All’s well that learns well

There’s much and more conversation about the social and emotional needs of our young learners. As there should be. We must make sure that the well-being of our students is at the forefront of all that we do. How can we expect students to learn if their minds are preoccupied with tremendous worries and unforeseen challenges?

While we work to truly meet our youngest learners where they are, we must do the same for the adults in our communities as well. The well-being of our adult learners can never be far from our minds. In fact, if we want our adult learners to continuously improve and serve as the types of models we need to help our youngest learners see success, then we can’t allow the wellness of the adults to be wholly forgotten.

How can we keep the well-being of our colleagues at the front and center? Here are four moves we can make to show the adults on our team that we are serious about their health as well.

Get with the program. We talk often about fighting absenteeism of students, and doing whatever we can to make sure that all students get to school. The same should be said for our teachers and leaders; after all, the learning of our students is only improved when our teachers and leaders are present. To help keep staff healthy and primed for learning and leading, many school districts have developed their own wellness programs, or they have partnered with agencies to support the well-being of their staff. Districts such as the Boise School District in Idaho and the Denver Public Schools have developed structures that support the health of their staff and in some cases, help their staff meet requirements for employment. While wellness should never feel like a burden, we need to understand that being unwell is always a burden to others. Wellness programs that directly involve schools and districts help to showcase the importance of caring for all our learners.

Modify learning time. It is an unfair assumption to believe that our leaders and learners learn best at 3:00 p.m. And yet, much of our learning time is built into the end of the day, at a time where our staff is exhausted (and rightly so) and/or is occupied with thoughts of evening events, child pickups, dinner plans and the like. We learn best when we can focus on the learning itself. So, if we believe that learning requires social and emotional well-being, then we must understand that afternoons and evenings are not the best learning times for all. By exploring the means to vary our professional learning time, we display an understanding that not all of our staff live in the same way. And therefore, we recognize that supporting learning means supporting the times when our adults can best learn.

Feed them. Sheryl Chard, Director of the Sofia Center for Professional Development, mentions in a great TEDx talk (you can watch it here) that one of the best pieces of feedback she ever received from a professional learning session was to provide higher quality coffee. While this might seem a bit petty, Chard’s participant is spot on. If we expect our adult learners to be relaxed enough to put down their guard and invest in learning (and in their own health), then we need to treat them as if we want them to learn and be healthy. That means providing food and drink; the quality of which we would use in our own homes. Inedible food and un-drinkable drink are often worse than providing nothing at all. While we don’t have to lay out a spread, we do have to recognize that caring for ourselves requires energy; a bowl of fruit and pitchers of ice cold water can go a long way to supporting our staff, and providing the means for healthy eating as well.

Practice what we preach. A key to a healthy lifestyle is educating our adult learners in methods to balance work and life. One way we can do this is by modeling work/life balance ourselves. Not staying at the school or district office until all hours (even if that means bringing work home), signing off from email for the weekend and/or taking a walk during lunch rather than “emailing while eating” are all examples of how we can set examples for our adult learners. And just think: as additional adults in our community make commitments to balance work and life, they will become more comfortable helping our youngest learners deal with the challenges and potential anxiety of school and home balance.

Wellness isn’t just a vision for our students. It’s a means to a much larger end, one where the health of all community members is the foundation that leads to a successful present and future for all learners that enter our classrooms, buildings, and communities.

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia, ASCD EDge and SmartBrief Education. His book,Professional Development That Sticks is available from ASCD. Visit his website:www.fredende.com.

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