Mental Health & Wellness: Questions From School Leaders

By: Amy Wasser
KC Topics: 
Coronavirus, Work Life Balance, Recruitment & Retention of Teachers, Personnel Development & Empowerment

We have collected the questions trending in Jewish day schools and yeshivas across North America as well as approaches being considered by independent schools across the country.  We do not endorse any one approach. We do encourage all school leaders to use the information below to reflect on what feels right based on your school culture and students’ needs.

“The responsibility of the leaders is to take care of the people who take care of the children ... Get that order right, you get trusting [school] teams,” 

(Simon Sinek)

Questions School Leaders are asking: 

  • Our teachers are exhausted and have been teaching online for many weeks. How can I, as an administrator, keep them going, support them, and help them take the time they need for themselves and their families?
  • Beyond saying thank you, what concrete things can we do to support teachers? 
  • How do we support teachers as they navigate the intensity of work right now and loss of face-to-face connection with colleagues?
  •  What kind of one-on-one or peer-to-peer meetings can support teachers feeling lonely and needing support?
  • How are our faculty getting and receiving feedback? How does a teacher know what they are doing is working and when it is not?
  • How are faculty and staff conversations being documented and how will we use this information?
  • What considerations should we take into account when setting clear expectations for the balance of the school year?
  •  How do administrators give effective feedback in this context?
  •  How might we communicate expectations, make sure they are fair and clear, and then push everyone to excel, when the circumstances are so challenging?

Challenge:

Approaches:

Our teachers are exhausted and have been teaching online for many weeks. How can I, as an administrator, keep them going, support them, and help them take the time they need for themselves and their families?

 

 

 

Beyond saying thank you, what concrete things can we do to support teachers?

 

 

How are we showing appreciation?

 

Teachers need this from you: Reassurance. • Sense of belonging and community. • To be heard. • To have an avenue to raise their concerns and not to have their issue dismissed

Provide easy avenues for anyone to reach out with concerns and questions

Reach out individually to each staff member: Make sure a leadership team member is touching base with every faculty member on an ongoing basis, one on one. Find out how they are. What are their personal challenges and how can the school help? You may not be able to solve for every challenge, but reaching out will help your faculty feel seen. Be sure every member of the staff has a "planning" period each day as well as time to eat. The LT should have a mechanism to share back any concerns being heard to collaborate on a solution. What are ways to make people feel seen beyond zoom? Note specific things about your team- are there young children at home, challenges to finding a physical space for themselves and/or balancing the needs of a spouse or partner? How might you leverage peer-to-peer groups to offer support to one another. 

 

Offer tips for connection: We miss those moments of community. Help teach your team how to make real connections online, how to make people feel authentically good during an online class. Follow up is key- via email or call, shout outs and more. Personalize assignments and roles so they meet your teachers’ interests, just like you want them to do with their students.

 

Thanks from the words of the students and parents: Get student and parent feedback about what is working and share their authentic feedback and thanks. Some schools have created a “Gratitude Wall” on their website where they showcase positive appreciate and notes of support.

Send gifts like ice cream and flowers and supplies with thank you notes. A treat delivered to staff at home may also support a local business. Offer fun opportunities for staff to connect with one another eg. meditation and mindfulness sessions for staff; send a fun activity like an adult coloring book or a gift certificate to a local bookstore; remind them that their self care matters to you.

Asking the right questions to get the answers you need: what do you need to know? Differentiate for your team just like you would in your classroom. Support each person in his or her own ways. Feedback forms are a powerful tool, as are personal conversations.
 

Acknowledge  “zoom fatigue” and remind them that we struggled the first week and that we will see additional periods of  transition moving forward. 

Share Stories of resilience and inspiration. People love stories.

Assume positive intent. Emails and messages are often sent quickly. Every now and then, a team member might type something that hits you the wrong way emotionally. Always assume positive intent. Just keep an eye out for any overarching communication patterns that might need to be collectively addressed.

Demonstrate Self-Compassion. You aren’t expected to be perfect. You can show that you – as well as the students – are learning too. Access their online knowledge and skills. “We’re all learning and we’re all going to get better.”

Model: Remind everyone  to have fun and laugh. MODEL the kind of engagement you want to see from your teachers

Be Intentional about what coming back together as a staff will look like; plan an end of school year gathering for your staff

Are there red flags I should be looking for when supporting my team? What can I do? How can I help my staff if they are having a tough time?

Steps for you to take as you listen/observe:

Take a moment to figure out what’s going on

Act promptly, not hurriedly:  You can act with deliberateness as well as speed

Manage expectations:  It falls to the leader in charge to address the size and scope of the crisis

Demonstrate control:  You do not control the issue, but you can control the response

Stay nimble:  A hallmark of a crisis is its ability to change quickly; your first response may not be your final response.

Provide perspective:  Effective leaders can often do more by stepping up onto the balcony

Connect to help:If you have concerns about a specific staff member, reach out to them, have your guidance team step up to support them and ask how you can help.

How do we address teacher burnout related to no face-to-face interaction with colleagues?

 

What kind of one on one or peer to peer meetings can happen that can help?

One-on-one Meetings: Virtual one on one meetings on the computer or the phone

Optional Virtual small group meetings- without agenda, “faculty room” time

Have a calendar that everyone can access so they can schedule time with you and also see you model how you have set aside personal time

 

Virtual “coffee hour” with topics to discuss that are not related to COVID-19. Play games, when appropriate, that build connection and team.

Professional development (optional) opportunities with colleagues.

Peer-to-peer support: offer to sub for their class so they can observe and support each other.

How are they getting pedagogic support?  How does a teacher know what they are doing is working and when it is not?

 

How is any of this being documented and how will we use this information? 

Be clear about what is necessary: Make sure your demands are necessary, relevant and worthy- how? For teachers→ students and for administrators→ students. Do they all know what are the most important things to you, as an administrator, at this time?

Check in and give feedback! Share when a great model of teaching is seen/heard and when a concern is heard, think carefully about how the teacher learns about it and get support in creating a way to amend the concern. Teachers should still feel they are able to grow and that all is appreciated. Create ways for peers to support each other and observe and offer insights for growth. If helpful, create a rubric or checklist to help get the conversation started.

Feedback Forms: Use forms for teachers to reflect about what they are doing well, what they are struggling with, what they are learning and what they are doing. Make sure to respond to these reflections. Do this yourself, as well, and share.

What considerations are administrators taking in to be clear about expectations for teachers?

Manage Expectations and honor time: When creating a calendar invite for a virtual meeting, specify what the meeting is about in the title or the body of a message. This can substantially alleviate anxiety among team members and ensure everyone arrives prepared for discussion. Begin and end meetings on time.

Take notes: Consider sharing the notes for each staff and faculty member with the leadership team, so that files can be kept up to date, and added to. In addition, should any staffing changes be needed, documentation needs to be current. In addition, model for your teachers how important it is to document what you’ve done so that in the fall we know where we left off and can pick up from there.

Create a rolling agenda document—an editable, online document that includes the meeting agenda and notes for a specific team. It is updated at the top of the online document with each subsequent meeting agenda and notes for that team. Update the agenda prior to each virtual meeting as much as possible, and share it with your team in advance.

Meaningful Goodbyes: As we look ahead to the end of school, what are ways we can thank, honor, and celebrate all we have done (see Rituals From Afar list of ideas for graduations and ways to thank teachers) Work with PTO/ PTA to create meaningful moving up ceremonies.

Time off in the future: Begin thinking of what can be done to preserve some of the time off lost now when a normal schedule is able to resume; extra days that might be able to be carried over; flex days that will be given and not counted towards PTO in the next school year; paying out some days not used if the school is financially able to do so

How do we give effective feedback in this context? How do we communicate our expectations, make sure they are fair and clear and then push ourselves and others to excel, when the circumstances are so challenging?

Rubrics work for teachers, too. Imagine what your core values are and what they would look like in action? Ask teachers to self evaluate and share what they are learning: constant and never ending improvement.

Pop into classes to check on students and say hi and then follow up with the faculty with specific compliments and questions

Offer to “sub” for a class so your teachers can observe one another  

Frameworks to Support Management and Growth of Remote Teams During COVID-19

Managing Remote School Teams: Establishing a Foundation to Build Trust Learn 8 tips to effectively manage a team navigating a quick pivot to working remotely
Now, Next, and Later: A Framework for Crisis Leadership Consider how the approach outlined here might help support with prioritizing decision making during a crisis
Possibilities Amid Pandemic: Mapping Interactions for Remote Learning Use this framework for learner-to-content and teachers-to-learner interactions to analyze what’s working and what needs improvement in your virtual environments