Net Exchange Response


Title: Promoting & supporting teacher/ school staff wellness

Date Posted: 6/22/2015

Question: I moved from the Counseling Dept in our district to Staff Assistance otherwise known as an internal Employee Assistance Program. I always had a hand in some staff “stuff”, now I am working on teacher mental health. I have been putting out monthly newsletters to all of our staff on “wellness” topics. I want something for the educational profession on, for lack of a better topic line: Recharging your Emotional Batteries. There seems to be precious little on the support and/or restoration of teacher MH that I can find. Most searches take me to teachers as they support student MH. In my thinking, we often look at parent wellness for much of the key to a child’s emotional composition but why not look at a teacher wellness? And if this is an area of study and I’m missing the correct key search words, can you forward me links etc to where I can start to drill into this for my newsletter? Thanks so much!!!

Response: It’s easy to overlook the psychological needs of staff. Yet, when school staff don’t feel good about themselves, it is unlikely they will be effective in making students feel good about themselves.

Summer provides a great opportunity to plan ways to (a) minimize practices that hurt and (b) promote wellness for teachers and other school personnel, as well as for students and their families. Here are a few thoughts and a guide to some resources. It is important to start by identifying and changing bad routines. In this respect, we always think about Milne’s description of Winnie the Pooh coming downstairs:

    Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.

So take a deep breath and stop bumping.

Take some time to reflect on which routines are contributing to burnout. Identify bad routines that need eliminating. Altering such routines recognizes the reality that certain demands at school are major stressors and validates staff perceptions that the system needs to be improved.

Move on to think about how to ensure workloads are not staggering and daily problems are not overwhelming. Identify the many school-related frustrations, large and small, that play a major role in negatively affecting staff (and student) morale and mental health and lead to burnout.

The aims are to both (a) promote wellness and (b) address barriers to learning and teaching.* To these ends, schools must strive to create a caring, learning environment in which there is a strong collegial and support structure and meaningful ways to participate in decision making. This calls for well-designed and implemented mechanisms for

  • inducting newcomers into the school in a welcoming and socially supportive way
  • transforming working conditions by creating appropriate teams of staff and students who support, nurture, and learn from each other every day
  • transforming student and learning supports into a unified, comprehensive, and equitable system for addressing barriers to learning and teaching and re-engaging disconnected students
  • transforming inservice training into ongoing personalized staff development and support from day one at a school
  • restructuring school governance to enable shared decision-making.

Resources: Over the years, some of the most accessed resources from our Center are those covering staff burnout. We recommend starting with the Center article on School Staff Burnout – http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/newsletter/spring02.pdf. Then, use the Center’s online clearinghouse Quick Find on Burnout to link to relevant resources listed there – http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/qf/burnout.htm.

Make it happen. After doing some reading, take a good look at next year’s school improvement and staff development plans. Is there a strong focus on both preventing burnout and enhancing wellness? If current plans don’t reflect a substantive and nonmarginalized concern for promoting well-being and addressing barriers to teaching and learning, now is the time to redress this oversight. Staff who bring a mental health and motivational perspective to schools can be asked to take a leadership role in planning and implementing ways to make the essential systemic changes.


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UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools
Dept. of Psychology, P.O.Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095.
tel: (310)825-3634
email: smhp@ucla.edu ~ web: http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu