I recently spent a weekend in the Muskoka Lakes district on a beautiful Island called Wasan.
Wasan Island is situated on Lake Rosseau in the heart of the Muskoka Lakes in Ontario, Canada. Wasan is a privately owned and operated island by the Breuninger Foundation, a German non-profit organization that works at a local, national and international level with people who have set out to foster integrated, sustainable and interconnected ways of thinking to create a more peaceful world.
Wasan Island is a known as a place of retreat and exceptional learning. The peaceful and natural landscape presents a spectacular environment for transformational experiences.
Helga Breuninger and the McConnell Foundation, specifically the team at WellAhead, invited thought leaders across Canada and Germany to come together to discuss the crisis in mental health in schools, with special focus on teacher and school staff wellbeing.
I was honoured and excited to be included.
This weekend solidified my desire to support educator wellbeing as a means to creating a healthier and more flourishing society. It was exciting to share my passion with other minds who care deeply in sustainable wellbeing for adults who work with kids in schools.
This topic stirs up a lot for people. When I asked on social media: What, from your perspective, are some of the underlying causes for a lack of staff & teacher wellbeing in schools? I was inundated with responses from educators across Canada – teachers, EAs, administrators, counsellors all sharing heartfelt and honest responses in what is needed to improve educator wellbeing in and out of schools.
We took it further in our discussion (both in our weekend retreat and online) and asked: What does it look/feel like when a culture, system or leaders have shifted the paradigm to value and support educator wellbeing? These were some of the burning questions at our Wasan weekend and we had the gift of time and space to dig into the values, the system and the needs of educators. And once again the level of thoughtful responses resonated with me and I reflected how there isn’t one way to support the wellbeing of educators in our schools but there is more we can do!
Here are my take-away and my thoughts on how we can best support educator wellbeing:
First, for many educators, we live with the mindset of scarcity and striving. We have had contracts stripped, professional development opportunities denied, large classrooms, students with all kind of needs and a feeling of never enough… (time, money, space, other adults, etc.). We also seem to always be trying to get more done, push out more curriculum for our students and to continue to learn more for ourselves: learning new curriculum, better assessment strategies, understanding Indignized education, growing technology in the classroom and more. We feel like need to give more with less resources. It’s exhausting.
To combat this, I think we need to create more space for slowing down, let learning be a process not a product and allow the abundance that is in schools (the amazing students and staff) to act as guides for our wellbeing and our growth. I think moving past the mindset of scarcity and striving and moving towards abundance and inquiry will enable us to come back to the love of learning for both educators and students, which in turn will support the growth of both of our students and educators.SeS
Creating opportunities for staff and students to experience a mindfulness practice will support everyone in schools to learn to pay attention more closely in the moment with more curiosity and openness – giving space for compassionate responses to our stress rather than reactivity to our stresses.
Secondly, I believe deeply that retreats recharge and renew ourselves and that all educators need space for “retreat” in their lives – whether a weekend, a day, an afternoon or even ten minutes between classes. Spending a few days on Wasan reminded me how essential it is to pause and reflect. Finding a retreat that gives you space for yourself and also connection and collaboration with others is key – check out the AWE retreats hosted on Vancouver Island, BC.
Retreats give you the opportunity to reflect on your personal self, your professional values and how you want to bring yourself into the community you live and work. By giving space for retreat, educators are enabling and empowering their personal sense of self so they are ready and able to give back to the community that needs them.
Lastly, my biggest take-away, from this weekend are these four questions that I believe we need to ask everyone in a school community:
- Am I seen, heard and valued within my school community?
- Am I contributing my strengths?
- Am I gaining positive and supportive feedback for my growth?
- Am I learning and growing in my profession?
When we allow EVERYONE in the building students, teachers, support staff, administrators, janitors, counsellors (I mean everyone!) to work in a culture that enables them to say YES to these four questions, I believe we will see a positive community flourishing.
I believe that when we care for the educators in a school system (all the adults in the building) we are creating a healthier environment for our students to thrive and therefore enhance their own wellness. When we let our educators know we care about them, allow them to feel that they can take risks, that they are not alone and that they are doing a great job we will see them flourish. By helping our educators flourish we will see our students flourish – this is the essence of a healthy school system!
What do you think?
If you like my thoughts or have more to add – comment below.