By Dena D. Slanda – August 18, 2023
The Pyramids in Egypt have experienced weather and erosion as well as intentional acts of destruction, yet they continue to stand almost unaffected after nearly 5000 years. Today’s structural engineers are often inspired by the longevity of the Pyramids especially given the time in which they were built. The Egyptians knew that if they tightly constructed the joints, used the right materials, and laid a solid foundation over time, they could create monuments designed to last an eternity.
There are many lessons from the Egyptians that school leaders can use as a driving force to create sustainable and impactful foundations for school structures to support teacher wellness. Much like the Egyptians who built Pyramids to protect what was on the inside, school leaders can build a culture of support into the school structure to proactively address teacher mental-health and care. School leaders are in a unique position to make the back-to-school transition this year easier for teachers. And these back-to-school tips can lay the foundation for a successful school year (or a lifetime)!
Creating Sustainable Structures
According to Mental Health America, teacher wellness can impact student achievement and outcomes. Leaders can create school structures that protect teachers from the stresses they face. R9CC found leaders often implemented these four strategies to support teacher wellness:
Created a Climate of Care
Implemented a Mentoring and Induction Program
Included Teacher Voice
Create a Climate of Care
School culture plays an integral role in the establishment of a climate of care given its impact on norms, values, and beliefs. School leaders are in a unique position to foster a positive school culture that prioritizes equity, communicates expectations, and nurtures a trauma-informed approach. Just like with a Pyramid, a strong structure begins with a solid foundation. Leaders should consider school culture the first step in laying the foundation needed build the entire structure of supports.
Pennsylvania State University found that Workplace Wellness Promotion programs and Stress Management programs were two system-wide approaches leaders could implement to successfully promote improved teacher health and wellness. Each of these types of systems-wide approaches were beneficial in reducing stress, growing self-awareness, nurturing mindfulness, and promoting healthier living practices including increased physical activity and improved nutrition.
To assist leaders in understanding key aspects of teaching conditions and how leaders can improve retention and school culture, the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders developed the Teaching Conditions Toolkit.
Implement a Mentoring and Induction Program
When building the Pyramids, the Egyptians recognized the significance of a strong structure to support their identified goal. They anticipated potential hazards and proactively addressed them. Similarly, leaders can look at their organizational structures to identify potential barriers to prioritizing teacher wellness and address those barriers in advance.
Leaders can help teachers find solutions to stressors that may overwhelm and impact mental health. Encouraging teachers to focus on what is within their locus of control and helping to find solutions can reduce stress and improve teacher wellness. The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders recommends implementing a well-designed mentoring and induction program that provides opportunities for guidance, technical and professional support, collaboration, and continued professional learning.
To learn more about mentoring and induction, the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders developed the Mentoring and Induction Toolkit 2.0.
Include Teacher Voice
The Egyptians commissioned the best minds of the time including astronomers and scientists to construct what today would be a major undertaking by even some of the best engineers. Everyone who worked on the Pyramids was a trusted individual who was eventually buried in tombs near the Pyramids to signify their worth. This level of value is critical. Egyptians realized that everyone who worked on the Pyramids brought value to the construction.
Similarly, leaders recognize that teachers have higher morale and feel valued when trusted to make professional decisions. Teachers should be acknowledged for their expertise. Teachers bring degrees, experience, and expertise and their knowledge and skills should be honored and valued. Leaders can do this by supporting teachers’ decisions related to instruction and discipline. Additionally, leaders can provide teachers with the ability to share their voice in decision-making by gathering feedback. Providing a platform for teachers to share their voice increases buy-in and communicates that teacher expertise, creativity, and experience are valued.
The hieroglyphics on the walls inside Pyramids tell us that the ancient Egyptians were a social community much like our educators. Leaders can create opportunities for developing social energy through networks of support and peer-to-peer growth frameworks. Developing connections and relationships allows teachers to build resilience and leaders can bolster these efforts by building dedicated time for connection and community in the master schedule.
School leaders can build community by creating a climate of trust and respect. Within this climate, teachers feel supported as they work collaboratively to improve their practice and improve outcomes for students. Leaders can establish Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where teachers meet regularly to learn from each other, reflect on their teaching, and collaborate to make instructional decisions to drive student achievement. Collaborative communities are especially important in a post-pandemic school environment. They allow teachers to share their expertise, discover best practices, identify data-driven solutions, and implement evidence-based interventions. Teachers can brainstorm together on common challenges and identify creative solutions.
How can you lay your foundation to support teacher wellness?
Region 9 shared four strategies leaders can implement this school year to support teacher wellness. How might you implement these strategies in your school? To learn more about building trust and wellness through trauma-informed communities, access the Leader Self-Assessment and Planning Tool at the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders.
It is important to remember that the Pyramids were not built in a day. Rather, they took a shared vision, careful planning, and collaborative building. The Egyptians recognized the need to carefully lay each stone to build something that would last for eternity.
As we gear up for another academic year, school leaders can recognize the critical role teachers play in the lives of students and understand that teacher wellness influences student outcomes and performance. Addressing teacher wellness by creating a strong school culture, building frameworks of support, elevating teacher voice, and developing sense of community can be driving forces that school leaders use to carefully select the layers of support within their school structures that will proactively address teacher mental-health and care.
Dena D. Slanda, Ph.D. is a Senior Technical Assistance Consultant in the Education and Instruction department at American Institutes for Research (AIR). Dr. Slanda works with the Center for Great Teachers and Leaders where she collaborates with center partners supporting technical assistance and research related to recruitment, retention, and diversifying the educator workforce. She provides technical assistance and professional development to states and school districts with an emphasis on improving results for students with high-intensity needs. She does this by strengthening educator and administrator professional learning and development in High-Leverage Practices (HLPs) for inclusive settings, Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), early intervention, and evidence-based literacy instruction.
Photo by Dena Slanda on a recent trip to Egypt.