What Will You be Taking with You?

Empty School Stairwell with light shining through

By: Ann Rankowitz

We are living through a pandemic that most of us could never have imagined. And, based on a recent survey by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Collaborative for Social Emotional and Academic Learning (CASEL), teachers are not in their best emotional shape. The survey[i] conducted in March 2020 with over 5,000 teachers, reported that “teachers were experiencing feeling anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed and sad. Anxiety was the emotion most frequently mentioned.”

Teachers, school administrators, parents and all of us throughout the United States are faced with feeling stressed as a result of dealing with the impact of COVID-19. As essential workers, teachers are being asked to personally manage caring for their families and staying safe, while simultaneously transitioning to working from home and mastering new technology challenges that come with providing education remotely.

Many of the issues teachers face today were present before the pandemic but have become more evident during these unprecedented times. In 2009, leaders in social and emotional learning and mindfulness in education Patricia Jennings and Mark T. Greenberg published a highly cited paper[ii] on the importance of teachers’ own social and emotional development, demonstrating that teacher well-being was central to both student outcomes and teacher retention. A number of other researchers have studied preventive interventions focusing on new models of professional development for teachers that incorporate an emphasis on stress-reduction, emotional awareness, and the practice of skills drawn from the fields of mindfulness and compassion.

A report[iii] conducted by the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional & Academic Development (2018) also shined a spotlight on the importance of adult social and emotional learning (SEL):

Ensure that induction programs for new teachers support social, emotional, and academic learning: This includes teaching novices how to support the development of these skills, attitudes, and habits in their students and how to develop them in themselves, including stress management, the ability to be calm and mindful in the face of stress, and how to be self-aware and able to problem solve, collaborate, and marshal resilience.

Teaching is considered one of the most stressful professions. Education is a calling that draws some of the most hard-working and dedicated professionals. Teachers who support the well-being and learning of students are more likely to experience the following types of chronic stress:

  • Burnout: High work-related stress piled up over months or years including mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that can result in an inability to cope with demands (e.g. from parents, students, policies, curriculum)
  • Compassion fatigue: Feelings of helplessness and a general sense of overwhelm as a result of constant exposure to students who you can’t help and who are suffering (e.g. from poverty, homelessness, racism, violence)
  • Emotional labor: Feeling you must suppress your emotions daily (e.g. by keeping a smile on) when your personal values are in conflict with work expectations (e.g. wanting more time to support every student but needing to meet district demands)

The demand for curricula that teach students social and emotional skills is greater than ever. Schools have increasingly come to see SEL as something teachers should be teaching. However, little attention has been paid to the emotional preparedness of the classroom teacher, who is central to teaching students and modeling behavior that fosters a safe, supportive and engaging climate.

As a society, our social policies and public funding have often been inconsistent with the values we purport as a culture. By association, the value we place on the health and well-being of teachers has been lacking. This is evident in teachers being chronically underpaid, given little autonomy in pedagogy and curriculum decisions, receiving poor employee benefits, and lacking high-quality professional development. For example, a new EDWeek Research Center survey[iv] (2020) found a fifth of teachers say they never receive opportunities in their job to reflect upon and improve their own social-emotional skills.

As we face students and staff returning to schools, Melissa Schlinger, vice president of practice and programs at CASEL, has said,[v] “it can’t be ‘business as usual,’ because students and staff will be returning with collective trauma, higher anxiety levels and greater stress after dealing with child abuse, neglect, unemployment and loss of life.”

As we begin to consider what’s ahead, in terms of educating our children, it is important for school administrators to help create a restorative, health-centered plan of re-entry, one that provides a consistent safe, equitable, diverse and inclusive environment for students and teachers.

With the already existing shortage of psychologists, social workers and counselors, it is more important than ever that teachers be equipped with the support and resources necessary to prevent them from experiencing high work-related stress, compassions fatigue and burn out. Studies using mindfulness courses, adapted specifically for teachers, have been proven to be a positive intervention.[vi] Professional development in mindfulness training will help teachers:

  • Meet and navigate intense emotions
  • Improve communication and interactions with students, peers and others
  • Cultivate positive states of mind like gratitude, kindness, joy, and compassion
  • Reduce stress levels, feelings of overwhelm, frustration, anxiety, depression
  • Improve restful sleep and relaxation
  • Improvement job satisfaction
  • Request fewer unplanned days off
  • Learn techniques and tools to practice and integrate mindfulness into their daily life

Mobile apps are rapidly becoming the main source for people to become introduced to mindfulness around the word. This is a major departure from the traditional way that mindfulness has been taught throughout the years. Research in the field has demonstrated the benefits of mindfulness training. With the continual reliance on digital platforms and their ability to improve accessibility, there is the potential to make mindfulness training accessible to anyone with an internet connected device.[vii]

The JabuMind App is a mindfulness mobile app that offers features such as check-ins for current mood and quality of sleep. These check-ins help teachers to correlate quality of sleep with mood, behavior and/or performance. Teachers are also provided a series of guided meditations that are based on current scientific research on mindfulness and the brain, emotion regulation, and compassion. JabuMind’s mobile app offers a digital Professional Development Program for Teachers that is based on the 10-Step iRest® protocol, an evidence-based, approved complementary alternative medicine (CAM) modality in a wide range of clinical and non-clinical settings.

As Principal Pamela Lathrop at High Plain Elementary in Andover, MA said, “anytime you want teachers to have a change or have an effect on kids, you have to also recognize teachers need to have that experience within themselves.”[viii]

As we reenter schools, we will not return to the schools we left. All of us are challenged to bring with us only those parts of our past that will continue to serve us well while also challenging ourselves to find new, more creative and inventive ways of doing things and being present. Technology is a case in point. It can be our best friend or worst enemy at times. It’s up to us to decide how it will continue to show up in our lives and what new practices we will bring with us.

[i] Cipriano, C, & Brackett M, Teachers Are Anxious and Overwhelmed. They Need SEL Now More Than Ever. Education Surge, Published April 7, 2020

Survey Findings Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UE2mWPPj0k&t=

[ii] Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: Teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 79,491?525.

[iii] National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (2018). From a nation at risk to a nation of hope: Recommendations from the National Commission. Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute.

[iv] Will, Madeline, The Success of SEL Hinges on Teachers. Education Week Vol 39 Issue 29, Week April 8,2020

[v] Modan, Naaz, Pandemic-induced trauma, stress leading to uptick in SEL need. Education Dive, Published April 27, 2020.

[vi] Mindfulness for teachers: A pilot study to assess effects on stress, burnout and teaching efficacy Lisa Flook, Simon B. Goldberg, […], and Richard J. Davidson, Mind Brain Educ 2013 Sep:7 (3): 10.111/mbe.12026.

[vii] A.J, Mrazek, M.D, Cherolini, C.M, Cloughesy, Cynman, D.J, Gougis, L.J, Landry, A.P, Reese, J.V, and Schooler, J.W.? The future of mindfulness training is digital, and the future is now. Current Opinion in Psychology 2019, 28:81?86

[viii] 8. Modan, Naaz, Pandemic-induced trauma, stress leading to ?uptick? in SEL need. Education Dive, Published April 27, 2020.

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