Dr. Wenimo Okoya is the Founder and Executive Director at Healing Schools Project. She is a passionate practitioner and researcher with experience in program development, training, and delivering guidance around building bridges between health and education in communities of color. She is particularly focused on working with school leaders, teachers, and other caring professionals to promote healing through building trauma sensitive spaces and addressing their own stress and vicarious trauma.
The well-being of teachers plays a vital role in the overall success of students and educational institutions. However, the mental health of educators is often overlooked, leading to increased stress, burnout, and diminished job satisfaction.
An alarming number of teachers, especially teachers of color, are leaving their schools and the field as a result. According to a 2022 national survey, 62% of Black teachers and 59% of Latine teachers said they planned to leave education sooner than expected, compared to 55% of teachers overall.
This is unacceptable.
However, schools continue to be ill-equipped to provide adequate well-being support for educators, especially educators of color. In order to create a thriving learning environment, it is imperative for schools to prioritize and enhance support systems that cater to the unique mental health needs of teachers of color. Below are a few effective strategies and initiatives that schools can implement to better support the mental health of their teaching staff.
Establishing Peer Support Networks:
Creating peer support networks within schools allows teachers to connect with and learn from one another. These networks can serve as safe spaces for teachers to share their experiences, seek advice, and provide emotional support. There is evidence of the impact of peer support as a successful intervention for mental health and healing circles have been shown to significantly improve quality life and mental health symptoms. Healing circles employ a framework of peer support rooted in Black and Indigenous healing. For example, the healing circles my organization hosts are virtual or in person and are run by trained restorative practices facilitators. Participants build a community rooted in shared experiences with teachers of color from their own school or from other schools. During each healing circle, teachers participate in grounding moments (e.g., mindfulness practices), restorative conversations, and collectively envision culture changes in their schools. Between sessions, we provide self-paced healing practices to build connection, prevent burnout, and manage stress. By fostering a sense of community and camaraderie, schools can build resilience and reduce feelings of isolation among teachers.
Fostering a Positive School Culture:
A supportive school culture is essential for promoting teacher well-being. By fostering a positive and inclusive environment, schools can create a sense of belonging and strengthen social connections. Encouraging open communication, respect, and collaboration among staff members can help teachers feel supported, seen, and valued. Additionally, implementing mindfulness practices and wellness initiatives, such as regular staff wellness programs and meditation sessions, can help reduce stress and improve mental well-being.
Accessible Mental Health Resources:
Creating culturally responsive and accessible mental health resources within schools ensures that teachers have the support they need. Collaborating with mental health professionals or organizations like the Healing Schools Project, schools can offer on-site counseling services, workshops on stress reduction techniques, and resources for self-care, facilitated by practitioners who share teachers’ identities. Providing teachers with information about community mental health resources can also be beneficial, ensuring that they have access to external support when needed.
Supporting the mental health of all teachers, particularly those most historically marginalized, is paramount for creating a diverse, healthy and thriving educational environment. By actively investing in the mental health of teachers and teachers of color, schools can create a sustainable and supportive environment where both educators and students can thrive.