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Best Practices for Teacher Well-being | Feel Good, Teach Better


However comprehensive and thorough the curriculum, there is always a teacher in the center. The dullest-seeming lesson or topic can turn into something inspiring and insightful with a resourceful and passionate teacher. For many, the joy of learning and seeing the world from a new perspective is the top reason to become a teacher in the first place. That is also the one thing that keeps one going.

Still, it rarely is as straightforward as that. While it is energizing to come up with new ideas and see young people bloom, we know almost every classroom has its challenges. Even if you are all set and ready with your plans and materials, there will be something unplanned coming up more often than not. Call it a surprise, situation, or – pandemic. The covid-19 crisis has made the ever-changing school life as unpredictable as ever. On top of the staff shortages, broken contact with homes, and fear of being infected, everyone has had their journey coping with the crisis.

No wonder we have witnessed an unprecedented wave of unhappiness and stress disorders. Even though teaching is a true calling for many amazing people worldwide, reconsidering and even leaving the profession has trended strongly. Furthermore, when teachers burn out, they cannot care for their students and tasks, let alone themselves.

We have been talking about the importance of social-emotional learning for students for a while now. What is often left aside are teachers' social-emotional skills and their well-being. Improving and nurturing these skills is a life-long process that does not stop at any age. We believe there was not too much talk about social-emotional knowledge back in the day when many of us were at school ourselves. Even if the schools' circumstances are extremely demanding, strong social-emotional knowledge provides a helpful set of tools for dealing with stress and protecting mental health.

Proper implementation of social-emotional skills in the classroom means both the student and teacher level. They are not just some add-ons or slogans on the wall. Students quickly sense and mirror the mood of the adults around them. On the other hand, it is not fair to ask teachers to force a smile even if they are just on the brink of managing.

As Dr. Christina Whalen writes about social-emotional learning, it "is important for student outcomes, but it is also essential for building SEL competencies in educators to help reduce emotional exhaustion and burnout and improve self-efficacy and job satisfaction." This is something that just cannot be stressed enough. We want to take care of our students and help them grow into the adults they strive to be, and who better do that than professionals who feel well?

Things to consider

Teacher well-being and mental health demand time and effort. Still, some moments need immediate action. We have picked a few suggestions for those situations below:

  • Know yourself. We all have our personalities and behavioral shortcuts. Sometimes they are not making us feel better, and we would benefit from finding new ways to respond to and solve situations. When you know your typical reactions and the thinking processes behind them, it is easier to change them.
  • Count to ten. While analyzing yourself might take more time than you have now, this is a classic quick fix to help. Breathe deep and stop for a second before you open your mouth.
  • Remember that you are an example. Young people quickly take on other people's actions. Teaching does not stop at the curriculum but continues in the small everyday gestures and behavior. When you show resilience and calmness, your students see a constructive way of handling challenging situations.
  • Create confidence and team spirit. Your students are the closest people you spend your time with – trust them. If your day is not the best, tell them that. Seeing that everyone experiences negative emotions and that that is not dangerous is powerful. If the lesson plan you had in mind seems impossible to overcome today, save it for later. Have your students do some quiet work, such as reading, writing, or completing some individual tasks, and take a rest. Alternatively, make it collaborative and organize a group meditation or a feeling circle if you have the energy.
  • Seek help. Schools are communities, and you should not feel left alone. If you do, confide to your superior and/or your occupational psychologist or doctor. Support your colleagues and ask for help and advice when you need it. 

Henriikka Heinonen

Guest Writer
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