With teachers simply trying to provide instruction, but also having to grapple with the social-emotional challenges that have surfaced as a result of the pandemic, how can we best support our teachers and students to provide a productive learning environment?
To answer this question, we brought together a panel of experts. You’ll hear from Amy Grosso, PhD, Director of Behavioral Health, Round Rock ISD and Nicole Allien Instructional Technologist, Caddo Parish.
Good afternoon everyone, thank you so much for joining us today to discuss strategies to support your teachers’ and students’ mental health. We’re going to give folks just a couple more minutes to hop on, so hang tight and we will get started shortly.
OK, it looks like we have some more folks joining us, so, let’s go ahead and get started. Again, thank you so much for joining us today. My name is Marissa Naab. I’m the Marketing Manager here at Lightspeed Systems. I am joined today by Amy Grosso and Nicole Allien.
Amy is the Director of Behavioral Sciences at Round Rock ISD, and Nicole is an Instructional Technologist at Caddo Parish Public Schools. I have a couple of quick housekeeping items, before we get started, I do want to let you all know that this webinar is going to be recorded. So, if you would like to share this recording with your colleagues afterwards, you will be free to do so. We’ll send it to you once the webinar concludes. We will have 15 minutes of Q&A at the end of the discussion, so if you have any questions about what we’ll be covering today, please feel free to drop that in the question box, and we will do our best to get those answered for you.
Without further ado, let’s go ahead and get started. Amy and Nicole do you guys just want to say a little bit more about yourself and your experience? Amy, let’s start with you.
Yeah, I’m happy to be here and to share this important topic that I think we all are aware of. So, I am the Director of Behavioral Health Services at Round Rock ISD. We’re a school district in Texas, right outside of Austin, and that’s about 45,000 students.
My background, though, is in mental health counseling. I was a mental health counselor a number of years before I transitioned to education. In Round Rock ISD, I oversee a team of social workers who work directly with our students and our staff. We have mental health centers for students, and also work with our police officers on how we can work with students holistically, even from a policing standpoint. I’m also on the National Chapter Leadership Council for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Awesome. Thank you. Nicole, you want to tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Sure, I’m an Instructional Technologist for Caddo Schools. So, I work daily with our teachers. I train them using technology in their classrooms.
I also work on the Lightspeed side of things, where I am monitoring our students’ safety, and I reach out to our schools and our counselors when something arises with a student.
Perfect, thank you both so much and again, thank you for joining us today.
You know, you’re both subject matter experts in this field and you know, with all of the teacher and staff shortages that are going on due to just, I mean the pandemic was started two years ago and it’s just been such a huge impact on everyone in K-12, especially. So, super important topic, and so glad that you could join us.
Let’s go ahead and start with what have you both been experiencing in terms of the impacts of teacher shortages in your districts.
Go ahead, Nicole. We’ve definitely seen some teacher shortages.
We’ve had teachers that are in the classroom, having to cover other classrooms during enrichment times because we just don’t have enough teachers.
We, ourselves, central office personnel, have gone out to schools and subbed in substitute for different days, when needed.
So, we’ve definitely seen an impact from the teacher shortages.
And similar here in Round Rock and across our whole area, I think one thing to point out too, as Nicole was saying, people are having to cover classes for us, that’s because there’s a sub shortage, too.
A sub shortage impacts what’s going on for teachers and their workload. And then, I even think of the number of ed assistant positions that are open.
So, when you think about entire district and all the openings, not just teachers, but those openings impact what happens for a teacher every day and the support they have in classrooms? And, I mean, our whole society is having a labor shortage. So, it’s the same thing we’re seeing, it’s just seeing it so directly impacting our students and the teachers that are doing tremendous work every day.
Yeah, and Nicole, when we were talking the other day, you had mentioned a specific situation in which one of your teachers is losing her planning time because she’s having to cover other classes. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Yes, I was out visiting a teacher, coaching her, and I said, “Hey, what’s been going on? I haven’t been able to see you one-on-one.”
And she said, “Well, I’ve been covering classes during my planning time because we just, there’s just not a teacher over there right now.” So, not only is she covering classes, but other teachers are also covering that same class.
Now, I will go ahead and say, she is getting compensated for that. That is something that we did start because we’ve had a lot of teachers having to start covering classes during their planning time.
We are compensating them for that, so she did say, “You know, I know that I’m going to get compensated for this, but it’s time that I can’t get back.”
Now, and I’ll also say she does volunteer. They do. It is a volunteer thing.
They can’t just pull them out and say, you have to do this. She is doing it because she sees a need.
She is just that teacher. She wants to make sure that everyone is getting everything that they need in their classroom.
And I’ll say that same things happening here in Round Rock, is that teachers, about midway through the year were starting to get compensated for covering a class, or having to do that extra work.
But, you know, as much as that’s a good thing to do, that the shortage still impacts, because you can only have so many hours in a day.
I think that’s where it really does start to impact what’s happening for their well-being, when they’re having so much extra work outside of what the traditional work hours are.
Yeah, absolutely, and, you know, compensation is a good first step. But what are some other things your districts have been doing to really make sure that your teachers are taken care of, and they are taking those mental health breaks?
And, you know, staying healthy and happy.
Yeah, and for us, here at Round Rock, we hired a social worker just for staff starting in January.
I was looking at how many referrals we were getting for the social workers we have working with students, and we were getting staff referrals. We would take them, because we wanted to help the staff members, but realizing, if I’m on a campus, and I’m working with the social worker about a student, but then I have something personal going on, that’s a weird dynamic to have to then work with you for myself. And so, realizing that if we had someone that’s outside of their campus, and that they work with daily, to be able to support them, and they get support on a whole range of different topics and things, and they are self-referred, and it’s confidential.
And so, those are things we’ve always had, an employee assistance program, but even helping staff understand how to access that easier, really making that a forefront, that everybody is aware of it, and being very supportive.
I will say, too, we are trying, in our district to get away. Just, I think, too often, we tell teachers, oh, just practice self-care.
And we act like, that’s an easy thing.
And, you know, I’ve done a lot of thinking on this the last few years and reading on it, that limiting self-care to saying, it’s going to get a pedicure or a spa day, or you need to work out more. That for a lot of us ends up as another thing on our to-do list, and it’s not helpful.
I always tell people, I do like going to get pedicures, but, you know, that doesn’t mean that my workload decreases.
And a lot of times, then I feel guilty, because I’m not doing these other things at the same time, not just work things, but balancing being a mom or all these other tasks many of us have.
And so really starting to think about that is true self care, is how do we help staff be able to set their boundaries?
And that, at some point, I do need to go home, I do need to rest.
I shouldn’t keep working, just because I can 24/7.
And so really having those deeper conversations of what it means to set really good boundaries. How do we let staff know it’s OK to say no to some things, and you don’t have to be all things for all people? That’s a different conversation then.
I’d like to add that we also have the employee assistance program where teachers can, in the Parish, use it. But what we did this year, was the State Department added virtual therapy through one of our state hospitals. So, any teacher in the state of Louisiana now has the option to do some virtual therapy through a hospital system here, and it’s completely free and they can use it as often and as much as they need to use it.
And what has the adoption rate of that been like, Nicole, like, how often are teachers utilizing that service?
Now that, I couldn’t tell you because it’s all completely confidential and I’m not really sure what that is.
I will say that just anecdotally, like I know, even I’ve had more staff this year, the last two years really, reach out about how to access employee assistance programs. How to access even different mental health professionals in the community.
And so, you don’t have the clear data of if that has gone up.
I do know the referrals for the Staff Social Worker, immediately when we rolled out, that she was getting referrals and people were utilizing that support that we offer.
Yeah, and that’s awesome, I’m so glad that those are working, and people are utilizing that.
It’s really hard, like you said, Amy, to find an activity that, you know, in theory would be helpful, and, here, this is what we’re doing, but in practice. It’s like, no, it’s just one more thing on my list of things to do.
So, I’m really glad that you guys were able to find something, you know, actually helpful and useful, and something that they can utilize.
There was a survey that was conducted by Rand Education and Labor that said 1 in 4 teachers reported that they were considering leaving their jobs at the end of the school year. Whereas last year, or not last year but prior to the pandemic, only 1 and 6 said the same thing. What do you think has been the number one driver for the shift in those numbers aside from the pandemic itself?
You know, I think there’s many things that are happening right now with education.
You know when the pandemic started it was like teachers are amazing because our kids are home with us, right? And, oh my gosh, what are we going to do? But somewhere, over the last few years, there’s been this shift.
Schools need to do everything for everyone and be the answer to every societal problem we have.
You know, I speak a lot, on mental health and students, and realizing that schools are having to address mental health in students, because there’s not enough resources in society. As a society, we haven’t done a good job on that.
And so I think that’s one thing, also, you think, lately with inflation in prices really rising or across the United States, but in the states, the compensation for teachers, and that’s not just a district level, a school level, that’s a state level, we’re not investing in that at a higher level.
And I think, you know, of course, I hear this all the time. Well, teachers don’t get into it for the money. They don’t, but at some point, you do have to be fairly compensated. I think that’s the bigger societal issue that I see happening.
And that some teachers are realizing; can I get a different job with better hours?
And not this stress of needing to be everything for every student, and I’ll still make more money.
And I agree completely with you, Amy. I’m speaking with a teacher just this week, one-on-one, and I ask her, you know, what is it?
We actually talked about the survey, and I said, what would be? Why do you think this is? And she said, we just have too much to do.
Every time we get settled, there’s something else. And she said, not only that.
I’m used to being a mom to my kids, right? Because that’s what teachers do. We go to work every day and we’re mom, we’re mom from the time
we come in the door to the time we leave. They even call us mom, sometimes. You know? They slip up, “Hey, mom”, she said I’m that,
but now, it’s so much more because while, in the past, it’s always been, oh, I just had a bad day. Now, it’s I’ve had a bad month. Things are not going well at home and all because of the pandemic, and just where we are in society right now.
So, she said, it’s just so much more emotional baggage with the kids now, that it’s hard, you know, it’s really hard. It really weighs down on me.
Yeah, and that kind of dove tails us pretty nicely with this next statistic, it said,
Raved Mobile conducted a survey for administrators and their number one safety concern with student mental health, which obviously, fair enough like that is a huge priority. However, the emotional well-being of staff landed in third place. So more than 60% of respondents listed student mental health as their most pressing issue, where just over a quarter listed staff wellness.
You had mentioned some of the strategies you guys are implementing to
really take care of staff mental health. But what have your districts been doing to manage both the mental health of staff and students.
And this is, you know, I often talk about it, the one good thing I think that came from the pandemic is that there’s been a better acceptance of mental health especially in students and that mental health concern.
And those of us who’ve been in the field for a long time know that they were, the rates of student mental health illness were very high even pre-pandemic it’s just that the pandemic sort of put a spotlight on it, and realizing that now we’re just paying attention. And then we’re seeing because students weren’t in our schools. for, you know, up to a year, to a year and a half, depending on where you live. That in itself impacted students’ well-being.
But at the same time, I think sometimes we don’t realize that our staffs’ mental well-being was also impacted by that.
We focus so much on students. But realizing those students come from families, the adults in their families could have been struggling with the impact of what was happening in the pandemic. You know, and so I think it was just this convert, like everything coming together, and like I mentioned, there’s not as many supports in our communities. You know, there’s so much data right now. There’s a shortage of child psychiatrists.
There’s a therapist shortage, so how are schools having to help bridge that gap?
Once, again, with limited funding, you know, so our district is, how do we leverage community partnerships? How do we bridge that gap for a lot of families who aren’t used to having those resources? How do we provide education? We do a lot of education sessions on what does mental health look like in your child?
How can you be proactive about mental health in recognizing signs and symptoms?
And we did. The department I’m in started two years ago, right, pre-COVID. But we’ve increased from 1 person to 15 in a year and a half, and that’s been mainly, social workers being able to really work one-on-one with students and families to provide on that support.
And, so, I think it’s looking at a variety of different ways.
We have a partnership for teletherapy for students, that’s through our state, and it’s free. So, I think it’s, how are we the bridge, as a school? We can’t be all things to all people, but we can do some training. We can do some education, and then we can really help how families access resources that are in the community.
Yeah, how about you Nicole?
Well, we added, I think I’ve spoken about this before, we added an SEL program for our students, so that every day they get 15 to 20 minutes of social emotional learning. The teachers and the students are able to talk through issues. I’ve actually heard from some teachers, and they said, you know, this actually works, these kids are figuring out that, oh, you know, it’s OK for me to come to you and tell you this now, you know? They don’t have to keep it all to themselves. So, these just little mini lessons that they’re getting on a daily basis, has actually helped them be able to open up and talk to their teachers and counselors, and other people that they need to talk to. Or just be able to function in general with their classmates. And say, you know, I didn’t like it when this happened, and you made me feel this way.
I believe that putting in that, bringing in that program really helped and is helping a lot of our students right now.
Yeah, and so implementing all of these tools and strategies that you guys have been, are you still seeing students struggle to manage their emotions and their mental health?
Like where would you rank their mental health compared to, you know, mid-pandemic level, where are they at now?
I think it depends. You know, the US Surgeon General put out a report in December. You can Google for it.
It has some great information but it’s basically the mental health crisis of youth and talking about who are more at risk to struggle with mental health. Because of the pandemic. You know, we know that there are certain things like we.
Over a few months ago, I saw a report that over 140,000 students in the United States had lost their primary or secondary caregiver, right. And so, we’re not just talking about, we focus so much on the isolation part, but we have kids grieving. We have families that now went from a double income family to a single income family. So that’s impacted them economically, and some of them then don’t even have resources for basic needs and things like that.
And so, no one at the same time, I don’t want it all to be doom and gloom.
We have a lot of students that realize how resilient they can be, and I think that’s a thing we’ve missed through this pandemic, is really working with students of acknowledging that they did something really hard. We all did. Do we stop and say, oh my gosh, look what we’ve done the last two years, and things were hard, and, you know, I was lonely. And I managed to get through that, and really reflecting on what coping strategies did students use to get through that. I think that’s where Nicole is talking about that SEL curriculum, of being able to have those discussions of coping and resilience. And I’ve learned that I can handle hard things, and I can believe in myself to handle hard things. And I think those are important conversations that have to happen, not just with students, but also staff.
Staff needs time to reflect that.
Oh my gosh, education was completely redefined two years ago, and look where you are and how much you’ve done.
And Nicole, how about your students?
We, I mean, obviously, we do still have some issues going on, and I can say that I’ve been a little shocked with when I get alerts.
A lot of them are coming from my elementary and middle school kids, and I really expected more to come from our high school kids. But these kids are, I didn’t realize just how much everything has impacted the little ones, you know, but the vast majority of our alerts now are coming from that elementary and middle age. So, I’m really glad that we have implemented this SEL program, and that we are seeing a little bit of improvement.
Like Amy said, we can’t just all be gloom and doom all the time. You know, we are seeing some progress. But I really see that it’s really hitting our little people, you know, our younger population a lot.
It’s a little scary for me.
I like that you pointed that out Nicole because I think sometimes, we think mental health like anxiety, depression, impact our high school students and I will say this pre-pandemic
we’re noticing high anxiety rates starting in elementary and just how do we have conversations about that. How do we train staff on it, but for me, it’s even how do we make parents aware?
How do we help parents understand, how are they encouraging it? How are they helping it? What pressures are we putting on kids?
I always ask parents, do you ask as much about emotions and feelings as you do grades?
And they don’t like when I ask that question, because the answer is usually asking a lot more about grades and how are you doing athletically because you ate in like three different select teams, and all of this. Are you worried so much about that? But do we even just check in with students’ emotions?
I’m glad you said that. I know, absolutely.
I had to think about, when I look at my daughter at the end of the day, I usually say, hey, how was your day? Tell me one good thing that happened to you today? What happened at school that you really enjoyed? You know, something like that before I say
tell me about how that Social Studies test went, you know, because I’ve seen having another child before her, just how impactful it is, when I asked those other questions first, instead of just diving straight into how are those grades, you know?
So, I got to me.
There’s a great book called The Fear of Failure, The Gift of Failure by Jessica Leahy. She is a mom, and she is a teacher and talking about, how do we embrace failure and accept it?
We, as adults, feel like we have to be perfect, and that’s unrealistic and it can cause a lot of mental distress. She even said, altering the way a kid comes home with an A, we’re like, oh, that’s amazing. A kid comes home with a C, and we’re like, why didn’t you do better. Realizing the kid who made this C could have worked 10 times harder than the kid who got the A.
And so, instead of saying, praising good or bad, just really re-examining, and teachers can do this too.
Like, what did you do to earn this grade, right? So, it’s the behavior behind the result.
So, if it’s an A, they can get to be like, oh, it’s just easy. To negate who made a C, it was like, oh my gosh, I did all of these things,
and I got this C. So really helping, changing that dialog of perfectionism to really embracing how we get to where we are.
Absolutely, and Nicole, you had mentioned you’re getting alerts from students who are struggling with mental health, and I know that you are utilizing Lightspeed Alert for that, especially with the elementary kids. When you get these alerts, how imperative is it that these are immediate, immediately flagged and sent right to you?
And you were able to handle it from there.
I mean it’s super important.
It’s like, when there’s a problem and you call 911, you want it done right now, right? We need to get that information just as soon as we can.
So, when those alerts come across to me, and I see it’s a high-risk alert, it’s a high priority alert, you know, we’re right on the phone immediately, with that school, with those counselors, with whoever we need to immediately get help to these students.
Obviously, the quicker that you can do it, the better.
So, we’ve had situations where a counselor grabbed a student in, and if that student had made it home, they may not have been there the next day.
And so, it’s just that important. Like calling 911 important, you know.
And when you were getting these alerts, did you see any kind of change in volume of these alerts, like compared to fully remote learning versus hybrid and in-person learning? Has the volume of that changed since we’ve returned to school?
You know it’s different every day.
I can tell you that during the pandemic we got a lot of alerts.
And right now, we get a lot of alerts. Today,
I don’t know what’s going on today. It’s been very quiet today, which is interesting. Usually, like yesterday somebody opened the floodgates, you know, it was just one after another.
I can say though how important it is during the pandemic when these kids were at home.
Not having alert would have been absolutely terrible, because if you think about when a kid at home and they’re not at school, we don’t see them, right?
As the teacher you’re not walking around you don’t see these. You don’t have your eyes on these kids every day.
So having this at home with them during the pandemic helped us keep a pulse on them. We were still able to see what they were doing and understand, you know, kind of what they were going through. Same here. They could be on campus.
Now, in person learning, we have that same, we’re able to keep that same pulse on them and we can see what they’re doing every single day. Just
even if they were at home. So, being at home, and
not having a teacher in front of them everyday. Walking around, looking at them in the face, making sure that they’re OK.
Having alert really helped us to keep our eyes on them, you know.
So it’s, we, I can’t tell you the numbers.
I mean, I want to say it’s probably the same, you know, I know that we had an uptick as during the pandemic. We had a rise, we’re probably kind of just, even keel now, you know. Same.
We’re still getting them. They haven’t gone away there.
These kids are still struggling, and I mean, we have 58 school sites, and 36,000 students.
So, I think there’s always going to be the need for eyes in the sky.
Yeah, absolutely, and for the both of you, we’ve kind of talked about the return to in-person learning, and the impact on students. Has the return to in person learning had a positive or negative impact on your teachers?
I know, that’s not, I think, it just, it depends. And it depends on the campus and what’s happening. Do I think it is a positive impact that teachers?
You know, they get into this because of being with students.
And while that can happen virtually, the energy that happens when you have kids in a classroom is something you can’t
make happen, right? Like that, that fills a cup. I know even now getting to visit campus is me getting to see students doing their thing, it fills my bucket too.
Now, do I think because of being remote, what we’ve gone through with COVID, like our behaviors? Are we struggling with behaviors on campus maybe at a higher level than we were pre-pandemic? Yeah.
But you have to think, even when we think of our littles, like pre-K and kindergarten, they could have pretty much most of the life that they remember has been just around their family and very sheltered and not used to the interaction with others.
And so, plopping them in at school, is good for them, but also, how do they manage the behaviors and emotions, these big emotions, that they’re not used to happening? Right? And I even know, when I was slowly coming back, a year ago, like the first time I went to a store that wasn’t just the curbside pickup. I was overwhelmed because I had been so, just with my family for so long.
And so, realizing that same thing happens to our kids.
And so, how do we balance that? But I do think, overall, we are social beings, all of us are.
And while, like webinars like this, that we can connect further across the country, it’s fantastic, but nothing takes the place of physically being in a classroom with kids.
Yes, for us, I think there has been some positive, you know our teachers are no longer teaching in 5D? What do I mean by that? Face-to-face and virtual at the same time, right? They’re not having to do that, so that’s a big positive for them. They are back to the classroom, with the people that they love, and the people that they want to be around, like Amy said.
And we’re kind of, on the negative side of things, you know, you said positive or negative impact, we are back to school. And so now we have all these COVID protocols, and we have all these extra things that we’ve got to look at and do. So, yes, there’s some positive, but there was also some negative. Now, I can tell you, about mid-year, we dropped all of our mask mandates here, in our school system, just a couple of months ago. Maybe February, we dropped the bus mask mandate, and so all of our protocols, as far as restrictions, have gone away from the schools.
You know, everybody, obviously is still. You can do what you want. You want to wear your mask, wear your mask. If you don’t, you don’t have to. We are still, hey, if someone tests positive, yes, you got to go home, and you’ve got to quarantine. We’ve got to do all of our mapping, and things like that, so we still have those protocols. And things in place, that our teachers are still having to deal with, on top of
the extra paperwork, the extra class I’ve got to cover and in this and that. So, yes, there’s, the answer is yes, positive and negative there.
But I think, if you ask our teachers, they would rather be right where they are, then where they were.
Amy kind … oh, sorry, go ahead.
Now, it made me think. I think, something that happened.
You know, when everybody was remote, the boundary lines between home and work, school and home, got completely blurred, like they were gone.
And so, you know, it was hard of when are my work hours. And when or am I not, and teachers were available. Administrators were available. Basically, we were available any time, all the time.
And, you know, now that we’re back in person, And I know we’ve started talking about this in our district, how do we start putting some of those up?
You know, I like to say, I’m guardrail of Boundaries up, to say, you don’t have to be available 24/7.
That’s too much pressure, I always talk about, like, are you checking e-mail at nine o’clock at night?
And, you know, how do we help teachers feel empowered, and how do we back them up on the administrative side?
That we’re going to let our parents know, like, we don’t, you’re not going to get an e-mail on a Saturday night like that.
That’s not reasonable, your dentist isn’t going to e-mail you back on a Saturday night.
You’ll have to call a 1-800 number, and so how do we get back to those blurry boundaries, to really putting some guardrails up? So that we help teachers with burnout or feeling like they’re supposed to be working 24/7.
And are those actual policies that you guys are adopting and implementing and communicating to the parents in terms of like district guidelines, this is what you can expect.
We’re not there yet, I think we’re working towards that because I’m one to say I can talk to teachers all the time saying stop checking your e-mail.
But if it’s not stated and you know pre-pandemic, we even had campus administrators just let families know, hey, these are the hours teachers will e-mail you back.
We’re not 24/7, and then really empowering teachers. You can’t work outside of that, you know.
If you do work, set your delayed e-mail to respond to the hours that we say, because if one of you do it, then parents are going to expect it from everyone.
And that’s true.
I had a teacher tell me, and we can tell them all day long, hey, when you go home it’s your time, you know. Now, I know that there are e-mails I have to look at. If an alert comes through, I got to look at it. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is.
But, I also pay for a service where, if I don’t get to it, Lightspeed will do it for me.
No, but I tell my teachers, look, your time is your time. And like you said, put that delayed response on. I had a teacher look at me this week and say, well, this parent keeps e-mailing me, but I finally just put on my delayed response. So, she’s not going to get the e-mail till Monday morning at this time because It’s the weekend and I need my time for me. When you ask teachers, what is it that you need? I ask a teacher, what do you need? She said, I need time.
I think we’re probably jumping into something else, but that’s what they say, I need time. You gotta give me the time. I don’t have time to do this.
So, I think that’s where, how do we back the teachers?
In it, I mean, I have to do this with my team, I can’t just tell them, I don’t expect you to work after hours and on every weekend. I can’t be e-mailing them on the weekend because then even if I tell them that, then they’re going to be like, well, she’s working, I should be working. And so, I think it’s really, it has to be a whole culture shift.
Really setting up those boundaries and fully supporting it.
And let’s be honest,
not every parent has good boundaries, and so if we don’t set it up for them, they’re gonna keep running over. And it’s our job to really have to set those up, and with students too.
It’s a great way to model what boundaries are, and that there’s an acceptable time to contact people, and that there is an unacceptable time.
This is a really good segue into the next question, and kind of, going back to what you had mentioned earlier, Amy, about, you know, students have these big emotions, and going back to school, and being around their peers that they’ve been away from for a year and a half.
There’s a lot of really big feelings, and, unfortunately, potentially, some violent and aggressive feelings.
So, if an incident occurs in which a student gets violent or aggressive, if for any reason, against a fellow student or a teacher for any reason, what is your district’s communication between that student, the teacher and the parents involved? What does that look like?
And I will say, it’s a little bit case by case of what that looks like. And, you know, we have our own Police Department, which I work with and housed within. In those type of things, It’s always up to the victim if they press charges. That’s not an us decision.
But for us, that’s where our social workers come in, really helping that student, what’s underneath behavior.
I always say, behavior is just a symptom of something else going on.
And so, how do we help support that student in that family, that whole system of what’s going on underneath that behavior?
And I also want to point out, we have to stop pretending
it’s just youth that are having aggressive behaviors right now.
No, adults are doing a really bad job modeling this right now, and so if we see the adults acting in this way, then what can we expect from our students?
I was just reading an article about at a Little League game, an umpire getting taken out by the coach.
And so, you know, I think those are. There’s a great quote I read years ago, that talked about, we keep talking about the culture that’s causing this in students, and when are we going to realize we’re the culture.
And so, I think, the one thing is the individual situation and handling it in a restorative way. But another question is, how are we as the grownups
being an example, or being a really bad example?
What about your district, Nicole?
It’s probably about the same as Amy, we have a great communication team, and they’re very proactive when it comes to situations like this.
We had a situation, and it was between a lot of students in a school. We had a situation this year where there was a lot of fights going on.
An administrator tried to break it up and was hit. We had these dads come into the school, and they created a club called Dads on Duty.
I saw that on the news. Yes, it received national attention. It was on the national news, and we had these guys come in.
I was at the school one day, and I was looking around, and all these big guys with these shirts on that say, Dads on Duty. And these dads are walking around in common hour, you know, when these kids are going between classes and stuff, and they’re saying, how are you doing today? And they’re giving them high fives.
They just kind of rotate, and it was the coolest thing ever to see, and they still do it.
I mean, it wasn’t something that was like, all right, we’re here for a day, or we’re here for a season, I mean they’re there every day, and they have a rotational basis in which they come, and they always wear their little Dads on Duty shirts and they’re there.
And the atmosphere of the school has changed.
You know, the environment has changed, and the kids are, they’re high fiving each other. They’re excited and there’s not anything crazy going on because we get all these dads running around, you know, kind of being on duty to make sure that everything’s going to go and run smoothly.
So, that was a really neat thing to come out of some violence that occurred in a school, you know.
Can I say, I love that too, because I think it really shows that it’s not just a school thing.
It’s really about a community coming together and that we can’t just expect school to solve every problem. That, you know, we do have kids, that it really takes all of us working together to get there.
We just love it.
Yeah, I love when communities interact in a positive way with schools, especially something like that. That’s awesome. I’m so glad that happened for you, Nicole.
Another question, we’ve seen recommendations for expanding mental health training and self-care and coping with stress for staff and students. You know, Amy, in your position and your expertise, what recommendations do you have for getting started with that?
I think one within the SEL work, we often think when we teach like social emotional learning, which teaches coping skills, how to manage stress, all of those things. We think the students need it.
When I think a lot of times, we, as adults, have to embrace it fully before we can teach students.
Because I can tell students all day how to do these things and how to cope with stress. But if I’m a ball of stress all the time, they’re not going to listen to me.
I think it’s also being transparent with students, that we, as adults, have to work with this, and that it’s not just easy for us.
I think, too often, as adults, we act like we are the all-knowing, and do everything great and the students are the ones that need all this help. I think there’s some beauty when we’re really partnered together and say, we’re all in this together, and we’re working, and I’m learning at the same time you’re learning.
I think that’s the first thing. And then I think really defining what self-care means. Are we saying it just as an easy, oh, I’m promoting self-care.
So, check. I am a good administrator or are we really talking about what that means, in what Nicole talked about, like talking to the teachers about what they really need.
In really listening to that, and it’s deciding as a district level administrator, oh I know exactly what the teachers need, instead it’s facilitating these conversations.
And not just trying to put a quick fix on something that was a concern even pre-pandemic, you know. This idea of how teacher wellness, I even like using the term wellness better than self-care because that encompasses a lot more and it’s not a quick fix.
Nicole, you had mentioned, when you’re talking to your teachers and you’re asking, hey, what do you need? What can I do to help? What can I provide you? Their number one request is time.
Amy, are your teachers saying the same thing?
Yeah, I don’t know anybody that’s not asking for more time.
I know, even in my job. It was a few weeks ago, I looked at my husband, and I was like, I just need seven extra hours a week. Can we put that in somewhere? And realizing It’s not doable.
And so, I always say managing expectations. What can I expect for us really to get done in this time?
And then, I always say within this realm of self-care, and all these things, is really focusing on what’s in my control.
An activity I make everyone do, and I do it multiple times a week, a day, maybe. Is that you get a big piece of paper and draw a big circle.
Write everything that’s in your control in this circle. Write everything that’s out of your control outside of the circle.
Now, that’s the easy part. The hard part is really asking yourself, where do I spend the most mental emotional energy?
Is it on what’s inside the circle or is it what’s on the outside? If you’re like me and the majority of people,
we spend so much time on the outside of the circle. It zaps us.
It takes all of our emotional energy and then we’re just spent. Then you have to ask yourself, why do I focus more on what’s outside of the circle?
And that’s a hard thing.
I have to do a gut check in a lot of times, because it’s easier.
It’s a lot easier for me to say my life is a struggle right now because of everybody else, instead of me saying, what am I really not taking control of?
That might cause me to have to change some things.
I’ll give you one quick example of this, probably, I shouldn’t even probably say this, but I was at a training yesterday. We had a lot of storms coming through.
We just dealt with some tornadoes, had a lot of closed school sites, but we had some more weather coming through. And in the middle of a training, all of a sudden, everybody in the room starts high fiving each other. And I’m like, what is going on in here?
I know I’m good, but what I just said didn’t need a high five.
And so, they were like after school activities just got canceled, we get our time today, you know.
They were so excited about the fact that, just one day, those afterschool tutoring sessions that they were about to have to do were canceled because they were gonna get some time back. And, again, they put themselves in that circle. They signed up to do that afterschool tutoring, but it was just one more extra thing, and so they were so excited.
Just like anybody probably here, if we said, if we hear, hey, that meeting got canceled, the last meeting of the day gest canceled, we’re all probably going yay.
And That’s how they felt
because of the time yesterday.
Yeah, and Nicole, I like that you said they signed up for it.
And that’s where a lot of the work when I talk with teachers, too is, why do you feel like you have to sign up for everything?
And do you feel guilted into it, or is that something within you? That you feel like you can’t say
no, and you’re going to be viewed negatively. That’s the really hard work that I really feel like is self-care.
Realize, I used to think like, why are these people always asking me to do everything, don’t they know I’m busy?
They should know I’m busy, and in reality, I wasn’t ever standing up for myself.
Yeah, I have to tell them, you have to say no sometimes and it’s OK to say no. Sometimes, I have to say no.
The complete sentence.
Yes, Yeah, and so teachers, what they need the most is time.
When you are sitting down with students who are struggling with their mental health, what’s the common theme and what do you think they really need the most? Less pressure.
I can, I graduated from high school a long time ago, and I can tell you, the pressure on students today is so much more then 20, 20 plus years ago. I can’t even think of how many years ago it was that I was in high school.
And we need to let them be kids.
They feel like if they are not involved in every little thing, and doing everything perfectly, and every little detail, that that’s their whole worth. How do we help kids know that
just being who they are, is they’re worth.
While, yes, academic achievement is important, extracurriculars are important.
You can’t do it all at the expense of your mental well-being.
And I think we as the adults have to stop. You know when COVID shut everything down and people were like, oh, everybody’s getting behind.
I’m like, behind who? Like the rat race has stopped.
Now, you’re like, oh, I can get ahead because everybody else is stopped. I think at some point, we have to stop the insanity
that’s causing this for our children.
What about you, Nicole?
Yeah, I think I would have to agree with everything Amy’s saying.
The only thing I would add is, we just need to listen.
We need to learn to listen., When I go into a school and I’m talking to a teacher, I have to actively listen to her or him and see exactly what it is. How do they feel? What do they need? You know, I’m an Instructional Technologist, I’m there for their technology needs, to help them, to teach them to do that.
But I also am there for them in any other capacity that they need.
So, if they just need to talk, I need to listen. We need to listen.
And we need to really think about what they’re saying. You know? If they’re saying, I need more time, we need to figure out how to give them more time.
If our kids are saying, I’m so stressed out because I have too much homework every day in all of my classes, then we need to listen to them.
We just need to learn to open our ears and listen. That’s my biggest thing, you got to listen.
With that, I’m going to end on that because that was fantastic. We’ve also had a slew of questions come in, so in the interest of preserving everyone’s time, I’m going to go ahead with that. Then a reminder: if you have any questions about what we discussed today, please drop them in the chat box. We’re going to take the next 15 minutes, or so, to go through these.
So, if you have anything that you would like answered, please feel free to ask that.
So, with that, let’s see, OK, this is a question for the both of you.
What’s your biggest takeaway from the school year?
How will you use that takeaway in the upcoming school year, in terms of student mental health and faculty mental health?
For me and for our district,
I think implementing our social emotional learning and seeing progress from that is going to have us continue that path.
You know, make sure that we stay on top of the social emotional learning aspects with our children, because we so often start something, and then don’t finish it.
You know, we do it for a year, and then we say, let me just put that over there because I have so much else to do. We really need to make sure that we are continuing down that path. I mean, it’s 15 to 20 minutes every day.
Everybody, we can find that time in your morning routine, in your
dismissal routine, somewhere in that time you can find it, and that is something that we definitely want to stay on that road and continue to do that.
I think for us, it’s when somebody’s struggling, or we think somebody’s struggling with their mental health, it’s always like, well, just go get help, and if you’ve never gotten help for that, that’s a really hard and scary thing. It’s hard. If I’m a parent and I need to do that, I feel like I’m a bad parent, if my kids struggling.
And so, I think for us, like our social workers, really being able to walk students and their families or our staff members. What is the process to get help? What does it look like? Normalizing it and being that just safe person.
To be able to help them with that.
is so critical. Suicide Lifeline number, those things are amazing, and we need those, but we can’t ever think that that’s where it stops. It’s having open discussion, it’s like Nicole said, it’s listening and truly understanding what people are saying, and then partnering alongside them. Not just saying, oh, well, just go get help.
Amy, I’ve got another question for you.
This is in regard to the communication with parents in the district to teachers after hours, how did you get this started? What was the first step that you took?
I think the first step is that I’ve been doing a ton, for five years now, PD sessions on, I get asked for self-care. And what they really get is boundaries and balance.
I think it’s educating our staff and our administrators, especially on what that looks like. So that they start understanding the need for it, in that we can automatically give time to people when we implement those really good boundaries. But it can’t just be, oh, we’re going to do this. I think it’s understanding the why behind it.
It really has been this slow process of really just the theme of balance and boundaries in our district. What has been the reaction from parents and the community to establishing these boundaries?
I think it’s case by case, but let’s be honest, you’re always going to have parents that are never happy.
I don’t mean that meanly, it’s just the nature of working in public education. But I think once, I tend to think majority of people, you let them know what to expect, they’re OK with it, it’s the not knowing.
So, it’s the expectations, I said at the beginning, if I’m a campus principal, and I say, OK, these are when our staff is physically on campus and available.
This is when they e-mail, and that the expectation is set.
Then, me, as a parent, I’m not e-mailing at 8 pm, and I’m not wondering why I didn’t get an answer back. The expectation has been set. I think that is the biggest thing for parents and students. They just want to know what to expect, and then they can lean into that and trust it.
Nicole, this is a question for you, do you have Dads on Duty at all of your schools? Is this a district initiative?
It is not. It is at the one school that that we talked about. Now, I think that there are some other schools that have discussed having something like this in place. So, it is not a district initiative. This is something that those dads just came up to the school and said, enough is enough, and I’m really tired of this.
There are too many fights at this school. There’s too much going on. So, you know, the community.
They just came in and did it. Yes, ideally, we would love for this to be something that spreads through to the rest of the district. But right now, it is not a district initiative.
Nicole, this is another one for you.
Do you know the ratio of alerts between elementary students and high school students?
I do not. Not right offhand.
I’m sure that I could run a report and find that out, but I can say that I know that there are more elementary and middle school alerts that come through than high school.
I know that, for sure.
I don’t know the ratio.
Got it. Yeah.
This is the last question for Amy. What are some of the questions you asked to help set boundaries? Are there any strategies you’re using to help with getting your teachers to feel comfortable saying no?
Yeah, I think it’s a really hard thing. I know it took a lot of work for me to be able to set professional and personal boundaries.
I think it’s a question and really leading on through, thinking about why they don’t feel like they can say no, right. I think a lot of times, I’ve heard people say, well just say no, and that doesn’t help with what’s underneath.
Like, maybe I feel like my entire worth is my work. Not just who I am. So, if I say no, then what happens to my worth?
I think those are some deeper questions that have to be asked instead of just, the easy thing is just telling people to say no.
I sound like Nancy Reagan from the eighties with Just Say No, but there has to be a deeper dive into what’s underneath. Oftentimes it’s, do you have a buddy for accountability kind of thing, and how do we continue these conversations that it’s not just a one and done, an e-mail sent out. Like, learn to say no to so many things like that. And it really has to start at the top of modeling it.
Yeah, I’ve always known that, but it really became obvious to me with my team. I was hiring four new social workers. They were going to start in January, and we were closed for two weeks starting at the end of December, and one of them had e-mailed me once I was already off. I didn’t answer the e-mail until I came back.
And she talked about how much she appreciated that
because she knew it was going to be a place where boundaries were truly, OK.
Yeah, her off time is OK. I really think it has to be a mind shift starting with administration and those at the top.
Yeah, absolutely, OK, well, that was the last question. Thank you again, both of you, so much for joining. And providing all of your experience and anecdotes and expertise it is always such a pleasure having you guys join us. Thank all of you, attendees for joining us, taking time out of your busy schedule to come listen to our discussion, really appreciate you guys. If you’d like to learn more about some of the products that we’ve mentioned today, such as alert, we do have an upcoming webinar. April 28th is leveraging the new product features from Lightspeed Systems. We are going to have Amy Bennett, Rob Chambers, and Ian Swanson hop on that webinar with us to kind of go through what we’ve got going on with our product roadmap.
So, with that, thanks again, everyone, for joining. Thank you, Amy and Nicole. Always a pleasure to have you. And everyone, just have a great rest of your day.
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