It’s early January – a time of contradictions and conflicting emotions. It’s that time of year when we simultaneously want to refresh, renew, and try new things AND want to curl up on the couch and wait out the cold. It’s a time when we want our students and youth participants to buckle down and get back into work yet we get as excited about the prospect of a snow day as they do. We crave routine and order yet miss the chaos and excitement of the holidays as the winter stretches out with no good excuse to eat chocolate anywhere on the horizon.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” . . . or is it? Whether you work with young people in schools, afterschool programs, or early education centers, for many children, the holidays bring with them stress and anxiety. Often the young people we work with are worrying about money, family situations, gift-giving, being “different” in their beliefs or traditions, and loss. All of these factors can cause children to feel anxiety or sadness at a time when the mainstream media (not to mention their family and friends) is screaming, “Joy! Happiness!! Merriment!!!” As educators, what can we do to help them embrace this season with hope rather than trepidation?
A study from the American Federation of Teachers was released on Monday of this week, revealing that teacher stress is on the rise, and remains at rates startlingly higher than the general workforce population. Almost 5,000 respondents took the opportunity to reflect on tensions in their workplace, some randomly sampled from the AFT’s union membership and most voluntary respondents through social media channels. Cumulatively, 61% of these educators find their positions to be “always” or “often” stressful. More than half of the respondents reported a full week’s worth of poor mental health days every month, perhaps because they are being “bullied” by administrators or students (27% report incidents of this nature). On the whole, educators feel they have less impact on policy decisions and professional development content, and less control over their classrooms. They see more instances of verbal aggression among students and the majority of them do all of this on 5-7 hours of sleep a night.
At the start of our Programs & Services area staff meeting yesterday, I stood at the head of the table – pausing, looking and listening to the incredible team getting settled – checking in, laughing, sighing, deep breaths – taking a few moments to be together and recognize that we are in the fall season that brings a demanding focus and intense service to schools, agencies and communities. Significant work is already accomplished and it’s only the beginning of the new school year!
As teachers and staff come back to their classrooms this month, we know that so much of your focus is on what you can do to make your new students feel right at home in their classroom. In the bustle of arranging desks and equipment, creating beautiful bulletin boards and planning fun first-day-of-school activities, here are ten quick ideas to increase social and emotional learning in your classrooms this fall. Most take less than 15 minutes to implement.