“Our employees need to be empowered, and when they’re empowered, they feel more vested in the organization. They feel safer. They feel healthier. They’re more productive.” —Dr. Andrew R. Dolloff
What factors influence safety in schools?
On October 3, 2023, AASA hosted a webinar in collaboration with CENTEGIX®. The presentation focused on the challenges of teacher wellbeing, student mental health, and school safety in the wake of rapid technology advancements and mounting expectations on educators.
To help navigate this important conversation, CENTEGIX was honored to have a panel of esteemed experts and practitioners, each bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience:
- Dr. Phillip Brown, Superintendent of Jackson County School System in Georgia
- Dr. Andrew R. Dolloff, Superintendent of Yarmouth School Department in Maine
- Jim McVety, Managing Partner of First Step Advisors
Balancing Tech and Connection
While the rise of technology and social media brings countless educational benefits, it also introduces pressures that need clear personal academic boundaries.
Modern Teaching Challenges
The fact that 61% of educators felt stressed before the pandemic underscores the rise of challenges today.
Importance of Relationships
Prioritizing relationship building is crucial for school safety. Relationships based on trust serve as precursors to identifying potential challenges and initiating timely intervention.
Safety and Empowerment
Empowering all staff, from teachers to bus drivers, builds a comprehensive approach to safety and fosters a cohesive school environment.
Holistic Wellbeing Approach
Addressing teacher stress and student mental health requires a 360-degree approach. This includes professional development, reduced workload, and a culture of empathy, trust, and communication.
Question & Answer Highlights
Educators’ & Job-Related Stress
Q: Why are teachers so stressed?
A: Teachers spend so much time addressing how to support their students, giving them opportunities to share and support one another. Because of this focus, teachers often overlook their needs.
Our lead responsibility as school administrators is to ensure that our staff are taking care of themselves and are finding ways to share what’s going on in their lives and their minds with one another and with the people who can empathize.
Student Mental Health
Q: How is student mental health playing out in your school districts?
A: When many of us attended school, there was a distinct separation between school and home. However, technology, especially social media, has bridged that gap in ways that can be overwhelming for students. Today, children face pressures from platforms like Instagram, where there’s an implicit expectation to appear perfect and always happy. It’s crucial to help students recognize that life has its ups and downs and that growth is a part of that journey. This issue isn’t exclusive to students; our employees face it, too. While we can’t solely blame social media, it has undeniably influenced the connection between our personal lives and our school environments, even in smaller districts.
Going back to foundational concepts like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if students’ basic psychological needs aren’t met, they can’t reach that highest level of self actualization.
We’ve responded by hiring more staff focused on social and emotional wellbeing: from school psychologists and paraprofessionals to counselors specializing in various areas. We offer essential mental health services like individual counseling, case management, and referrals.
Safety & Teacher Retention
Q: One in four teachers fear for their safety in schools. Feelings of safety, order, discipline are predictors of teacher turnover. If a teacher doesn’t feel safe, then we’re more likely to lose them. How does this resonate with you as leaders?
A: When there’s concern about safety or discipline, it breeds fear among both staff and the community. It’s challenging to achieve productive outcomes in classrooms without a sense of safety for both teachers and students.
Research supports this. Paul Zak, a neuroscientist from Claremont Graduate University, has shown that in high-trust, safe environments, different chemicals are released in the brain. Employees in such settings are more productive, take fewer sick days, and report higher job and life satisfaction. This principle doesn’t just apply to workplaces; it’s relevant in schools, too. Whether it’s our teaching staff or our students, everyone benefits from a safe, high-trust environment. In such conditions, people are more engaged and productive, which is precisely the environment we aim to create in our schools.
Building Empowerment & Trust
Q: From everyday challenges, like student misbehavior or verbal altercations, to the most extreme safety concerns, how do you empower your faculty and staff regarding school safety?
A: There has been a recent overhaul in our training and emergency response protocols, mirroring changes in many schools. We’ve adopted insights from national programs and have collaborated with local emergency responders. Most importantly, we’ve actively included staff voices in decision-making, both in preparation for and response to potential emergencies.
We recognize that many threats to schools come from individuals familiar to the school, emphasizing the crucial role of relationships as a preventative measure. We’ve focused on ensuring every student feels connected to someone in the school. Our staff has taken an active role in creating programs at different grade levels, from advisory groups in middle and high schools to homeroom meetings in the elementary grades. Staff members are also trained to connect with school counselors and administrators when they identify students in need.
Furthermore, the rapid alert system provided by CENTEGIX offers an added layer of empowerment. Their system is a valuable tool. Every district member, from bus drivers to administrators, now has the capability to promptly signal for help and notify the right authorities when confronted with unsafe situations.
Safety, empowerment, and trust magnifies engagement, participation, and excellence. When students, teachers, and staff feel empowered, they become proactive contributors to their own growth and the growth of those around them.
School leaders and community members have a shared responsibility to foster environments where students learn and grow without fear, teachers instruct and inspire without interference, and everyone can realize their full potential without exception.
Want to hear more insights and learn from these superintendents? Get the on demand recording here to help you create safer, more empowered schools.