Dr. Cohen is Prizmah's Program Director. Learn more about her here.

Faculty Mental Health and Wellbeing Support

Throughout the generations, the highest honor we bestow upon those who are worthy is the title of teacher. Moshe, the person we consider to be our greatest leader and teacher, was given the honorific title of Rabbenu, our teacher, no greater description can be given than the title of an educator. Being a teacher, an educator, is more than preparing lesson plans and grading papers and tests. It is an opportunity to connect, inspire, and motivate in the present and for the future. To educate well, our faculty must be well trained, have a deep emotional investment, spend time and money to innovate and learn new pedagogical methods, amidst myriad other responsibilities.

Teaching is consistently rated as a profession replete with meaning, and yet it is also among the professions with the highest reported rates of burnout. The challenges faced by teachers often induce increased levels of stress, lack of work-life synergy and feelings of being overwhelmed. Elementary teachers’ depressive symptoms impact most acutely on students who are already underperforming academically. Preschool students of depressed teachers make fewer gains in social-emotional development.

The influence of teachers’ wellbeing on students extends to physiological measures. A study found that higher rates of teacher-reported burnout is associated with higher levels of cortisol in their students. Faculty mental health impacts their job performance and duration, and most importantly, their students’ experience. The need to care for our faculty is clear.

In this issue of Kaleidoscope, we hear from experts in the field of faculty support. These progressive thinkers and their organizations recognize that caring for the caregivers is ultimately caring for our students. Much progress has been made in supporting administrators, school counselors and teachers, and much more work remains to be done. Increased resources devoted to the mental health and wellbeing of all educators are essential in our quest to create a psychologically healthy environment in which faculties create and model resiliency in an increasingly complex world.

What’s being done?

Many schools offer pedagogical development opportunities in mental health. Some schools have designated a teacher-support person whose job isn’t just to manage academic questions but to offer psychological support. A support helpline for teachers has also been created.

For the past five years, Prizmah’s school counselor cohort, the funding for which has recently been generously provided by the Covenant Foundation and JFNA’s BeWell, has been meeting semimonthly to hear from experts in the field, share dilemmas of practice, and provide supervision and peer support to counselors from day schools from across North America. Creating a space for connection and growth supports our counselors’ wellbeing and enables them to in turn support the wellbeing of their school communities.

Through the use of Prizmah’s Reshet communities, we’ve created room for Jewish day school and yeshiva professionals to connect and collaborate.  Additionally, we’ve created educational workshops designed to help school counselors teach teachers about a variety of mental health issues they may encounter in and out of the classroom. By using a “teach the teacher” model, we can maximize the impact this information can have.

What’s next?

Raising awareness of the importance of faculty mental health and wellbeing continues to be an important goal. Creating and expanding opportunities for school counselors, administrators and teachers to support each other both within and outside of their schools remains an area of need. Offering faculty access to mental health support, allowing faculty flexibility in managing the time during the school day to allow for better work life balance, and maintaining and enhancing socialization opportunities with colleagues near and far are just some ways to improve psychological health.

Increased educational opportunities for our heads of school, school counselors and support staff to get together and learn about mental health are an important avenue for future growth.

Prizmah’s Mental Health Summit, a two day interactive online summit with support from and in collaboration with the Ruderman Family Foundation, is a unique and inspiring program for Jewish day school counselors, psychologists, learning specialists, and educational administrators. Participants engage in high-level learning and collaboration around mental health challenges and opportunities present in day schools. This year’s theme is  “In The Moment: Navigating Difficult Times With Dignity, Empathy, and Growth.” applies to the challenges students, parents and faculty are facing.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “When the well is dry, they know the worth of water.” By prioritizing and investing resources in the psychological wellbeing of faculty, we are filling up the well from which our students will ultimately drink.