Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers’ mental health has been plummeting. After returning to the classrooms, students have been behind academically and developmentally, resulting in more difficult classroom behavior.
As a result, an alarming number of teachers are leaving the classroom. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 10.6 million educators were working in public education in January 2020; today, there are just 10 million, with a total loss of around 600,000 educators.
This exodus of educators is due to teachers having high stress levels at this time, resulting in teacher burnout. In a poll conducted by the National Education Association in February, 90% of educators polled stated that “feeling burned out is a serious problem.”
Some reasons for the high stress levels are that teachers feel a lack of support from administrators, school districts, and parents, classroom management has become more difficult, and additional work responsibilities due to the exodus of teachers since COVID-19.
WHY IS TEACHER MENTAL HEALTH IMPORTANT?
The nationwide statistics seem dire to administrators and school districts, who struggle to support teachers. Supporting teacher mental health is crucial to increasing teacher retention, student success and growth in social-emotional development, and teacher productivity.
Teaching is a lot of time built on the relationships that teachers cultivate with their students. Students are more likely to thrive in a classroom environment if teachers can emotionally support their students’ wellbeing.
Understandably, teachers have had to give additional emotional support to their students since students have returned to campus. Teachers’ mental health has been at an all-time low, and supporting students can feel impossible if their needs are not met as well.
Likewise, teacher productivity can be improved if teachers feel that their mental health is supported. When teachers feel burnt out, they run on survival mode, and productivity becomes difficult.
Here is a list of ten unique ways to support teacher mental health.
- Show Teachers That Mental Health is a Top Priority
- Adjust Workload Expectations
- Decrease Class Sizes
- Check In on Teacher Mental Health With an Anonymous Survey
- Offer Fun Professional Development Opportunities
- Nurture Staff Collaboration
- Provide Free Mental Health Resources to Your Teachers
- Use a Teacher Duty Day to Promote Mental Health
- Streamline Communication
- Trust Your Teachers
Implementing some or all of these tactics can help teachers feel uplifted in the most stressful time to be a teacher. Read on to find out how to best support teachers this upcoming school year.
1. Show Teachers That Mental Health is a Top Priority
One key way to retain teachers is to help teachers feel seen. Giving teachers the opportunity to have a voice is a crucial way to support them.
From the first day of school, show that teachers’ mental wellbeing is of utmost importance to you and your school district. Share your support to teachers early in the school year by addressing mental wellness needs for educators at the first meeting of the school year. Encourage teachers to set a healthy work-life balance.
Also, keep an eye out for teachers who continually put their needs last. For students to be successful, teachers need to have optimal mental wellbeing.
2. Adjust Workload Expectations
Teaching is more than a profession for many—they see it as their lifestyle. Many teachers put in many hours of work outside of contract hours.
Some teachers work up to twenty hours off the clock due to increased workload expectations. This is primarily due to increasing class sizes due to staff shortages in schools nationwide.
Demonstrate to teachers that you have a lowered workload expectation. This may look like lowered expectations for lesson plans. You may also give teachers strategies to reduce grading, such as selecting a few questions to grade.
3. Decrease Class Sizes
Another way to lower teacher stress levels is by increasing funding for more faculty members on campus and thus lower class sizes.
In addition to improving teachers’ mental health, reducing class sizes can allow students to have more academic achievement in the classroom.
In a study called the Student Teacher Achievement Ratio, which was conducted in Tennessee during the late 1980s, it was found that a large reduction in class size (7 students, or 32%) increases student academic achievement to “an amount equivalent to about 3 additional months of schooling.”
4. Check In on Teacher Mental Health With an Anonymous Survey
An anonymous survey allows teachers to voice their mental health needs and concerns. This survey could be given on paper or through an online survey tool.
Give teachers questions that ask them to rate their stress levels, what is causing them to feel stressed, and what the best ways to support teachers are.
You can incentivize survey submissions by giving a random participant a gift card or a voucher for a free massage.
5. Offer Fun Professional Development Opportunities
Like students need social and emotional learning (SEL), creating fun opportunities for teachers to have SEL in their professional development sessions can help relieve the stress of a mandatory meeting.
Start meetings with a blast by having a group game focused on learning a skill pertinent to the goal of the professional development (PD) class. For example, if you are teaching PD on engaging students in online learning, create a fun digital scavenger hunt for the teachers before you begin.
Fun activities during professional development can help build a community among the school’s faculty. Many new teachers can often feel left out of the loop. Playing fun icebreakers can help established faculty get to know the new faces on campus and vice versa.
Related: How to Boost Employee Morale
6. Nurture Staff Collaboration
Teachers flourish when they feel that they are part of a school community.
One practical way to encourage collaboration is to allow teachers to voice their thoughts on school-wide policy and procedures before they are implemented. This is effective because when teachers feel they have some level of ownership of a policy, they feel less stressed about its implications.
Another practical way to promote staff collaboration in secondary schools is to provide meeting times for the same grade level teachers to collaborate on assignments and due dates.
This allows teachers to assign summative assignments at different times, reducing stress for students and ultimately themselves.
7. Provide Free Mental Health Resources to Your Teachers
Show teachers that you prioritize their mental health by providing a worksheet that shows where to find local and online mental health resources. You could do this through email or at your first staff meeting of the school year.
Some ideas to include in your worksheet are contact information for national hotlines and local resources in your school district centered around mental health. If you would like to send this through an email, here is a PDF that includes much of this information.
Another helpful resource to share with educators is The Ultimate Employee Mental Health Kit. It provides practical tools for educators to improve their mental wellbeing.
8. Use a Teacher Duty Day to Promote Mental Health
One way to lessen the burden of a teacher duty day is to provide opportunities for teachers to increase their mental wellbeing.
Think of things that could promote stress relief, such as a staff-wide local excursion to an escape room, theme park, or nature trail. You could use the full teacher duty day or the second half of the day.
You may also choose to begin your teacher duty day with a morning yoga session or schedule time in the day for a fifteen-minute chair massage.
9. Streamline Communication
A practical way to reduce stress is to improve the lines of communication between administration and teachers. Keep emails positive with simple messaging.
Try not to bombard your teachers’ inboxes with emails. You can limit the frequency of emails by sending out a weekly bulletin with just the pertinent information that teachers need to know.
Lastly, consider whether the information should be presented at a meeting or by email. Shortening meeting times can reduce teacher stress and allow them to support their families or needs at home.
10. Trust Your Teachers
Most importantly, remember that your staff is made up of highly educated human beings. Trust in their abilities as educators to care for the students’ education.
Try your best not to micromanage educators—limit walkthroughs to the minimum required unless requested by the educator.
Teachers feel most supported when administrators demonstrate trust towards them. Offer your support when teachers need it most. When teachers are reaching out to you for support, it is when they most need it.
For more ideas to support teacher mental health, check out these articles:
- Reducing Teacher Stress in the Classroom
- 5 Ways to Support Teachers This Summer
- 11 Simple Teacher Morale Boosters for Going Back Into the Classroom
Learn About the Power of Self-Care
Download the Mental Health Tool Kit to learn about mental health in the workplace – what it is, why it matters, and how you can start supporting employee mental health!
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