself. 

The employee wellness program at Rocketship Public Schools includes professional development to give teachers practical tools for managing their well-being. These sessions are led by experts from the Wise Center at Georgetown University Hospital and cover all areas of health — including physical, occupational, intellectual, social and emotional. 

While the sessions were designed to provide our staff with the knowledge and skills to prioritize their well-being, the program also offered a safe place to discuss topics that staff might have felt were taboo in the workplace before. One of our teachers said that afterward, she was able to confidently have a conversation with her supervisor about work-life balance and set clear boundaries that made her day feel more manageable. 

Our teachers also have access to individual counseling through a third party and get multiple breaks throughout the school day. 

All of us connected to education – whether as educators, parents, or engaged citizens — have to recognize that the well-being of teachers and students is deeply interconnected. When adults experience stress and its physical manifestations, children who are around them acutely sense it. The rise of stress in our society is almost palpable, and schools have seen the consequences of this play out as incidents of bullying and school violence rise

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