'The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters everyday,' - Todd Whitaker.

And then there are school counselors! Not to undermine the value and influence of teachers, but school counseling is among those noble professions where despite being specifically appointed to work with children, a good amount of one's work day and mind space is also taken up by providing support to said teachers. In short, we're superheroes without capes!

When the pandemic hit, students were affected but so were teachers. That's perhaps when the significance of our role received major attention (I wish it didn't have to take a pandemic for people to realize how and why counselors actually are an integral part of the school community!). With most schools either functioning full-time in person or in the blended/hybrid mode after a good 1.5 years at least, it isn't hard to see how it's not just the students who need social and emotional support, but the teachers as well. And that's where you and I come in. If you're looking for simple yet effective ideas to support teacher wellbeing, this post is for you.

1. Host a Teacher Wellness Circle

One of the first teacher wellness initiatives I started online when Covid hit, was a weekly Teacher Wellness Circle on Zoom. Initially, I didn't have many teachers show up. Nobody wanted more screen time than they were already forced to have. However, as their own need for emotional wellness, human connection, and work-life balance became increasingly evident, they began showing up for these 30-60 minute sessions. Teachers were free to drop in and out as and when they had to during that hour. There was no consistent framework. The focus was on checking-in on teachers, building a community, and chatting about anything that they needed help with.

wellness circle

When school reopened, teachers needed this circle time even more than they did when we were all online. However, our Teacher Wellness Circle is now revamped. It's out in the open, we catch up over cookies and coffee, and we also have other teachers taking the initiative to organize one wellness activity a week (it could range from a mindfulness activity to a friendly basketball game or even a fireless cooking event) for the rest of us to try together. I must admit, I am not just relieved that this idea took off, but I'm also glad to not have to be the only person planning and coordinating these sessions.

2. Have Lunch with a Different Teacher Everyday

Given our crazy schedules, not every teacher can make it to a wellness circle session. Also, some teachers prefer chatting with you one-on-one as opposed to meeting in a group. This is why at least twice a week, I make it a point to sit with three different teachers at lunch in the cafeteria. This practice has helped me get to know my new colleagues. I've also had quite a few teachers talk to me about personal/family matters that they would've otherwise not been comfortable about bringing up in a group setting. This is a great way to get teachers to see you and the work you do, so advocating for your role is far less exhausting. I like to eat my lunch alone in my office, but this extra effort goes a long way!

3. Co-Plan Potlucks

One of the things I've noticed over the years is that most teachers enjoy doing non-school related activities only with teachers in their own grade level/team. As counselors, we work across grades, and here's when we should be using it to our advantage. Try being the one to advocate for expanding the circle. Bonding over potluck lunches at school or dinners at home are an easy way to make cross-grade communication easier and fun.

non school related activities

4. Coordinate Teacher Appreciation Notes

One of the best things I'd witnessed early in my career was my Principal writing notes of appreciation to different staff members on a Friday evening. She would leave it in their mailboxes and on Monday morning, before the start of a crazy week, teachers would be excited to read these little notes, which would of course give them inspiration/motivation for the rest of the day/week. As counselors, we could work with our admin on initiating a practice like this. We could also encourage teachers to write to their colleagues. These notes of appreciation don’t have to be only from the principal or the school counselor.

5. Put Together a Teacher Wellness Goodie Bag

Sure, teachers would appreciate more planning periods in their schedule or less testing and parent conferences every year. However, as a school counselor, decisions like this are mostly out of your control. Something you can do (that doesn't fully compensate though) is you could speak with your admin about putting together a wellness goodie bag for teachers. This could be handed out on birthdays, World Teachers' Day, or even before Christmas or Summer break.

In the past, I've usually managed to throw in a scented candle, bath salts, some munchies, a coupon to the local spa (look within the school community for people who could help you with teacher discounts or donate gift certificates), and a handwritten gratitude note. Teachers have in turn been very appreciative of this gesture.

6. Play Fun Games Together

Kids enjoy Community Time, and so will teachers! Try organizing a Secret Santa at Christmastime. I planned a 'Holiday Exchange' for the staff over the '12 Days of Christmas'. First, a budget was set so nobody would feel the need to spend more than they could, especially at the most expensive time of the year. Next, I got teachers to fill out a template I created where they could name their favorite color, food, drink, Christmas goodie, etc, and also specify if they had any allergies. I had teachers come by my office to pick one of these up from my massive salad bowl.

counselor party

Over the next 12 days, I also had festive prompts that they could use to include in their note/gift exchange if they wanted to. On the last day before Christmas break, over a delish staff lunch, we exchanged our final gifts and got to know who each other's Secret Santa was. Every year, I look for ways to make this activity more fun than the previous year.

The pressure on us school counselors to support the entire school community is great. So it is important to remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself before you care for those around you.

If you have other suggestions of how school counselors can support teacher wellbeing, make sure you let me know in the comments!


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