Going over the existing literature on well-being in education, you will realize that the majority of the work done is focused on the learners, and that teachers, in comparison, seem to be lost in the discourse. We now know that teachers’ and learners’ well-being are interconnected, one affecting the other. We also know that there are other factors involved for a school or institution to run smoothly: the manager’s and staff’s well-being. So, this issue will touch on all of those.
The experience of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic taught us how easily the clear-cut borders that existed before can be distorted and even disappear. We saw how managers, teachers, and administrative staff had to redefine many of the borders (physical, temporal, and psychological) to help learners, during this challenging time of rapid adaptation, sacrificing their own physical and mental health in this “other-oriented profession” (for more on this, watch Sarah Mercer and Tammy Gregersen’s talk).
To focus on the educational leaders’ side, Kate Brierton talks about “the compassionate mind” in our main video. She expounds on how our early experiences (parenting, schooling, culture, and gender—the ones we do not choose), as well as later experiences (relationships, career, society, world events, and personal events), shape our identity, making us unique human beings, prone to mistakes, vulnerability, and negative feelings.
Brierton elucidates the verdict that “we are the only species that can think ourselves into an emotion” by dissecting the “tricky brain” and its three distinct—yet connected—parts: Reptilian Brain, Limbic Brain, and Neocortex, as other species lack the ability to respond to their inner thoughts (which is the source of worries, stress, regrets, etc.).
She then proceeds to go into detail about the three emotional systems (Drive, Soothing, and Threat) responsible for staying motivated, calm, and anxious (respectively), reminding us that we need them all and, ideally, they should be in balance. She states how most of us love the dopamine and oxytocin associated with the Drive and Soothing systems and try to avoid the adrenaline and cortisol coming from the Threat system.
Brierton encourages us to welcome our emotions for the sake of our well-being. Emotions are powerful and we are human. It is not our fault we feel strong emotions, but it is our responsibility to look after ourselves. When it comes to dealing with negative emotions, we tend to resist them, respond in unhelpful ways, avoid them, numb them, or self-criticize. She asserts that accepting our emotions as part of the human condition brings relief: What we resist, persists.
In our lite video, Marie Amaro gives us a different perspective and talks about ways to improve both students’ and teachers’ well-being at the same time. She first refers to the definition of well-being as “more than the absence of physical or psychological illness… well-being can be described as the quality of a person’s life” and affirms that student and teacher well-being are closely linked, and both impact student achievement and outcomes. Here are her tips:
- Check In → Teach students to name (voice) their feelings, as this reduces the intensity of the feelings. As Dan Siegel says, “If you can name it, you can tame it.” Follow up with those students who may need additional support by asking them what they need. While you don’t have to be the school counselor, you can give students who are not feeling so great a chance to take a break, go for a walk, or get a drink so that they can then be ready to engage in the learning. By modeling the activities discussed in the video, teachers also can get in touch with their own feelings.
- Model Self-Regulation → Show students how you manage your feelings by talking about how you feel and then what you do about it. This is the opportunity to show your vulnerability and accountability, which is necessary to make meaningful connections.
- Teach about Strong Emotions → Have students brainstorm ways to deal with feeling angry or upset. Role-play effective strategies to use to address these feelings. Explicitly teaching and practicing these strategies at school increases the likelihood that you will use them in your personal life too!
- Gratitude Journals → Provide opportunities for students to reflect at the end of the lesson/day on what went well and how they contributed to making good things happen. Model the behavior and look after your own level of gratitude at the same time. Share your gratitude stories with your students and demonstrate gratitude to them.
- Positive Student Voice → Provide opportunities for students to air their opinions and solve issues in the classroom. Collaborate with students and give them a say in how the class is run, what to expect from the management system, and how they can help repair and restore when relationships have been damaged.
- Give Students Choice → Give choice in what, when, and how they work and make it obvious. Having agency (autonomy) in your life is important for a healthy perspective and knowing that you can change your response to the events of your life. Incorporating well-being strategies for your students will promote yours as a teacher as well, and if your health and happiness are increased, so is your effectiveness as an educator, directly impacting students’ achievement.
With all being said about different sides of well-being in education, although these strategies, and much more covered in this issue. are not remedies for the burnout or frustration we sometimes experience, they can be considered as preventative steps towards a better-being. So, join us on this amazing journey, making some stops at inclusion, resilience, reflective dialog, hybrid teaching, and love! I already feel better just writing this.