Compassionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Care
Education is a noble profession, and it places a notable and extraordinary demand on its members.
In addition to asking our teachers to educate, influence, and guide our children toward a successful future, we also ask them to steer kids through the social and emotional upheavals of growing up. In some cases, this also means navigating trauma, including domestic violence, abuse, poverty, and neglect, to name only a few of the environments in which many children live. Teachers, social workers, and school leaders see all of it.
Then there are the behind-the-scenes responsibilities and requirements: lesson preparation, grading, testing, and accountability pressures, lack of administrative support, extra responsibilities, too much parent involvement, too little parent involvement, addressing the individual and special needs of their students. And there’s so little time each day.
Overwork seems to be so ingrained in teachers. It appears twenty-first-century teaching in America requires this. It’s culturally acceptable, and in some places, it might even be expected.
When we consider that of all the social services professions, education, until very recently, is the only one that ignores specific training for processing stress and trauma. Neither during nor after the credentialing process is there required training for stress coping strategies. Yet teachers are on the front lines with our kids. Teachers can anticipate spending 30-plus years of their lives with no formal training to help manage the inevitable stress and trauma that comes with this profession. It’s no wonder teachers experience burnout and quit. Consider this:
• 46% of teachers report high daily stress during the school year.
• Annually, around 500,000 teachers experience burnout.
• Nearly 50% of teachers leave the field within the first five years, and 8% go every year.
And these are pre-COVID-19 figures. In a survey by Education Week Research in March 2021, a whopping 84% of teacher and leader respondents indicated that teaching is more stressful now than before the pandemic.
We cannot take the stress and trauma out of the school environment. That’s here to stay. However, we can enhance our teachers’ ability to cope with stress and intentionally design a supportive, caring environment where educators can do the work they are meant to do. This is undeniably crucial. Educational leaders are in a position to institutionalize a culture of wellness within their districts, schools, and departments where direct service providers are resilient to the stress and chaos. It is within this caring environment that they can be present for learners and provide them with the best opportunities for success. This is the framework for iCan Dream Center’s organizational culture which we hope to replicate by sharing strategies in upcoming workshops Additionally, Dr. Ford will co-facilitate an Administrators Academy, Self-Care for Leaders, on December 3, 2021, at the South Cook Intermediate Service Center.