Sarah Breckley, 2017 Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year, knows how to get a message out. And the message is right on target.
The beginning of the school year... new notebooks, new clothes, new teachers, new initiatives! Because it wouldn't be a new year without a new program or practice, rolled out in a shiny new package. And while this might be the best plan since plans began (I may even be the one cheering it on), the addition of one more program already drains me of energy. Is it because I didn't get enough rest over the summer? Not enough quality time? No, it's more likely initiative fatigue.
There actually is The Law of Initiative Fatigue. It states, "when the number of initiatives increases while time, resources, and emotional energy are constant, then each new initiative—no matter how well conceived or well intentioned—will receive fewer minutes, dollars, and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors." (Thank you Douglas B. Reeves)
In short, three things are at play: resources (money), time, and emotional energy. Money is not typically ours to control, so that leaves us with time and emotional energy. Time is fixed. Add a new initiative and you will have fewer minutes for last years new plan (do we even remember the acronym for the program five years ago?). And emotional energy? As Reeves states it, "Emotional energy is variable but has limits that are exhausted quickly by school leaders who ignore the reality that even the most dedicated employee can be resilient but will refuse to be an eternal Bobo doll, rising from each punch to endure another blow."
Emotional energy is fueled by choice and passion. When I feel connected to a priority or program because it aligns with my values, my energy seems endless and almost infectious. I choose to expend my energy to make a difference. But when a dictated initiative is not inline with my values, I struggle to get onboard.
In the words of Jane Austen, "Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like."
The Calm School Initiative hopes to bring mindfulness tools to all schools in the world by offering their app and resources at no charge-- a $60 per year value.
From their website:
"Under this initiative, any teacher with a K-12 classroom, anywhere in the world, can get free access to Calm’s paid subscription service (available on Android, iOS and the web). Teachers will have unlimited access to our growing library of guided meditations and mindfulness exercises, including Calm Kids, our programs tailored for age groups from pre-K through high school. Over the coming year, we will be steadily adding to our Calm Kids library, equipping teachers with an ever-expanding supply of content crafted for the unique needs of their students."
And it's not just our students who could benefit from guided meditation and mindfulness-- teachers are also under a lot of pressure. Tools we can use!
Here's the link to check it out: https://www.calm.com/schools
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Carolyn Stanford-Taylor shared a message at the State Every Teacher a Leader Summit. The message? Teacher leadership and voice is alive in Wisconsin, and strongly supported and encouraged by DPI.
The second component of the message-- as educators we are a decisive element, a determiner of our students' success, engagement, behavior. As a leader I am the element. She went on to share this quote from Haim Ginott:
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated,
and a person is humanized or de-humanized.
If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
― Haim G. Ginott, Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers
Did you get the news? You can take one test out of the schedule next year-- no more WorkKeys!
Here's the message that was sent to superintendents this week:
In April of this year, DPI conducted a survey of District Administrators on the value and usage of the WorkKeys assessment for grade 11 students. We received extensive feedback - thank you for taking time to respond.
Results of the survey show that 90 percent of responding school districts found limited value in the WorkKeys assessment for high school students. We are listening to the results of the survey in addition to feedback from many stakeholders over the past few years and will be discontinuing the WorkKeys as a mandatory grade 11 assessment in Wisconsin. Starting in the 2019-20 academic year, grade 11 students are only required to take the ACT with writing. ACT Aspire for grades 9 and 10 and the grade 10 Forward Social Studies assessment remain mandatory as well.
A predicted National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) level will continue to be included on students’ ACT score reports as it has for the past few years. In addition, for students who complete the student profile and interest inventory sections of the ACT, individual student reports will continue to include a variety of college and career planning information including interest-major fit and examples of related occupations. The predicted NCRC level is also included on the grades 9 and 10 Aspire score report.
DPI will continue to explore options for the optional administration of the WorkKeys assessment through other sources. We will share this information if it becomes a viable option for districts.
Thank you Carolyn Stanford-Taylor and DPI for listening and making this change.
There's something called an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)-- a confidential workplace service that employers (districts) pay for, a benefit like health or dental insurance. An EAP helps employees deal with work-life stressors, family issues, financial concerns, relationship problems, and even drug or legal concerns.
"Helps employees deal with work-life stressors"? Those potential mental health concerns? Yes! These are the steps in how it works in our district:
If you're saying, "how did I not know about this," well neither did I until just recently and I've been working in my district for 25 years. The stigma concerning mental health is around getting treatment as well as talking about the concern. That's got to change. We can start that change by sharing information about EAPs with our colleagues. We'd let them know if there were free donuts in the lounge, this is even better!
It happened again... I was at a meeting where self-care was offered as the solution to educator mental health. The suggestion is usually from a well meaning professional, coming from a place of concern. But the suggestion lacks an understanding of where so many educators are on the continuum of mental health.
What's a mental health continuum? It's a scale that recognizes a spectrum of mental health concerns that impact a person's life or career. Take this Mental Health Continuum used by the Canadian Armed Forces, it can easily be applied to the education professional.
How should this continuum effect our response? It might be easier to understand if you relate it to a health continuum-- your health can range from feeling good, having a cold, getting pneumonia, to being hospitalized with respiratory failure. You would use self-care to maintain healthy function and keep the cold in check, but you would likely get professional help in treating pneumonia. We see it as irresponsible to say "get plenty of exercise and drink more fluids" to someone with pneumonia or respiratory failure.
Offering self-care advise for mental health concerns, without first looking at where our professionals are on the continuum, is not a responsible response to the problem. Many educators have passed from "healthy" or "reacting" to "injured," some "ill." 42% say they think about staying home because they're too tired; 60% lack the enthusiasm they once had for their job; 25 to 40% leave the profession in the first 5 years, mainly due to job dissatisfaction. These are signs of a mental health concern that needs more than a self care fix.
Until we recognize our problems need more than self-care solutions, we will continue to live with the effects of untreated mental health concerns among our educators: high absenteeism, difficulties in preforming in the classroom, lower student performance, and educators leaving the profession.
We know how bandaids work-- depending on the cut or scrape you affix the proper size, now protected, the wound heals. Little "works of wonder" for minor cuts and scrapes, not so good for major lacerations or broken bones. It seems silly to even point that out, everyone knows bandaids have limitations. We also know this about other self care remedies-- diet, exercise, tylenol, yoga-- they are all good, but there are limits in how well they can affect major health problems.
The educational community has led us to believe educator stress and mental health is an individual’s responsibility, that it can be fixed with self care, with a bandaid. And maybe that fix was enough in the 1990s when self care was first suggested as the way for teachers to combat stress. I remember that time, but a lot has changed in the last 25 years-- job demands have increased, voice in decision making is now the lowest for any professional occupation, and a toxic climate too often invades our buildings. These are factors outside any one individual’s ability to change or impact-- they are systemic, they call for system-wide change.
What are our current bandaids? Mindfulness, yoga, meditation, exercise, socializing away from work, turning off your messages on weekends-- all great life additions and changes, sure to enhance and improve mental well being… unless our problems are too big. If the cancer in your building is a toxic climate, mindfulness by a few individuals is going to make little difference in changing the culture. When the overload of job demands and initiatives is so great you can’t keep the acronyms straight, taking the weekend off will only make the brokenness of this system worse on Monday. Our stressors have gotten too big.
Treating bandaids as though they are cures has also led to a feeling of failure, increasing the stress rather than offering relief. “Feeling stressed? Take this mindfulness class!” “No relief? You probably weren’t doing it with fidelity.” No, you were asked to treat cancer with tylenol.
Our current practices in education are often creating major mental health issues for the adults, and by extension, the students in our buildings. Until we start treating the “illness” for what it is-- a major, systemic problem that needs a system-wide approach-- we won’t affect change. And our teachers will continue leaving the profession as this is seen as their best chance to feel mentally healthy again.
"Overcoming Obstacles is a nonprofit education publisher that provides free life skills curriculum materials to educators worldwide. Our mission is to ensure all children learn the life skills they need to achieve success.'
That's taken directly from their website. Click the image and check it out.
You need to make an account, but they don't fill up your inbox, it is free with no strings. The lessons are in line with what we want for social-emotional learning, and they're good. You know how you buy a book, or a curriculum and feel lucky if half of it is useful? Often wondering, "Did they try this out on actual kids? Cause it would never hold their attention!" The lessons on this site actually work-- they have a great message and they are engaging.
I haven't tried it yet but the middle school lessons look like a good fit for group activities.
So save time, get off Pinterest, just go to Overcoming Obstacles.
Click here to check out one of the Grade 3-5 lessons on Resolving Conflicts.
Counselor concerns, issues, challenges, and triumphs.