5 Supports for Teacher Mental Health

Teachers, this week we’re putting you at the center and focusing on educator mental health. Over…

By Hana Beach

Teachers, this week we’re putting you at the center and focusing on educator mental health. Over the past year and a half, you have gone above and beyond to support students during unprecedented challenges. At the same time, we know pandemic burnout is real, and too many teachers feel like they’ve reached a breaking point. That’s why this week’s resources are all about how to make your own mental health a priority—for your students, and for yourself. Let’s get started!

Positive thinking can be powerful, but not when it’s used to minimize hard experiences or emotions.

Why It Matters: Toxic positivity takes positive thinking to the extreme by suppressing any feelings of negativity, stress, or sadness. Over time, this attitude can take a harsh toll on our bodies and minds, creating stress, depression, and even physical illness. Resist operating from a place of toxic positivity and give yourself room to feel by:

  • Using a yes/and approach to consider simultaneous positive and negative truths
  • Setting clear boundaries for work—and sticking to them!
  • Validating hard experiences instead of brushing them off

Extra Credit: Down With Toxic Positivity! For Teachers and Students, Healing Isn’t Blind Optimism

The demands of the pandemic on teachers are enormous. In this context, it’s essential to take intentional time to care for yourself. 

Why It Matters: Even short, regular periods of self-care can make a huge difference in your stress levels, sense of self, and overall mental health. Learning for Justice offers four areas to focus on for self-care: physical, social/communal, artistic, and spiritual/reflective. Self-care practices can be big or small, including:

  • Staying hydrated
  • Taking a dance class
  • Gardening
  • Using a meditation app

Extra Credit: Seven Ways Mindfulness Can Help Teachers

One of the best ways to find support during difficult times is to connect with other people having the same experience—aka, other teachers!

Why It Matters: You probably have a go-to group of teachers to vent and laugh with when things feel hard. That kind of community is a perfect starting place to build even stronger structures of support. Consider creating a charter with other educators at your school where you put community agreements about how you want to feel at work into writing, with these questions as a guide:

  • How do we want to feel as a faculty/staff?
  • What do we need to do for everyone to feel this way?
  • How can we support these needs in concrete practice?

Extra Credit: In Support of Educators: Strategies That Work

Getting to learn from teachers of color can be transformative for students, improving their mental health and sense of self. But first, all teachers need to feel safe and supported themselves.

Why It Matters: Teachers of color often experience heightened mental health burdens due to structural inequality. Explore these resources, for yourself or for your colleagues, to find readings, meditations, and counseling resources all geared towards the wellness of BIPOC communities:

Extra Credit: Why Representation Matters to BIPOC Teachers and Their Students | Rethink Together

Teachers are a school’s most valuable resource. For schools and districts, investing in the well-being of teachers is crucial to the well-being of the whole community. 

Why It Matters: A huge part of mental wellness at work is getting the structural support you need. Schools and districts have the power to build systems that prioritize the mental health of teachers so that teachers can put their talents to use serving students. Advocate for support from your school or district with these actionable requests: 

  • Give teachers agency in schedule designs
  • Make therapy and mental health resources more accessible through employee health insurance plans
  • Create virtual support groups for teachers staffed by mental health professionals

Extra Credit: To promote success in schools, focus on teacher well-being

We are calling on all students 13-21 to join the nation’s largest student billboard challenge. Students will explore what it means to articulate visually their hopes and dreams, and how to leverage their creative visions for meaningful changemaking. Top submissions will have their art featured on a billboard in their community.

Check out the Billboard Challenge at the XQ Challenge site.