Focusing on 5 E’s to create a positive mental health mindset for educators
February 6, 2023
The following article was written by Kevin Dougherty, Chief Strategy Officer with 806 Technologies and a former principal of Title I/Bilingual Schools.
In California and across the nation, we are losing teachers in record numbers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 280,000 fewer public school teachers now than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So why have so many educators left the field? If you ask teachers, it’s largely about mental health. In a recent survey of more than 4,600 TK-12th grade teachers in California, burnout was cited as the top reason for leaving the profession, followed by political and ideological attacks, staff shortages and excessive workload.
So what can educators do to create a more positive mental health environment? A good place to start is with the five “Es”: Effective planning, Engagement, Equipment, Empowerment and Equity.
1. Effective planning
Incorporate mental health into your Comprehensive Needs Assessment. To set mental health goals, ask, “What are the social and emotional needs of the educators we serve? How are those needs being incorporated into the plans that we create?” It’s easy to get wrapped up in everything we have to do as educators, but it’s critical to reflect on plans and ask, “Is what we have been doing working? Are we where we would like to be? Do our teachers feel satisfied with the work they do on our campus?” If not, why are we persisting in the same patterns? Creating a CNA gives us the opportunity to try something different.
2. Engagement
If an educator doesn’t feel valued, they may not choose to continue teaching. School leaders can ask, “How are we engaging our teachers in improvement planning? How are we making sure teachers see our school as a great place to work? Are we taking time to ask about their thoughts and feelings, and respond to their mental health concerns? Are we responding in ways that show their voices matter?” If staff shortages are causing excessive workloads, look for ways to reduce the burden so teachers don’t become frustrated and leave. Are there ways to reduce paperwork? Non-essential tasks that can be eliminated? Could the workload be better balanced?
3. Equipment
Teachers need ongoing education, training and new concepts in order to be successful. Investing in professional learning is an excellent way to equip teachers for the classroom. School leaders can ask, “What types of ongoing training are we providing for our educators? When we hire new teachers, how are we equipping them with training, resources and support?” Leaders must also be provided with meaningful, ongoing professional learning opportunities.
4. Empowerment
We can empower educators by listening to their needs and acknowledging their successes. Ask, “How are we empowering educators? Do they have the tools they need to be successful? Are we giving them the power to make decisions in the classroom and encouraging them to take ownership?” Most schools do a good job of recognizing educator achievements — but it’s always good to reflect on your recognition policies. Showing appreciation and being consistent with recognition is an excellent way to improve the mental health environment of any workplace.
5. Equity
In order to meet educators’ emotional needs, they must feel that their workplace provides equitable opportunities for all. Educators should also feel that their experiences are valued by peers and leadership. Professional learning and growth topics should incorporate equity and diversity, and participants should be given the opportunity to share their unique perspective, point of view and experiential background. This will help them feel valued, honored and respected. From there, they can grow and thrive in a safe environment that allows them to learn from others who come from different perspectives and hold different points of view. We all become more enriched as a result of equitable environments, so equity must be made a priority.
The five “Es” provide a useful framework for improving mental health in education. Beyond these strategies, it’s also important to remember your “why.” Why did you become a teacher or administrator? Why is this work important to you? For most educators, it’s all about making a difference in the lives of young people.
California has the largest population of students and educators in the nation. If educational leaders throughout the state can affect change in their schools and districts, it will positively impact teaching and learning across the state. Let’s set a positive example by prioritizing a focus on mental health.
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