Mental health is the health of one’s mind and ability to cope with life’s stressors.
For directors, it’s the mindset and ability to support teachers in intentional ways to impact how they care for children.
For teachers, it’s the mental mindset and ability to care for children in a stable and rational manner despite daily stress in the classroom.
Our team came up with 3 steps to support teachers’ mental health:
Step 1. Engage with teachers in one-on-one meetings at least once a month.
Step 2. Conduct observations of teacher classrooms at least twice a school year.
Step 3. Provide teachers with enough resources to manage their mental health.
In this article, we're going to go through each of these steps one-by-one to provide examples of why they're important and ideas to try.
Step 1: Engage with teachers in one-on-one meetings at least once a month.
Not getting your needs met as a teacher can result in stress and poor mental health. It can impact:
Job performance and productivity
Engagement with one’s work
Communication with coworkers
Physical capability and daily functioning
Conducting scheduled one-on-one meetings with staff gives administrators insight into individual needs. They can then set goals and develop intentional plans together to meet those needs.
For Example: Tiny Tots Child Care introduced the concept of classroom transitions - where students would switch classrooms after lunchtime and learn a lesson from a different teacher each day of the week. Ms. Scott thought it would lighten each teacher’s workload since they could teach the same lesson to each group of students.
Once the transitions began, teachers seemed more overwhelmed and stressed out than usual. Ms. Scott decided to schedule one-on-one meetings with each teacher. She was able to figure out coverage for each classroom to set aside a 1-hour block for each teacher throughout the course of a month. The meetings turned out to be so insightful and presented an excellent opportunity for collaboration and support. Ms. Scott decided to continue doing them every month. The stress slowly melted away as teachers felt more supported and heard. And they came up with working solutions together.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” - Fred Rogers
Create an environment where self-care is positive and welcomed within the center and programs. Consider implementing a “self-care challenge.” Challenge staff to make self-care a priority for the month. Make it fun and engaging - you can even come up with a prize for the person who documents the most hours of self-care or has the most creative methods. Collect information about the different methods of self-care and hours completed by each teacher in a survey at the end of the month. Allow the different methods of self-care to be displayed and viewed by other staff members to provide motivation and give others ideas throughout the year!
Setting aside time to engage in conversation also lets staff members know they are valued and their thoughts, concerns, and feelings matter. It provides an outlet to express stressors and/or concerns along with promoting teamwork and a healthy work environment.
Step 2: Conduct observations of teacher classrooms at least twice a school year.
Program observation offers an important window into program quality and presents a chance to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the program. Observations ensure that programs are providing children with safe and stimulating environments.
“You can observe a lot by watching.” - Yogi Berra
Activity Recommendation: Prepare an annual calendar with observations scheduled for each employee.
Planning to conduct two observations per teacher each year is a great practice. Observations help directors understand the practices teachers implement. They also provide an opportunity for feedback and goal-setting. And consistently conducting observations will make teachers more comfortable with presenting and expressing their thoughts and needs over time.
Step 3: Provide teachers with sufficient resources to manage their mental health.
Workplace health promotion programs are successful, especially when they combine mental and physical health interventions.
About 63% of Americans are part of the US labor force. Work is a key location for activities designed to improve well-being among adults. After all, if they aren’t encouraged to find time for these activities at work, how will they manage to find time for them at home?
Activity Recommendation: If your center has a budget set aside for this initiative, consider hosting after-hour seminars/workshops at your center that address depression and stress management techniques (like mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation). Or, provide free or subsidized lifestyle coaching, counseling, or self-management programs to your employees.
If your center is not able to set aside much from your budget, you can still make big strides toward improving the mental health of your staff. Try something as simple as giving employees opportunities to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress. Or, create and maintain dedicated, quiet spaces for relaxation (maybe turn that messy back closet into a meditation room, and decorate it with furniture and decor from thrift stores).
As always, when you come across a good mental health resource (maybe it’s a brochure or a video), pass it along to your employees. Or, go searching for one on the internet if you notice all the teachers at your center have high levels of stress or depression.
Try it out! If you follow the ideas outlined in these 3 steps, your teachers will have improved focus and motivation in no time.