The Wellness Center at Sewall
Today’s teachers are at risk for stress, burnout, and secondary trauma from COVID-19. The pandemic has become a crisis for school personnel in which our everyday routines and support systems have been severely disrupted. Research has suggested that school personnel are at risk for multiple long-term consequences, including illness and burnout, even before the pandemic. A diminished ability to function professionally may place students and the teachers at risk. All school staff should be encouraged to engage in self-care strategies, including physical self-care, care for emotional health, and social care.1
For teachers and families with children facing special needs, the dueling pandemics have become a crisis. Nearly 40 percent of early childhood teachers in Louisiana who responded to a recent survey reported clinically relevant signs of depression.2 For now, and in the coming years ahead, we must focus on optimizing teachers’ school environment.
Schools have traditionally focused on counseling children, leaving the teachers on their own to find support and mental health services. However, teachers and students are tangled throughout the day, and focusing only on children’s support will not yield the desired results. Non-judgmental attitudes and behaviors, and adults’ social-emotional competencies are required for children to connect with them. This connection is tied to academic performance because humans are wired to share emotional experiences, and emotions are contagious. In schools, emotions, both positive and negative, can quickly spread.
Spreading positive emotions will create and amplify learning opportunities for all children. According to researchers Hattie and Yates, “What has been established through the laboratory studies are that the use of physical gesture, hand movement, and facial expression all contribute strongly to the mental activity people will experience as they watch another person behave.
We set our students up to follow their teacher; therefore, teachers must be aware of their reactions and limitations and model mindfulness and self-care.” However, if teachers have not experienced the value of self‐care, they won’t find time for it in their classroom. It is important to give teachers space and time to reflect, be present, and take care of their mental health, emotional, and physical needs.3
It is time to focus on teacher’s needs, prioritize their well-being, and invest in those who are caring for our children.
Teachers cannot help to stabilize their students nor their classroom environments unless they are healthy themselves.4 Social-emotional competencies can be built through professional development opportunities that focus on interpersonal skill-building.5 Emotional and mental health are essential components of well-being. A harmful emotional or mental state can damage our bodies and physical health. Our emotions can impact functions like blood pressure, heart rate, sleep, and digestion. Additionally, negative emotions and poor mental health often manifest themselves in adverse behaviors, such as overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use, which are counterproductive to the healing process.
According to the Centers for Disease Control – Well-being is associated with numerous health-, job-, family-, and economically related benefits. Higher levels of well-being are associated with decreased risk of disease, illness, and injury; better immune functioning; speedier recovery; and increased longevity. Individuals with high levels of well-being are more productive at work and are more likely to contribute to their communities.5
School personnel’s opportunities to access assistance from crisis responders or mental health professionals must be planned for and provided. Intelligently designed well‐being programs can complement diversity and inclusion strategies to enhance each worker’s feeling of belonging and understanding, leading to enhanced organizational performance. A well-being approach can be described as enabling people to have the capabilities they need to live lives of purpose, balance, and meaning for them.
Parents and families of children with special needs also need social-emotional competencies, self-care, and health literacy support. We know from research on social determinants of health that 80 percent of health outcomes are caused by factors unrelated to the medical system. Our eating and exercise habits, socioeconomic status, and where we live have a greater impact on health outcomes than health care.6
We also know that families with a child that has disabilities will need to become educated very quickly on health care and the healthcare system. Studies indicate that up to 9 out of 10 US adults are not proficient in health literacy.7
Health literacy represents the cognitive and social skills that determine individuals’ motivation and ability to gain access to, understand, and use information in ways that promote and maintain good health. Health literacy means more than being able to read pamphlets and successfully make appointments. Health literacy is critical to empowerment.8 In other words, education allows individuals to make sense of the world around them, and understanding the world empowers individuals to make changes effectively. Empowerment, in turn, is associated with better health outcomes.
In addition to extensive research, Caring Ambassadors conducted interviews with teachers and families both inside and outside the Sewall system to help define the need and obtain community input.
- National Association of School Psychologists. (2017). Care for the caregiver: tips for families and educators [handout]. Bethesda, MD
- https://hechingerreport.org/as-we-talk-about-reopening-schools-are-the-teachers-ok/ [last accessed 10/27/2020]
- Dynamic Learning Environments | CCUSD Future Ready. https://www.ccusdfutureready.org/dynamic-learning-environments
- Teachers Are Living in a Tinderbox of Stressful Conditions …. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-07-01-teachers-are-living-in-a-tinderbox-of-stressful-conditions-these-scientific-approaches-can-help
- Everyday Self-care for Educators, Philibert, Soto, Veon ©2020 Taylor& Francis Group
- 1.6: Broader Perspectives of Health – Medicine LibreTexts. https://med.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Health/Book%3A_Health_Education_(Rienk_and_Lundin)/01%3A_Introduction_to_Health/1.06%3A_Broader_Perspectives_of_Health [last accessed 10/27/2020]
- Steven A. Schroeder, “We can do better—Improving the health of the American people,” The New England Journal of Medicine 379, no. 12 (2007): DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsa073350.
- Brown MT, Bussell JK. Medication adherence: WHO cares?. Mayo Clin Proc. 2011;86(4):304–314. doi:10.4065/mcp.2010.0575