Classrooms should be safe havens for teachers and students. So what happens when that space is threatened?
Job-related stress and burnout continue to wreak havoc on the education sector. Edweek surveyed teachers and principals and found record highs for stress. “Nearly three-fourths of teachers and 85 percent of principals are experiencing frequent job-related stress, compared to just a third of working adults.” The stress levels inside our school are direct results of feeling unsafe and unsupported.
Administrators search for ways to manage and prevent mental health issues and school violence. The very best approach begins inside the classroom walls. While school safety solutions haven’t changed at the federal level, administrators can help their staff cope with these increasing stress levels. Schools must offer practical support to help teachers thrive in the classroom.
Implement a comprehensive, district-wide community
Before the pandemic, classrooms were buzzing ecosystems. However, during the year of pandemic teaching and this subsequent year, students and teachers struggled to relate to each other amidst the ever-changing COVID mandates, binary thinking, and polarization. It was exhausting for students and teachers, and many felt more burned out than ever.
School safety isn’t just about preventing violence. It’s about creating safe spaces for teachers and students to connect with each other and their peers. Connection and a sense of belonging go a long way for teachers and students. Teachers stay in buildings that cultivate healthy relationships, particularly among school staff. Unfortunately, the isolating nature of the last three years has created a paradigm of distance, not only in learning but with each other.
District leaders are wise to invest in safety solutions that address:
- Team building
Schools can look at different ways to support their staff with:
- Curriculum to address Social-Emotional Learning needs
- Shortened and/or canceled meetings
- Class coverage
A word of caution here. Certainly, mindful SEL instruction helps every student and teacher build awareness, analysis, and self-regulation skills. It aids in creating a healthy school culture of empathy, support, and safety. However, adopting any new initiative needs to be assessed by the teachers you’re trying to help. New initiatives tend to overwhelm teachers. By including teachers in the process, district and school administrators can acknowledge their teachers’ current workloads and create buy-in for the program.
We all know that language matters, especially in schools. SEL curriculum helps students to identify difficult emotions using language and other tools, validate those feelings, and then manage them in healthy and effective ways. When schools adopt a district-wide curriculum that teachers support, it enables students and the entire school community to have a common language to use during difficult times.
Many SEL curricula also implement practices that aid students in crisis. Mental health programs help students find ways to recognize and speak up when they or their classmates are feeling unsafe. These can be vital resources in building a safe school environment.
Create a comprehensive, top-down safety plan
While professional development hours on mindfulness seem helpful, it’s not addressing the need for a safe space. Teachers need more services than breathing exercises and yoga. Administrators can use federal funding to reduce teacher burnout and provide meaningful support. Administrators support their teachers best through action.
Teachers feel distressed when they can’t get the help they need. This is especially true when a student is in crisis or a conflict escalates to a threat of violence. Despite being mandatory reporters, teachers often have limited resources to call for help. Many other methods also create potentially dangerous communication gaps, such as classroom phones, which require someone on the other end of the line to pick up; the same and more can be said of mobile devices. Mobile apps also require the user to have the app downloaded on their personal device and to be able to open the app and initiate an alert while under duress or during a crisis.
Effective communication solutions fix these issues. A discreet, wearable panic alarm like the CENTEGIX CrisisAlert™ badge provides critical aid during stressful situations. With CrisisAlert, every staff member has the ability to call for help quickly and discreetly, whatever the emergency, be it:
- Allergic reactions
- Student conflicts or other escalated behavior
- Other life-threatening emergencies
Ensuring that every staff member, not just teachers, can receive help quickly reduces:
Simple safety solutions remove the burden of long wait times during physically and emotionally intense and time-sensitive moments.
Move from punitive to proactive approaches
Enlist the help of everyone in your school
- Guidance counselors
- Bus drivers
- Cafeteria workers
- Additional support staff, including guest and/or substitute teachers
Be prepared to have honest conversations with all school staff about student behavior in the school building and other areas marked as school grounds. Invite parents into these conversations as well. All behavior is a form of communication. Most student behaviors stem from deeper, unfulfilled needs. Schools that operate in consistency of behavior expectations create harmony. When everyone is involved in proactive disciplinary actions, students feel secure. They know the behaviors expected of them at all times, regardless of location.
Any adult that interacts with students needs training on proper management approaches; in particular, coach your staff on proactive and restorative strategies to manage student behavior. Students feel valued and respected when schools move away from punitive actions. Arm your staff, including guest/substitute teachers who enter your building, with proactive anti-bullying strategies and you’ll see an improvement in harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB), one of the leading causes of school violence.
Proactive discipline reinforces a positive school environment by:
- Reinforcing positive student behavior
- Improving classroom management
- Restoring damaged relationships between parties in conflict
A culture of proactive discipline removes the layer of stress teachers feel with regard to classroom management. They can take a deep breath. Because they feel safe, teachers can create meaningful relationships that drive engagement. Because they feel safe, teachers can take effective steps toward their ultimate goal: building a classroom environment in which students can safely take academic risks and ignite a passion for learning. Teachers who have positive classroom communities are also less likely to suffer from burnout.
Working together for greater teacher retention
Unfortunately, high-stressed and burned-out teachers impact students in the classroom, both socially-emotionally and academically. As in any ecosystem, schools are delicate, and when one group is unbalanced, the disruption alters the entire school landscape.
We need to support our teachers with practical solutions to restore that balance.
School leaders must:
- Prioritize healthy and positive relationships with all stakeholders
- Offer and provide genuine support, visibility, and consistency
- Protect students’ and staff members’ safety
When we rebuild our schools to be the safe space they deserve to be, teachers will feel heard and more supported. Teacher burnout can be fixed when we work together.
Committee on the Biological and Psychosocial Effects of Peer Victimization: Lessons for Bullying Prevention; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Committee on Law and Justice; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Health and Medicine. (2016, September 16). Preventive Interventions – Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice. NCBI. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK390407/
Will, M. (2022, June 15). Stress, Burnout, Depression: Teachers and Principals Are Not Doing Well, New Data Confirm. Education Week. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/stress-burnout-depression-teachers-and-principals-are-not-doing-well-new-data-confirm/2022/06