An unusual education environment and a global pandemic have caused challenges and potential emotional distress to educators and school leaders everywhere. Due to the restrictions presented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators have had to get creative and develop new strategies to continue providing a high-quality education to students. Teachers and school staff are working long hours, adapting to a virtual learning environment, while simultaneously experiencing the personal worry and stress related to Coronavirus.
These challenges presented a need to focus on mental health and personal wellbeing. To meet this need, the Forsyth Academy leadership team and office staff, in collaboration with healthcare counselors from Wake Forest University, hosted a “Self-Care Festival” to care for their staff.
“First and foremost, we are the models in which others view themselves,” said Wendy Barajas, principal at Forsyth Academy. “We must be responsible to take charge and create intentional time to take care of ourselves. We need to support ourselves so we can continue to support others. I often think of the quote, ‘You can't pour from an empty cup!’"
Christy Harnsbergers, dean of lower elementary at Forsyth Academy, explained that mental health and work-life balance are critical especially during the pandemic. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a non-profit organization focusing on national health issues, dove into the implications of COVID-19 for mental health. According to a KFF Tracking Poll conducted in mid-July, 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the Coronavirus. These numbers pose a need to support and care for employees now more than ever.
The event allowed staff to attend 30-minute sessions, which included options for hand massages, snacks, meditation, yoga, a reading room, corn hole, popping bubble wrap, and puzzles and games.
“It is crucial as school leaders to pay attention to how our staff is doing because our staff is our family,” said Harnsbergers.
Why is personal self-care vital? According to Dr. Matthew Glowiak, a clinical faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University, “Self-care is an important activity to do every day… By taking some time out to engage in self-care, you may relieve the pressures of everyday life and reset yourself to get back to a healthy point where productivity is once again maximized. Considering the costs associated with mental health services, lost wages, and more, spending some time on yourself may ultimately benefit everyone.”
“Most educators tend to have the mindset that they are never doing enough, which leads to dangerous habits of forgoing personal time and care,” said Barajas. “The goal of the self-care event was to intentionally create and set aside time for faculty and staff to participate in self-care. They needed to see that their self-care was more important than academics. If we don't have healthy teachers, we will never have healthy academics.”
Dr. Glowiak goes on to share the consequences of neglecting self-care, which include burnout, depression, anxiety, and low productivity levels, to name a few.
“Having a healthy staff creates a healthy academic and loving environment for our scholars and families to reach their greatest potentional,” said Harnsbergers. “Our community trusts us to give their children the finest education. We take that responsibility very seriously.”
In order to best care for students, staff must first take care of themselves. Moving forward, Forsyth Academy leadership plans to continue hosting culture-building events that correlate with the love languages of their staff.