The Real Key to Teacher Wellbeing and Ultimately, Retention

Thoughts
By: 
Tamara Fyke

This past week I led a professional development session for some new teachers at a school with which I have been working for several years.  The Executive Principal and Assistant Principal also participated in the training. Having a small group gathered around the oval table provided the opportunity for intimate conversation about the subject matter. I taught about a transformative approach to social-emotional learning, which prompted questions and reflections about trauma, resilience, and relationships.  

A recurring theme of our morning was the power of story: How does owning our personal stories impact our teaching? How does an awareness of our students’ stories help us build relationships with them? How do we make space for listening to each other’s stories?

As I listened to the Assistant Principal who started at this school as a classroom teacher 14 years ago and to the Executive Principal who has been in leadership in this building for 6 years laugh and share, I learned the secret to their success. Success for this school does translate to good scores, some of the highest in the district, but success for them, more importantly, means thriving relationships between the people in their community – teachers, students, and families. Their secret is vulnerability. 

Brene’ Brown, researcher and author, says “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Let’s be honest, too often in our workplaces, we are more focused on results than we are on people. Sure, we exchange pleasantries and keep the appearance of “being nice”, but how often do we show genuine concern for another’s wellbeing? Do we really know the person in the room next door?

Given the current challenges in our educational system, namely the flight of students, teachers and administrators due to COVID, we must be even more intentional of communicating value to our teachers. One of the best ways to do that is by building relationship person-to-person.

Yes, there are some educational leaders who are uncomfortable with the idea of their staff members really knowing them – hearing the stories about their struggles. We live in a social media driven world where we want everyone to have the best perception of who we are, but that’s not real.  Or we have the misconception that in order to maintain authority we must remain aloof. 

The truth is:  Authenticity breeds trust. 

When I know that we are in this together -- that you’ve got my back and I’ve got yours -- then we can face the toughest days. Getting to that place of commitment requires time and conversation…sharing meals together, listening to each other’s stories, and having fun.

There is no amount of individual self-care that can replace the importance of life-giving relationship: “I see you.  I know you.  I’m with you in this.” 

 

Tips for alleviating teacher stress and burnout while increasing teacher wellbeing and job satisfaction:

  • Monthly dinners off-site. – This could be at someone’s house or at a local restaurant. Focus the conversation on being not on doing.
  • Bi-weekly story times. – Create a safe and comfortable space on campus where staff members can choose to tell their stories. There is power in speaking and in listening.
  • Quarterly fun events. – Go bowling, dancing, swimming, canoeing…you name it! Laugh & play together.

The more you invest in one another, the more you will provide strength for each other. This in turn will have a positive impact on your students and families, making your school a safe place where everyone feels seen, known, valued and loved.

 

About the author

 

Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator and author of Love In A Big World, which provides mental health, SEL, and wellness curriculum and content. During quarantine, Tamara created MusiCity Kids, an online educational show for kids ages 6-12 that addresses health, movement, character development, STEAM, and more.

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