January 23rd, 2021

Teachers’ wellness helps their students, too


By WILCO TYMENSEN on November 25, 2020.

While COVID has limited teachers’ ability to physically come together with colleagues from other schools, they continue to engage in professional learning and collaborate with other teachers, albeit mostly virtually.
Their commitment to life-long learning is in addition to the work they undertake planning for and instructing in today’s pandemic where they have revolving groups of students absent from the classroom due to illness and quarantine orders stemming from exposures to individuals who test positive for COVID-19.
As a system leader I would like to formally say thank you to the thousands of teachers and support staff across Alberta who are going above and beyond to ensure that our children receive high quality education, all while adhering to ever changing legal COVID frameworks and policies. Your ongoing dedication to keeping kids learning in class is creating a sense of normalcy in another wise abnormal time.
As part of the school year school administrators and system leaders plan for professional learning opportunities to support our teachers. This year that learning is taking place in an unprecedented context. While we continue to seek, critically review and apply educational research, build collective professional capacities and expertise, and improve practice, school divisions have also been focusing on enhancing mental health. In fact, the College of Alberta School Superintendents have created a CASS workplace wellness for Alberta School Authorities framework and at a recent College of Alberta School Superintendents virtual conference, I had the opportunity to hear Betsy Wierda, an international educational coach with Franklin Covey speak on the topic of wellness.
She started her session by asking the audience if we had wellness, and used the metaphor of a plane taking off to stress the importance of wellness. She explained that the first thing the steward does is give a safety speech that stresses that should oxygen masks fall from the overhead compartment, that passengers should put the mask on themselves before assisting others.
Teachers unfortunately all too often do not heed this advice. They are often too busy helping others to consider their own wellbeing. Several school divisions this year provided staff with some additional wellness days in November. I would encourage our teachers and support staff to schedule their own wellness in their daily calendar this year.
As educators we’re good at focusing on the whole child. Not so good at heeding that advice ourselves. School divison staff should focus on their own whole person. They should ask themselves “what’s at stake if I don’t focus on my own wellness?” If the answer is student learning, then perhaps you’ll see that it aligns with our focus on student success.
Wilco Tymensen is the Superintendent of Horizon School Division

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