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Caring for Our Caregivers: Supporting and Increasing Faculty Efficacy
Teaching is hard work. Anyone who has ever stepped into a classroom can testify to that. In addition to preparing lesson plans, grading papers, and giving and grading assessments, teachers are asked to connect with students, inspire, motivate, and maintain discipline. Although teaching is consistently rated as a profession which is replete with meaning it also has amongst the highest rates of burnout. The challenges faced by teachers in general, and first year teachers in particular, often result in increased levels of stress, lack of work/life synergy, and overall feelings of being overwhelmed. The need to care for our teachers is clear. As part of our ongoing recognition of the importance of helping reduce teacher burnout and increase job satisfaction, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School is pioneering an innovative position of Faculty Support and Efficacy Consultant.
1. The importance of caring for caregivers.
There has been much discussion in psychological literature regarding the potential adverse effects of caregiving, be it physical, emotional, or psychological. Taking care of other people – addressing their intellectual, psychological, and emotional needs – can take a toll on the caregiver. There is now a recognition of the importance of offering support to caregivers, allowing them time and space to recharge and self-care, so that they are not depleted when asked to care for others. Teachers are among our children’s most important caregivers. They spend many hours each day with students and have, we hope, positively-impactful relationships with them. The demands placed on teachers in terms of differentiated instruction, understanding the emotional, physical, and psychological needs of each student, can lead to fatigue. Focusing on teachers’ needs will therefore positively impact students’ and parents’ interactions with the school.
It is common in many schools to find teachers consulting with guidance counselors regarding classroom challenges, needs of specific students, or help in reducing feelings of stress. Many guidance counselors are likely thinking “yes, this is some of what I do every day.” Guidance counselors in our schools support not just the students but the rest of the school community as well, including parents, teachers, and administration. This support is currently being offered informally, “off the books.” The result of which is teachers feeling that they are “taking up students’ time” or that “this is not really the guidance counselor’s job.” Creating a position of Faculty Support and Efficacy Consultant, a position that is devoted to servicing the needs of the teachers, will free teachers to seek and receive a higher level of support without feeling conflicted.
Supporting students’ emotional and social health requires both education and on-going consultation. Teachers are trained in education as well as in their subject area of expertise, but not in how to recognize and deal with mental health challenges. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or social skills deficits, in addition to learning disabilities, may manifest in a classroom in a variety of ways. These challenges may impact not just the student but also the classroom environment and a teacher’s ability to effectively teach. Providing teachers with the necessary background will increase effective pedagogy as well as student-teacher relationship development.
All teachers benefit from support and training. However, new teachers are in the unique position of needing to learn how to balance curriculum, preparation time (which is often much longer for teachers who have never taught before), classroom management, the nature and culture of the school they are in, forming new relationships with colleagues and administrators, and forming relationships with students. The experience of striving to meet all these goals in one’s first year of teaching is often overwhelming. Statistics () indicate that the highest rate of attrition amongst teachers occurs in the first few years of teaching. This new role will help address some of these unique needs.
Over the past few years we have dedicated a number of different resources designed to enhance and promote faculty success. Our faculty benefit from on-going peer mentorship. We created a faculty liaison committee, composed of faculty members, which works to identify and address whole faculty needs and concerns. Additionally, new teachers benefit from teaching mentors who are either faculty members on staff or mentors who are not within the school. Mentors meet with their mentees twice a week and sit in on classes once a week. This allows mentors to provide immediate feedback and assist with implementation and practice of new pedagogical skills.
One of our veteran teachers has been entrusted with educating new faculty regarding school procedures for grade submissions, family (parent-student-teacher) conferences, etc. In the 2017-2018 school year, the co-directors of Professional Development, with administrative approval and encouragement, made faculty and student social-emotional needs the focus of the opt-in programs for teacher professional development. The programs were six lunch-and-learn sessions and one faculty evening. The goal was for faculty to gain insight into their own emotional world so they can convey the insights to their students. Of the seven events, five featured paid speakers from within faculty and staff. Our professional development consciously taps the knowledge and talents of in-house presenters whenever possible, both in order to give non-classroom opportunities for faculty to share their knowledge and because in-house presenters know our staff population best. Of the faculty sessions, three were didactic presentations:
a. the AP psychology teacher, who is also a practicing clinician, on stress and guilt in Jewish women,
b. a guidance counselor on depression in the classroom, and
c. a master teacher on developing an emotional connection with students.
Additional hands-on sessions included a physical education instructor leading a yoga session for female faculty and the nutrition teacher giving an evening presentation for faculty and spouses about how to prepare healthy suppers efficiently and without stress. Two guest speakers, one a motivational speaker who connected Torah concepts to the idea of self-care and the other an occupational therapist who shared executive functioning tips applicable to both teachers and students, gave our faculty an outsider’s perspective on social-emotional health. Participants in the programs shared positive feedback, and all who participated received the message that the school is invested in faculty emotional health, which contributes in turn to student emotional health through faculty role-modeling and through a more effective and aware faculty. The position of Faculty Support and Efficacy Consultant is the next natural step in offering a whole-person approach in supporting our faculty.
Having articulated some of the benefits such a position offers, we outlined the following four goals for the position:
Providing continuing education regarding students’ social and emotional needs.
Using one-on-one meetings, the consultant will provide the faculty members with information and suggestions towards improving students’ behavior and experience in the classroom. Additionally, the consultant will provide a series of “In the Classroom” psychoeducation lectures on topics ranging from anxiety, depression, and trauma to positive communication with parents and a strengths-based approach to student/faculty interactions.
Faculty will be offered confidential meetings with the consultant in which the consultant may provide support or guidance in creating work/life synergy. While providing therapy in this context would be inappropriate, when appropriate the consultant may recommend seeing external professionals.
During individualized, monthly meetings, the consultant will serve as an additional resource for new teachers who provides support, validation, and an opportunity to problem-solve any challenges that may arise throughout the year.
Working collaboratively with faculty and administration to enhance, strengthen, and maintain our positive work environment.
The consultant will provide a self-care lecture series on a range of topics including how to avoid burnout, stress management, and methods to develop resilience. Additionally, the consultant will collaborate with department heads, the faculty liaison committee, the professional development committee, student guidance, and the administrative team in the development, planning, and execution of programs aimed at enhancing faculty work experience.
It is our hope that this innovative new position will serve to further enhance faculty health and wellness and will allow teachers to continue to grow and excel. Ultimately, teacher success is learner success.
by Oshra Cohen
Dr. Oshra Cohen is the Director of Cognitive Behavioral Health Psychology, LLC, a private practice specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She is also one of the guidance counselors at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School and the incoming Faculty Support and Efficacy Consultant.
by Shifra Schapiro
Shifra Schapiro teaches Tanach, co-directs Professional Development, oversees Middle States accreditation, and advises several student publications at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls.
by Merav Tal-Timen
Merav Tal-Timen is the Co-Director of Professional Development and the Hebrew chair at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls where she had been teaching for the past twenty years.