Esther is the Director of Student Services at Kadima Day School in West Hills, California. She has had a varied background in the fields of both education and mental health. Before working at Kadima, Esther was the Director of Guidance and Counseling at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles. She has also worked in both private practice and clinic-based settings providing one-to-one, couples and group therapy. Esther also facilitates parenting workshops and has offered training for other practitioners. Esther received her Bachelor’s of Psychology from California State University, Northridge and continued to complete her Master’s of Marriage and Family Therapy with an additional credential and subsequent certification in School Counseling. Esther is part of Prizmah’s 2023-2024 YOU Lead cohort. 

Supporting Teachers is Supporting Students

Passengers on an airplane flight are cautioned as to how to react in potentially dangerous situations that may arise. In an emergency, where the cabin pressure drops and breathable air is scarce, oxygen masks will drop down from above the passengers’ heads. Before you help a dependent passenger or child, you first affix your own oxygen mask. That is, ensure that you have sufficient air and then turn to assist others.

Similarly, you cannot truly be a source of learning and/or support for others if you are not standing on stable ground. Thinking about this idea as it applies within a school setting can lend understanding to what faculty and staff need in order to be successful as educators. If we are to think of teachers as those who nurture their students, then we are led to ask, Who will nurture our nurturers?

Teacher’s Oxygen Masks 

Support staff such as school counselors and therapists are often seen as providers of support services for students. However, in order to ensure that students’ wellness needs are met both within and out of the classroom, educators also need support. When we create a network that provides support for our teachers and auxiliary staff, we strengthen these members of the team. In turn, they are more likely to be better able both to teach students and to address their emotional and social needs within the domain of the classroom environment. In doing so, we are encouraging that they first place their own oxygen masks on, and then assist their students in doing the same. 

Those in the role of support and leadership can think more deeply about what is necessary for staff members to feel and be supported in this way. First, creating space for staff to share their concerns openly and for these concerns to be heard, acknowledged and addressed is vital. If staff are vulnerable enough to bring their thoughts and worries forward, they must also feel that they are being validated and their concerns are addressed by administrators. This helps educators understand that they are a vital part of the school team, and that their work and relationships with students are seen as nothing less than essential. Supportive school environments, characterized by positive relationships among staff members and effective leadership, are associated with higher levels of teacher wellbeing.

The Aftermath of October 7th

Like all of the Jewish world, educators were shaken to their core by the horrific tragedy that occurred in Israel on October 7. Countless lives were lost, hostages taken and the trauma ongoing. On the frontlines at our schools, teachers and support staff both were tasked with providing a sense of security in a time ripe with uncertainty and loss.

Teachers were offered extra time to check in and tools for having difficult conversations with their students. Support could be garnered by providing resources for teachers to build up their own emotional strength (such as webinars on dealing with trauma) as well as ideas around guiding their students in developing stronger coping skills. Strengthening the sense of unity and community among staff contributed to the resilience of teachers and the ability to lean on each other in trying times.

Culture of Appreciation and Collaboration 

Alongside this, educators who feel appreciated are more effective educators. Verbally expressing gratitude on a regular basis to teachers for all that they do is one way to highlight how respected and valued staff is. Recognizing educators’ hard work and dedication through simple gestures such as thank-you notes, appreciation events, or public acknowledgments fosters a culture of appreciation and boosts morale. When teachers feel valued, they are more likely to remain motivated, which consequently impacts their role in fostering student learning and wellness. A culture of appreciation also increases staff cohesiveness and dedication. 

Encouraging collaboration among teachers fosters a culture of continuous learning and growth. Whether through interdisciplinary team meetings, professional learning communities, or peer observation programs, facilitating opportunities for educators to collaborate enhances their ability to share best practices, seek feedback, and brainstorm innovative solutions to classroom challenges. Another way to foster relationships and enhance staff support is through mentorship programs that pair newer teachers with more experienced educators who can provide invaluable guidance and support during the crucial early years of their careers. By fostering mentorship relationships, schools not only support the professional development of new teachers but also crete a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose among staff members.
Offering professional development to teachers throughout the school year enables them to continuously enhance their skills, stay updated with the latest teaching methodologies, and exchange insights with peers. Educators who consistently learn can be more motivated and in touch with the changing field of education. Professional development may also be seen as the oxygen mask that we want our teachers to wear so that they can continue to teach and guide their students.

Research has consistently shown that teachers who feel supported stay longer in their roles and are likely to be more effective educators. When care is taken to provide sufficient “oxygen masks” for staff, overall school success is impacted positively. By prioritizing teacher support, schools can create conditions that foster educator success and ultimately enhance student learning outcomes and wellness.