By Indira Mota
If you have ever been on a plane, you are likely familiar with the flight attendants’ directions for passengers to follow in the event of an emergency. “Place the oxygen mask on first and then on those that need help around you.” The first time I heard this, it felt completely backwards. Most educators have a knee jerk reaction to help those around us: our students, our friends, our family and, finally, us. When I became a school leader, I tried very hard to keep teacher and student wellness and mental health at the forefront of our schoolwide social emotional learning. With social emotional learning usually taking a back seat in the day-to-day school schedule, it is the school leader’s responsibility to keep all school community members on the route to social emotional preservation.
One of the first things that became crystal clear to me was the value and necessity to continuing these wellness practices during remote learning in order for staff to successfully carry out their remote instruction. While school staff work from home, they are balancing much more than a lesson plan, grading assignments and answering student questions. They are also balancing their own personal lives and family needs that can quickly take a toll, especially if they have been affected by the virus. While we are all coming up with unique and creative ways to navigate these quarantine waters, I offer school leaders the following: Don’t forget about your teachers. Creating and maintaining regular check-ins for teachers is more critical now than ever. Consider the following steps in order to ensure that you are maintaining wellness and health for your staff during remote learning.
Ask your staff how they are doing
While this may sound simple, this question will have a powerful impact on your teachers and staff. One of the things that allowed me, under normal circumstances, to stay in touch with my staff is an open-door policy. Staff would come and speak with me when they needed something or just to say hi. While visiting students in classrooms, I would be able to say hello or, if they were on a prep, we could catch up for a few minutes. Unfortunately, we can’t do this because of school building closures, but you can still send text messages and emails to your staff saying ‘hi,’ which I regularly send to see how they’re doing outside of regularly scheduled grade or departmental virtual meetings. This affords me the opportunity to see how they are feeling, how they are managing our new reality, ask about their family members and, most importantly, ask them how they are doing as a person, not just a teacher or staff member.
Create wellness opportunities
One of the initiatives that we have carried out in our school community has been Mindfulness and Wellness sessions for our staff. During our regularly scheduled staff meetings in the school building, we would have meetings that were solely dedicated to sharing out wellness beliefs and practices that help develop and create healthy habits for all. In an effort to continue these wellness practices remotely, I asked our school partners to hold virtual sessions with our staff through a virtual platform. We hold one to two wellness sessions a week, which provide opportunities for the staff to practice their breathing, meditate, to release some stress, re-focus, share out their frustrations or worries and connect with the rest of the school staff who may be experiencing the same emotions. We also hold staff circles, sessions with our school counselor and alternate the wellness session providers in order to offer a variety of activities for all.
The most important thing is to show your staff that you care and are thinking of them. Any act of kindness or opportunity for self-care is a step in the right direction. I am sending you all well wishes and positive energy throughout your remote learning journey.
About the author
Indira Mota, M.A., M.S., M.Ed. is principal of Abraham Lincoln Intermediate School 171 in Community School District 19 New York City Department of Education and previously served there as a teacher, science coordinator, and assistant principal. Ms. Mota has been a school leader for more than 13 years and is passionate about empowering learners in order to close the achievement gap of historically marginalized scholars. Follow her on Twitter @PrincipalMota.