Arriving in Ethiopia in August 2020 as a new deputy principal, I had many things on my mind: luggage, housing, pet relocation, grocery shopping, planning faculty orientation, and learning the ropes in my new role, to start the long list. I was in that state of existence in which we simply “get things done”, living on coffee and adrenaline and collapsing into bed every night. For this brief phase, it was a fine choice. It was absolutely necessary to push through the challenges of mental and physical fatigue, often putting aside my personal needs to focus on the needs of others. However, I knew that this approach was definitely not sustainable. I would need to shift my focus to include some self-care to fill back up my tank.
As our ES Principal David “Cal” Callaway has said to our faculty about this unprecedented year, “We are in a marathon, not a sprint.” At the beginning of the school year, I was working in “sprint mode”. After the first month of school, we settled into a routine and we knew that the rest of the school year was going to present new challenges. It was time to shift gears into “marathon mode”.
What does this look like, in terms of self-care? For me, I took stock of my personal practices that help keep me well, physically, mentally, and socially. I knew this would include running, eating healthier, and making connections to new friends as well as the family at home, but what else? One framework that has worked for me comes from a Twitter campaign called #teacher5aday, started by Martin Reah. The hashtag promotes five actions, adapted from those of New Economics Foundation: Connect, Notice, Learn, Give, Exercise. A teacher himself, Reah advocates that fellow teachers consider using these to improve their wellbeing, as he has done. As I started investing in my own wellbeing, I realized that I had built up the energy to lean into community wellbeing, through my role as ES deputy principal.
Since the beginning of this school year, our ICS Leadership Team has been dedicated to a focus on health and wellbeing. Our number one stated school-wide goal this year is community health and wellbeing, acknowledging that COVID safety and emotional wellbeing will both directly impact student learning. We have surfaced this goal early in the year through sessions on wellbeing in orientation, a survey about staff health and wellbeing in September, and frequent check-ins with our colleagues. However, we had not formalized any elementary school staff wellbeing program until January.
Returning from winter break, I offered a staff session on a Thursday afternoon called “Wellbeing Workshop”. This session focused on an introduction to the #teacher5aday, with time for self-reflection and goal-setting with accountability. The aim of the session was to help participants to self-assess how they are doing in these five categories and set a manageable goal to make an improvement in one area. We also made some connections, as I asked our colleagues, “what could you join, who could you invite, or what could you start?” So far, we have had ES staff volunteer to lead wellbeing sessions on Cardmaking, Yoga, Sketching, Meditation and Zen-Tangle drawing. We have small groups of colleagues making the effort to get more exercise on the track, some looking for fifteen minutes to #connect over a cup of coffee, and others looking into restarting a Bible study to #give.
What’s next for our wellbeing initiative in the ES and ICS? For the ES, we have scheduled a Wednesday professional learning session that is dedicated to faculty-led wellbeing sessions for March, a time of year when people are likely to need some refreshing. Participants will get a chance to #learn something new or perhaps #exercise or engage in meditation or sketching to #notice together; leaders will get a chance to share something special and #connect. Maybe we will find a way to #give back to our community by connecting with some volunteer organizations. In the greater ICS teacher community, every section is taking its own steps towards valuing staff wellbeing, such as the introduction of the “Blue Lounge” for teachers in the HS and staff “goodie bags” in the MS to show appreciation. Hopefully, we will expand our wellbeing workshops to share our expertise and build our community across ICS and into our greater student and parent community. In the meantime, I am happy and lucky to be part of a community that recognizes that wellbeing and learning go hand in hand, for teachers to maintain the stamina that we need to meet our learners' needs in this marathon year.