Pandemic Flux Syndrome, Part I

Every week in my role as CEO of TeacherCoach I’m meeting with struggling district leaders from around the country. These leaders are afraid of losing discouraged administrators, concerned for educator burnout with the restricted pipeline of new talent, astounded by the increasingly odd behavior of students, and guarding against unhappy blaming parents on social media.

Exasperated leaders remark that ‘it’s only October’, wondering how they will make it through a year with their energy divided between mental health concerns the continued polarization of communities. This was supposed to be a recovery year, relief at the dissipating fears of illness and quarantine. Students initially seemed excited to return to school and we could begin to make up for lost time. But this not the case for most and it’s left leadership concerned, wondering if it may even get worse.

No matter what we do, one remarked, “there is either a lack of appreciation or outright blame of the administration who are simply trying to get back on track”. How can this be? Why do people seem to have so little resilience and be devolving into self-harm and violence? Most importantly, what should we be doing as community leaders for both the short- and long-term restoration?

Pandemic Flux Syndrome is not an actual diagnosis, but a term used to coin a constellation of symptoms from a unique set of experiences we’ve not experienced before. While labeling can be often counterproductive, it does seem helpful in this instance to describe the widespread psychological plague impacting so many people.

We can look to natural disasters to make some sense of what is taking place. In a small percentage of the 500,000 earthquakes each year a Tsunami is triggered. Of these events, only a small percentage reach shore and impact people. Those that do can be devastating because of how unprepared we are, still focused or recovering from the first disaster. It isn’t the initial tidal wave that does all the damage, so much as the resulting flooding that can literally change entire landscapes.

Our collective mental health crisis is the result of being unprepared, flooded with acute and chronic emotions leaving people exhausted from treading water often gasping for air. The combination of emotional fatigue from prolonged helplessness/ hopelessness, with our current effort to adapt to a changed world, leaves us unfamiliar with this new landscape we cautiously navigate.

When people undergo long term hardship and ongoing disruption to their activities of daily living, we can wither under the persistent pressure. There is a limit to the time we can stay afloat before our depleted energy influences judgment and reasoning. As we lose perspective, each stimulus is experienced as a real threat, even if it is innocuous. Every expectation, every rule, ever task, can seem like the final drop that makes the cup spill over and hence we resist or rebel. On a large scale, occurring within an organization, subgrouping occurs as a means of self-preservation.

Each level of the system under its own pressure, pushes against the other subgroups, viewing the other as the problem, unable to clearly see the entire landscape. Blame is deflected so fewer take ownership of their actions, allowing small increments of negativity to surge into full scale uprisings.

Here is how this looks in a school: A couple of students exhibit behavioral problems that disrupt the classroom. The concerned teachers inform the parents who in turn grow defensive, taking to social media to express their displeasure against the school leadership, inviting others to join their cause. The counselors are called upon to put out fires, becoming displeased with the teachers who aren’t looking for scalable solutions within their classrooms, so much getting through the day. Each of these subgroups unite around their displeasure, pointing fingers instead of looking inward at their contributions.

Just as the individual impacts the system, so too does it work in reverse. We don’t realize how we are fragmenting our organization; we simply feel the effect of it. And with our mental health already feeling fragile, our diminished resilience leaves us unwilling to explore etiology, instead looking for quick fix relief. Our instinct under these conditions is to survive, just as the heart channels blood to essential organs in an emergency. We put less energy into depth of contact, vulnerability, impulse control and other intra and interpersonal essentials for happiness, divesting full energy into self-protection.

Recently, a teacher learned that she had been exposed by a student to Covid. She was upset with her district leadership for their policy to keep educators in the dark about student health and lamented about the potential spread at a wedding she attended. She messages her union representative to ask about for clarification on the policy and felt dismissed by his slow response. This veteran educator decided her administration and her union couldn’t be trusted and the job search began.

Burnout had already been established as an actual diagnosis prior to Covid, fueled by this apparent ‘lack of humanity’ described by this same teacher as ‘nearly dystopian’, and we have a new wave of destruction in our schools. Thus, the cumulative toll of this long-term disruption seems to negate the relief that our health crisis may be abating. We are cautious to come out of survival mode, unsure of our careers, reassessing relationships, and dealing with the emotional residue from all we have suffered.

Adding to our inability to heal is our widespread fallout of polarized communities, in complete disagreement about how to navigate community health versus individual freedom, unable to negotiate these differences without contempt. With another national election looming, battle lines are continuously drawn by politicians looking to stir up their constituency.

Thus, the solution to this syndrome is not simple and not obvious. A combination of incremental, transitional, and transformation change on both an individual and systems level will be needed. Leaders will find ways to balance the needs of the institution and the individual, Prosilience training will need to become a higher priority, and debate will need to evolve to dialogue, using constructive differencing. This will be the subject of Part II.


SEL & Trauma

By Christy Anana

As a teacher and a school counselor since the early 90s, I’ve worked in schools where there are periods of acute trauma. A heart-breaking event happens, and the school community comes together to help individuals, families, and classrooms heal in the context of school. I’ve also worked in a school serving historically underserved populations, where students and families have experienced both generational and chronic trauma. It is an honor to be part of this community. It is also an imperative opportunity to employ educator well-being. I’ve seen my physical and emotional health worsen as my responsibilities in dealing with others’ trauma increased.

Education in the time of Covid-19 has become even more challenging and without the positive rewards that we normally receive in our day-to-day lives. We are isolated from our colleagues and students. I can empathize with district leaders who are feeling the tension of balancing organizational needs and individual needs, and I can feel frustrated when their decisions seem tone deaf to the feelings of staff. Band-aids of self-care are offered up like another layer of teacher responsibility. When we express our feelings, some push back by encouraging us to keep adding more to our plates like we have an endless appetite for toxic positivity.

Even before Covid-19, vicarious or secondary trauma invaded classrooms and leaked into the hearts of educators who carry the emotional burdens of their students. What is the difference between acute/chronic trauma and what we are experiencing now with this mass experience of pandemic and unrest resulting in our own trauma? The distinction here is important in terms of how we can help and support our educators, and in turn, our students. I feel a heaviness and fatigue that is palpable every time I speak with a fellow teacher.

On the flip side, what kind of social and emotional learning is taking place in this difficult time? What new skills will emerge for both students and adults as we emerge into a transformational era of education?

Leaning into the discomfort and exploring our feelings is vital during times like these. Our bodies guide us with sensations of distress. We can take moments to distract, but the feelings are not going to go away. As we develop self-reflective practices, we can understand that the sensations point us in the direction of our unmet needs. What I am feeling and hearing from my colleagues is an exhaustion that is hard to describe. I feel tired from trying so hard to connect and being met with very little. The fatigue is physical and is also emotional. I am starting to sense the signs before the full-blown reaction happens. I notice the tightness on one side of my head and the hurt feeling around my heart. It is an observation that I am learning to meet with unplugging from the computer (as soon as I am able) and doing some kind of movement, preferably in nature. I live in Seattle, and so weather is often prohibitive.

By expressing those needs and negotiating how to get those needs met, we are building social emotional skills within ourselves. Expanding our capacity and talking about it with our students can be the greatest teaching we can offer. We model self-care not as another chore, but rather as part of our lesson plan that builds both teacher and student wellness.

We heal in relationship with each other. Educators are accustomed to creating and maintaining a community. We establish rituals that create safety and meaning to our work. We feel competence as we create these secure attachments where students can safely risk as they grow academically and socially. There’s a reason for our work. We are meaning makers.

I can tell the difference within myself when I have taken the time to employ my mindfulness practice. I have more room in my body and mind to tolerate the stress of the day. I am able to regulate faster. My window of tolerance is expanded. When I bump out of my window, I am able to get back into the zone more quickly, and I feel my resilience expanded. I realize that my inner life of mindfulness can be the same as my outside life. That feels better. When I sense my ancestors standing with me, I am empowered with strength.

We need to honor our educators and their work by offering time and space for their own self-care. Then, we help them stay whole to enjoy long, healthy careers being present for students and their own learning. And we can’t make self-care be just another add-on. We need to walk alongside educators and support them compassionately as people who have families, dreams, and aspirations.

We are increasing our collective tolerance for distress and accessing deeper levels of compassion for ourselves and others. Most importantly, we don’t have to do it alone. TeacherCoach, LLC offers personal and professional development that can help you feel heard and less isolated. I’ve created some engagements on the TeacherCoach platform that educators can use to explore well-being strategies. As we feel better, we make room for students to develop their SEL capacity. My wish for you is that you know how much you are needed.

Educator Wellbeing and Mental Health: Making Sure Teachers Are Well Keeps Children Well

By Kayla LeLeux-LaBarge, Psy.D.

“Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.”  –Scott Hayden

The classroom has been changing over the course of 2020. And as a result, a generation of children who were already experiencing increasing mental health issues are struggling more than ever to cope with rapid changes brought on by the pandemic and rising expectations.

Children Mental Health and SEL

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a compounded negative impact on children’s social and emotional well-being. First, it has stripped children of their social routines with friends and classmates. Second, it has created major stressors in the home ranging from job loss/job insecurity, overwork/burnout, economic pressures, and mental, social and emotional wellness struggles for caregivers and parents. Finally, the global grief over the loss of life and the loss of the way life used to be is felt by children and often not understood by children but manifested in social and emotional behaviors that can serve as mental health indicators.

One key indicator that teachers can be qued into is a decrease in academic performance and attendance of their students. Other indicators that may point to social, emotional and mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression, in children are:

  • Changes in mood and personality (i.e. irritability, acting out, expression of a range of worries and fears, struggling to focus, fidgeting, and withdrawing from social activities)
  • Changes in eating and sleeping (i.e. decreased appetite, stomachaches and headaches, expression of a difficulty falling asleep and/or having nightmares, fatigue, and restlessness)

We do not understand the full scope of impact of COVID-19 yet. But we do know that countless studies have shown that building and fortifying social-emotional skills in children can serve as a strong protective factor and can have lifelong positive consequences.

SEL and Educator Wellbeing

But what about the educators responsible for making sure that daily SEL continues to happen for this generation of young people? How can we expect them to show up and teach healthy social, emotional, and coping skills when we know they are feeling burnt out like never before?

Educators are feeling pressure to perform and to maintain the sense of normalcy and routine that school once provided for children. They are wearing more hats than ever before, technology experts being one of them, given the swift change to the virtual classroom in many areas. Virtual learning brings about challenges in observing and managing individual students in the classroom. It requires teachers to turn up their observation and listening skills and tune into the potential mental health indicators so that they address them when they arise. Teachers can be the bridge to a child getting the parental and/or professional support they need during this time.

All of this is having an impact on educators’ (and everyones’) brains. The brain is good at handling short-term stress but long-term stress erodes mental functioning, and long-term stress surrounds us on all sides right now. Our economy, the health of friends, family, coworkers, and the world at large are uncertain and at risk. Ambiguity, change, and long-term stress is a kryptonite trifecta for the brain making everything harder, which can feel like wading through quicksand at times.

Focus On Educator Wellbeing

We know that children are experiencing heightened mental health risk factors, and so are the teachers who are trying to make sure they have all the social-emotional skills they need to make it through and succeed. Throughout this school year, it will be important to focus on educator mental health and wellbeing so our teachers can continue showing up and shaping the next generation of young people. Below are some suggestions that can help educators establish a strong wellness routine.

Attend to your own personal health and wellbeing. This is a priority so you can continue to meet any challenges and hurdles that may come your way. Take a few minutes at the beginning of each day to check in on how you’re feeling. Also, find a relaxing or enjoyable activity to do for a few minutes to get yourself in a good frame of mind to begin the day (e.g. going for a brisk walk, eating a good breakfast, doing something creative, or meditating).

Reflect, non-judgmentally. At the end of the day reflect on how the day went, non-judgmentally. Focus on things that went poorly for as long as it takes to learn a lesson from those things, and then allow yourself to let them go. A creative way to do this is to take a piece of scrap paper, write down what went wrong in one corner of the paper, and then write the lesson from it on the other. Then rip the piece of paper, separating the two pieces of information, and throw the piece with what went wrong away, letting go of it. Keep the lesson as a reminder of what you have learned.

Release some feel-good neurochemicals. Take time to be grateful and reflect on positive aspects of the day, because it increases the “feel good” chemicals in your brain that motivate you to show up and be the best educator you can be! Keep a daily gratitude journal, if you enjoy writing, that helps you keep track of the things you are most grateful for.

Suicide Prevention Amidst a Pandemic

The threats to our school community are nearly too numerous to count. Adults are reporting significantly high levels of stress, questioning how students with even less volition will be able to cope. Administrators are trying to staff buildings, students are worried about the virtual and hybrid instruction, and everybody is concerned for their health.


One NJ District faculty self-report of stress:

Stress Level                         Now                     Before Pandemic

Extremely High:                  15.3%                    5.1%

Very High:                           17.2%                   11.4%

High:                                    24.8%                  19.3%

Moderate:                            31.8%                  48.9%

Total:                                  89.1%                  84.7%


Nearly six months of isolation, limiting socializing, and restricted recreation have taken its toll. Fear, helplessness and despair are beyond what human beings aren’t meant to endure for prolonged periods of time and unfortunately, the threat hasn’t abated.

As with the above statistic, the 10% increase in those who are ‘extremely stressed’ represent the adults at highest risk, similar to the top echelon of students in this same category.

While most districts have reopened for some form of instruction, we are unsure whether to accept this living as normal or hold out hope for a restoration of familiarity. Without some sense of what to expect, we live in a state of agitation, or hypervigilance. Being ‘on guard’ erodes our resiliency and move the needle for more students and adults to be in the ‘at risk’ category.

Students with previous risk or threats of suicide, those students with existing mental health issues, newly identified students with mood disorders, those who have suffered a significant grief/loss in the past few months, those students who identify as gay/lesbian/bi-sexual and sexual identity confusion are all in higher risk categories.

In addition, those who are experiencing family turmoil, experiencing school problems, have an intimate partner problem or experienced some crisis in the past two weeks are at the highest risk. Thus, situational factors may mean a student who is not in one of the above categories can be at risk, due to the greater fragility of teens and pre-teens.

There isn’t a significant different in percentage for those who seriously considered suicide between 9th and 12th grade, nor is there between Black, White, or Hispanic youth, although females were quite a bit more likely. The months following a prolonged absence from school saw a rise in suicides with January and February being the worst.

Suicide rates for school aged children have been going up steadily since 2007, with the anticipation of an even greater spike this coming school year. Therefore, schools need to be prepared with a number of different prevention and intervention procedures, unified through a single paradigm. Replacing the old model of reactive hospitalizations, school personnel require advanced training in detection and intervention.

Faculty training critical components:

  1. A standard operating plan for intervention (including telehealth challenges)
  2. Understand how to create a stabilization plan
  3. Appreciate the critical areas for assessment of risk
  4. Curation of diverse external resources for levels of concern
  5. Recognize the potentially well-intended but harmful methods of support
  6. How SEL & mental health are linked for both prevention and intervention


Districts will have a difficult time making suicide prevention a priority when there are multiple imminent threats to contend with. In addition, the shared dis-ease of the faculty paired with social distancing, may mean impaired objectivity, or even caution around emotional investment. Physical security and emotional safety ought to be a close one and two this year so preventable casualties of this awful situation are not missed.

TeacherCoach will make suicide prevention training our first in a long series of webinars offered to our clients over the next nine months. For more information, please contact us at





Response to a Social Media Post about Rioting and Looting

Original Post:

Let us not look upon the acts of looting and vandalism with myopia. People don’t become desperate overnight. Without consideration for all the historical sociocultural and political factors, we can’t possibly appreciate the actions of an individual no matter how off putting it may seem to us.


Response from somebody on LI:

You can protest AND be respectful to people, property, & life. It’s not an either/or proposition. Let’s not excuse or justify violence. You can’t say war is bad and then cause death and destruction on your fellow citizens in the name of protesting. It’s wrong, morally, and ethically. Honoring George Floyd does not include killing police officers and destroying a perfect strangers business.


My Reply:

I’m not certain you fully appreciated my belief. I understand your concern as you see my post as giving permission to behave poorly. I’d like to suggest that condoning a behavior is not the same thing as understanding behavior. I wasn’t suggesting that looting is bad or good as binary thinking and labeling behavior can actually service to polarize us further. Instead of dichotomous thinking, let us be investigative with a lens of curiosity and empathy. What leads a person or persons to act without morality or empathy? This is not an easy question to answer but is imperative for problem solving. If a person with an eating disorder is binging and purging, certainly we can agree these actions are unhealthy to the body. We aren’t going to solve the problem by telling them they have done something wrong. They already know their behavior is deleterious so shaming them or punishing them only widens the gap and may further isolates them or even reinforces their desperation.

The paradoxical theory of change tells us the only way to truly change a behave in a sustainable way is by deeply considering the etiology of that behavior. Looting and rioting are not simple behaviors to be solved through judgment. They result from a complex set of conditions and dynamics that unless well understood, will be reinforced through our confirmation bias. We know they are not constructive so what good does it do to berate instead of truly solving the issue with deep understanding. Punishment is proven to be a poor long term solution to complex behavioral change. We can’t risk further stratification of our society through wagging our fingers at the other side, whomever they may be. Real healing is only made through contact, putting ourselves into the experience of those who don’t easily understand.

Opportunistic, desperate, or indiscriminate behavior can be so involved it could take years of unravelling to truly assess. Were there needs consistently met growing up? Did they learn to view the world as unfair putting them into survival mode? Did they veer from inclusive to exclusive aggression because they were perpetually injured psychologically? Do they lack opportunity to get their wants and needs consistently met? Has hope been depleted by continuous oppression? Have their communities been neglected to the point where they have lost faith in society or witnessed years of institutional racism our own national leaders fail to acknowledge? Have they been victims of perpetual chronic and acute trauma? Have the historical injustices of inequality, inequity, and dis-investment stolen their care for law and order? Has their education been so lacking in quality they are living without the belief their conditions will improve? Has their development of moral reasoning been interrupted by incredulity over one police brutality after another with no consequences? Have they witnessed so much racist, prejudice and segregation that they are just acting out the culmination of their disgust?

Until we are ready to truly understand the effects of enslaving an entire population and the long term impacts on an entire race, including the more current exploitation and degradation like Black Wall Street and other government sanctioned public lynchings, I wouldn’t begin to judge the actions of a single African American… because let us be honest, we are calling out African Americans. While all color and SES groups have contributed to the less peaceful protests, this is deep down a matter of stereotyping. We blame black people because it is easy, because we are afraid to lean into our discomfort and explore the differences that keep us divided.

So I do not excuse or justify violence, I put on my social psychology hat and say it’s a moral imperative for all of us, if not simply a matter of practicality, to understand why peaceful protest has fringes of greater extremism. Until we are willing to do that, to put away our indignance and look through a lens of objectivity, we will continue to see the same iterations of turbulence in our society.

Reducing Anxiety in Children

Even before the multiple threats from this pandemic, anxiety was on the rise. Now that our airwaves are filled with frightening predictions, mixed messages, and images of suffering, our children are feeling even more helpless. The social isolation, loss of outlets, inability to assimilate information, absence of volition, and worry for their families has ignited an intensification of anxiety.

Anxiety was already the fastest growing disorder in children from elementary school to college, interfering with learning, socializing, and inhibits social-emotional growth. Anxiety can be a prelude to depression and other mental health problems if not addressed. But fortunately, there is a lot that can be done if we educate ourselves.


What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is different from worry, fear, and panic. The simplest way to differentiate between them is using the following vignettes: If a bear knocks on your door, that elicits fear. If you hear a radio broadcast of a located in your area, that is worry. If there is no indication a bear is present, yet are consumed with the idea, that is anxiety.

With anxiety, we become preoccupied with what may be, often to the point of creating disruption to our wellness, our relationships, or our work/school performance. Anxiety can be general, meaning it touches on multiple areas, or it can be concentrated into one area, such as a phobia. Anxiety can also be concentrated in panic attacks, which is essentially the fear of fear. Anxiety can also manifest in more enduring conditions such as obsessive- compulsive disorder.

There are two primary modes of anxiety, ruminative and anticipatory. Ruminative is when you spend time dwelling on the past and anticipatory is looking forward into what may be. Often times people have a combination of the two and in children the future oriented version is more prevalent.


What Causes Anxiety?

We are a society of overthinkers, which is the short answer. We analyze, judge, debate and a whole other set of processes using our brain. We tend to deemphasize our bodies in Western culture, ignoring our needs. Our body lets us know what needs are unmet or threatened, through signals we often label as symptoms. In doing so we use prescriptive measures to turn down the volume of the message in order to alleviate the symptom.

As we learn to increase our tolerance for discomfort, we can tune into what our body is trying to tell us, so that we can take action that gets our needs met, instead of alleviating the ‘symptom’. With children, it’s our job to help them tune into their bodies and understand their needs. If they aren’t able to communicate their needs, by expressing feelings, they will likely have a compounded effect which amplifies their frustration generating additional anxiety.

Anxiety is more common with perfectionists, people who are more rigid in their thinking, and those who isolate and/or avoid conflict. If we imagine anxiety as trapped energy, anything that internalizes feelings as opposed to acting upon them has the potential to create anxiety.

Some children develop existential anxiety early in their lives. This amounts to the fear of death, which less communicative or sensitive children may describe as a fear of the dark. At night, children may lie awake imagining their own or their parent’s death. Those children who haven’t yet mastered abstract thinking are more at risk, due to the harsh finality the concept of death presents.

Separation anxiety is a combination of insecurity and mistrust of the world. A child may latch onto a parent, sometimes out of their struggle to face the world alone or perhaps out of a deep- seated fear for the parent. Parents with anxiety often install cautionary tales with their children or model hesitancy, which can influence a child toward their own anxiety.

In families where trauma is present, chaos is frequent, or disruption to the family peace occurs, anxiety can result. Since the family serves as the anchor for attachment, any threat to that anchor stirs up fear that left untreated, can morph into anxiety.

Our increased reliance on technology has also had an impact on the prevalence of anxiety. As students emphasize more cognitive based activities that promote isolative problem solving, they lessen their contact with their bodies and their environments. As reliance and dependency on technology grows, children grow more intolerant of distress and have increased difficulty holding feelings in abeyance. Delayed gratification suffers and their trapped energy grows, a foundation for growing anxiety.



There was a period of many years where the rates of attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder surged in diagnosis. The number of children placed on medication grew as educators searched for ways to contain unruly students within a larger classroom. What’s better understood by educators and clinicians are the growing number of conditions that mirror ADHD, creating attentional problems.

Anxiety is high on that list, often times difficult to distinguish for pediatricians and other health care providers. Both conditions can show up as restlessness, distractibility, and poor concentration, making it easy to mistake. A risk is that ADHD medication of the stimulant variety, can exacerbate anxiety, so it’s important to have an evaluation by a psychologist before medication is attempted


How Does Anxiety Impact Learning?

For some children who are anxious, they may excel in school. In fact, some of your most diligent and conscientious students may be anxious, which would mean missing the underlying turmoil that drives their obsessive need to succeed.

For others, disruption to focus and memory can impede both processing and recall. Motivation may be diminished and agitation may adversely influence peer relationships. Younger students may seem like pests to the teacher but it’s also possible you won’t notice any overt signs to indicate anxiety is present. For some bright children who suffer with anxiety, they are private and withhold their struggle, to avoid embarrassment.

In short, anxiety can take on many different forms that you can’t look for any one thing. The most effective way to assess for anxiety is to have children write or talk about the things that worry them. Given the opportunity for catharsis, children will gravitate toward transparency. Remember that you may be put in a position where you now have information you aren’t sure what to do with or whether you can share. Having some early ground rules may help avert this problem.


What Can Teachers Can Do?

What hinders:

  • Reassurance may be more effective in the short term but not in the long term
  • Applying logic or reason to irrational thinking can sometimes help a child feel more frustrated
  • Telling a child there is nothing to worry about can cause them to withhold sharing
  • Not rushing to medication which interferes with recognition of sensations (needs)
  • Over reliance on technology in the classroom


What helps:

  • Understanding feelings and thoughts without judgment is comforting
  • Telling a child, you are impressed or proud of their willingness to share something so personal
  • Sharing your own struggles with worry or stress can help them feel less alone
  • Creating a classroom and school environment where expressing differences is encouraged
  • Bulling and intimidation is dealt with firmly but not through punitive measures
  • Helping adjust for realistic expectations
  • Celebrating inequities as human beings ought not be perfect
  • Modelling directness with sensitivity
  • Integrate social-emotional learning into curriculum (tolerance for distress)
  • Use of mindfulness in the classroom


For more information on anxiety, please visit and search the marketplace for our series on anxiety & children. Our software allows you to make this training available to both faculty and parents.

Stress & Immunity

All threats to our health are thwarted by a strong immune system. Thus, at a time when significant energy is spent on crisis planning, we need to remember self-care. If we are run down, our physical depletion can leave us susceptible to illness. Our greatest risk of dis-ease comes from being unable to fight off infections. Consider these five pillars of health:


Sleep:    It’s critical get quality rest. Turn your cell phone off before lying in bed and ease into your day before checking your messages. Instead of watching television in bed, spend a few minutes meditating or imagining a past vacation or favorite spot you feel peaceful in. Deep and consistent sleep is what allows the body to restore and prepare for new challenges.

Nutrition: This is the time to decrease sugar, processed foods, and low nutrient foods. Increase your consumption of berries, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, and beans. A combination of raw and cooked organic foods is critical for micronutrients like minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals, which build our immune system. Our immune system is located in our small intestine, so what we eat matters.

Stress: As caregivers and organizational leaders, remember you are not responsible for solving all problems. Your job is to create processes for others to help take ownership to share the burden. Let go of what you can’t control and make sure to attend to process over outcome. Stress can use up important nutrients we need to stay healthy.

Peace: During crisis we need to make time for peace. Peace comes from feeling grounded, connected to our own experiences, others, and nature. Appreciate the little things like the smells and sounds of nature, getting out of our heads and into our bodies. Attending to sensations prevents us from being stuck in our head.

Relationships: Ensuring a healthy balance between giving and receiving is paramount to maintaining our energy stores. If we are giving too much, with a low return on investment, it’s time to consider how we might alter the way we help or change our perception of what we get from helping. Deep meaningful contact with other fuels our sense of well-being.

Fun: Laughter produces happiness, triggering neurotransmitters generation manufactured in our gut. This aids in digestion, allowing more nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream and conserving those stress hormones like cortisol, which activate our defenses. The more joy we find in our everyday the less hard our body has to work and the better able we can fight infection.

Why Wellness in Schools Isn’t Working Part I

Stress is a growing disincentive for current and prospective educators, making wellness a concerning paradox. While consensus is high for supporting our most precious human resource, the return on investment is unknown. Only 7.3% of educators surveyed ‘strongly believed’ that stress reduction as a PD topic would decrease their chances of burnout with 97% of that same sample believing burnout is a real risk (TC Survey, 2018).

Without hope for meaningful results and inconsistent utilization of services, we need to better understand this issue. Why aren’t educators taking more advantage of wellness offerings and where should districts allocate their limited resources? For those who do avail themselves of wellness initiatives, are the results leading to long term health improvement? Why are educators lacking confidence in stress inoculation? We need to understand the limiting factors putting our schools at risk.

The University of British Columbia yielded the first scientific association between teacher burnout and student stress, a growing concern for mental health, suicide, addictions and more. But even if the neurochemical link between teachers and students wasn’t clinically significant, those in the classroom know that the growing perception of student apathy, poor initiative, and declining maturity requires educators to overcome a significant amount of distress, which goes well beyond students.

With perceived student changes registering as less than a quarter of total stress, what about the influence of work/life balance challenges (37.7%), difficulty with administration (15.7%) or policy (14.66%) plus the aforementioned lack of confidence in school support? To reduce educator stress and its many reverberations, we need to consider the source, the action and a less commonly studied element of perception.

The paradoxical theory of change means that we need to fully understand a problem, before trying to find solutions, otherwise we may create more problems. Five factors that serve to limit the effectiveness of wellness, will be examined, building a framework for the ideas outlined in Part II.


Factor #1: Understanding Resistance

Most districts lack of a unified paradigm defining wellness and the association with overall health, because they like most social service agencies, fail to appreciate how people get unhealthy to begin with. While wellness includes activities to improve health, resistance in actualizing a wellness lifestyle is critically important to encouraging sustainability or ownership, as is the organizations complicity in subverting this process.

We may for instance recognize that looking at our phone right before going to bed or the first thing we do upon waking needs changing, but are we aware of our growing reliance, dependence and addition on technology as a whole? And for the schools in a race to continuously improve access to technology, without realizing how this shift is inherently compromises our brain/body balance, will a workshop in mindfulness really make a difference?

When educators attribute a significant portion of their stress to work, we may question whether faculty will be receptive to support. Organization derived resistance is the push back leading educators to be weary of such help, with some already investing less of themselves in their work, sometimes out of spite but most often self-preservation.

Sometimes resistance is not born out of mistrust, but a more personal struggle to get unstuck. When our needs aren’t being met, we experience emotional pain that varies according to our history. For some this may be feeling unworthy while others may fend off despair. To guard against these unpleasant experiences, we without thought, activate our defenses.

Humor, denial, avoidance and the dozen plus protective mechanisms interfere with our ability to get needs met, bracing for pain of some kind (rejection, disappointment, humiliation).  When our energy shifts to self-protection, we may feel more immediately safe (emotionally) or secure (physically), but it also means a decline in energy toward understanding the source of our distress and healing efforts.

If we employ our protective mechanisms over a long period of time, we risk a more dangerous shift into survival mode. On the continuum between thriving and surviving, human beings who get stuck in the space of existing will find their wellness deteriorate over time.

With real or perceived threats and our instinct to self-protect, chronic stress grows. Stress is the unseen burden on our system, depleting vital resources and increasing inflammation, a primary contributor to most physical and psychological illness. When activating protective mechanisms or in full- fledged survival mode, stress is generated as a result of insulating from further harm.

Thus, a wellness or stress reduction offering may be less appealing then the immediacy of consuming unhealthy food as a temporary mood elevator. Now our protective mechanism, that instead of nourishing our bodies triggers a secondary problem. Nutrient depleted food will hinder our ability to cope with daily life, decrease our energy level, make decision making difficult and ultimately amplify our vulnerability to illness.


Factor 2: Paradigm  

If a person is overweight, there are physical and psychological barriers interfering with their ability to take off and keep off the weight, such as a fear of being seen. A woman who was abused early in her life may circumvent male attention by insulating herself with layers of protection. Simply offering a weight loss program may not be sufficient to penetrate the deep complexity such as purpose the weight serves.

Misunderstanding about healthy food, appreciation of the link between neurotransmitters and diet, and the underlying psychological reasons for insulating ourselves in fat, are just a few of the barriers why people don’t attempt or sustain a wellness plan. Wellness services are typically embedded in an appreciation for the forces for sameness or change acting on people all the time, creating resistance to sustainable change.

Wellness is to physical health as psychosocial emotional learning (PSEL) is to mental health, both working together to form an integrated approach to well-being. One without the other is less effective, because as we know, there is crossover between physical and mental health. When our immune system isn’t working well, inviting frequent illness, our mood may decline. When we are experiencing chronic anxiety, our body gets worn down inviting illness.

When somebody gets a massage, a popular wellness activity, they may feel better for hours or longer. However, if the source of distress causing their initial tension is not addressed, their muscles will soon return to a state of high tension. This doesn’t mean the massage wasn’t helpful as it can help improve circulation and even increase our attention to where the body holds energy. It does mean that without education about the mind body connection, it’s more apt to resemble symptom relief.

Districts need to educate their faculty about the integrated nature of health including the roles and responsibilities of the individual and the organization. When new emotional or physical supports are introduced, they need to be born out of a philosophy of dis-ease and restoration that people can understand, otherwise we are applying topical solutions for systemic etiology. Just like a therapist treating trauma, the orientation of that practitioner needs to be appreciated so the client can find greater volition of recovery. Therapy and treatment are vastly different.

Am I Surviving or Thriving?

I did not inherit my mother’s natural talent for gardening.  Even the silk plants in my care have shriveled and lost leaves.  So, it was with some doubt that I approached my goal of starting a small indoor garden this spring.  I thought I would start with an aloe plant from a clipping a friend gave me.  They seemed hearty enough to survive my black thumb.  I potted a couple in small pots and set them on the coffee table.  After a month or so, I noticed that the plants had not grown at all.  In fact, the leaves, though still plump, were drooping and turning a little brown.  The plant was surviving, it was alive, but no one looking at it would say it was a thriving plant.

Many of us find ourselves in a similar position in our work and lives.  We get up every day, we do what we are ‘supposed to do’, we might even do it fairly well.  When asked, we say we are ‘fine’, or ‘can’t complain’, then we get up the next day and do it all over again.  It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when we value comfort and familiarity. The prospect of making a change when we are low on energy or don’t trust our impact to influence our environment leads us into perpetual sameness.

We may not appreciate the toll this takes to remain in survival mode, similar to how we neglect an old car by using cheap fuel and forgetting oil checks. In survival mode we neglect our needs, ignore our base instincts and drives, such as a desire for intimacy. We stay in our own space, not making waves but not deepening contact with our work. This drains us but it’s an insidious process because we don’t realize it’s taking place until it’s too late.

The early signs such as headaches, malaise, or irritability may be ignored or treated as ‘symptoms’ requiring a medical intervention. We assume all too quickly we are sick and require treatment instead of exploring how our immune system because suppressed. We are functioning and may excelling in certain areas but at what cost?

We are surviving, but are we are not thriving. To thrive is to ‘grow and to flourish vigorously’. Thriving entails a sense of passion for what we are doing, a joy that is present in our interactions with others and a sense of wonder and curiosity for our experiences.  It requires stepping outside of our comfort zones, being OK with uncertainty and purposefully attending to what is positive.

In her research on what keeps teachers in the profession, Sonia Nieto found that thriving teachers are those who make genuine connections with their colleagues, students and families; who are focused on the present and on the positive and those who feel compelled to give back to their school communities.  Environments that encourage collaboration, risk-taking and creativity are essential.  Without these things, in environments that stress standardized teaching and hierarchical decision making, teachers burn out.

There are many internal and external conditions which impact our desire to invest in our community so we want to look to all possible answers, especially those who have some volition around. If we can take actions that feel good, as opposed to ones with an expected outcome, we begin to move the needle. Without an emphasis on some external return on investment (ROI), we can appreciate ourselves for the good feeling associated with effort.

Extending ourselves to just one new person a day can help us move outside our comfort zone where thriving becomes possible. Being curious about another person, offering some type of help, or simply sharing something personal to model openness can help us feel more connected. Thriving becomes more possible when experiences are shared and contact is made.

It turns out, aloe plants don’t like to live alone either.  My friend told me to take them out of their pots and let the roots completely dry up in the sun.  That sounded crazy, but when I repotted the two together in a new pot, with soil that was tailored to their specific needs, and placed them in a sunny spot on my porch, they began to thrive.  They have grown several inches in the past few weeks and I have learned a little more about stepping back, letting things happen and taking in the sun.

Co-Teacher Conflict

Some of the more common but disruptive problems facing school leaders occur inside the classroom between the adults. Principals often struggle to address conflicts between co-teachers, resorting to one of two extremes- giving too much space or too much direction.

When school leaders are too passive in heading off personal and professional differences, resentments may lead to actions that compound the problem. Consider a new educator who was refused a desk or space on the shelves by the veteran co-teacher. When the principal asked the new teacher how she was adjusting, she asked for help in how to approach this situation but was told it would all work out in time. That new co-teacher spent the entire year doing next to nothing in the class.

Being too aggressive in solving the problem can also serve to reinforce the issues, but drive the conflict underground. Now the two teachers resort to more passive aggressive behavior, generating tension reminiscent of the student’s families at home.

Consequences for unresolved differences between teachers can range from modest to severe. Students in the class can become fragmented and the faculty polarized within the department. The quality of instruction can suffer and burnout with attrition is possible.

Simple guidelines for the administrator to help facilitate a long- term resolution are as follows:

  1. Pay attention to how the co-teachers are negotiating their differences before helping them address the content of their discord. If people don’t attend to how they are talking then what they are talking about won’t be taken in.
  2. Consider the power differential between the two adults and how it may have been formed. When people are in a power struggle, they need help letting go of control.
  3. Encourage both parties to acknowledge some strength for the other person. When we hear acknowledgment from another person, we become less guarded and more willing to hear.
  4. Support flexibility and adaptation. By reinforcing a less rigid posture, you will be leading people toward a more creative solution.
  5. Remind the adults they are setting an example for the students in how they resolve conflict. By exploring differences with curiosity, they will be promoting the same for the children.
  6. Provide understanding to each adult as a jump start to their own empathy. You want to ensure you aren’t seen as taking sides but promoting honesty and directness.
  7. Offer reassurance that conflict can be anxiety producing. If one person seems too tense, help them to take short breaks before returning to the negotiation.
  8. Help each party understand what basic needs aren’t being met or being threatened. Whether it’s safety, control, purpose, etc… all our behavior flows from our desire to meet needs.
  9. Encourage each side to agree to some type of compromise. What is each person going to do to improve the situation before the meeting is over?
  10. If necessary, remind the adults they have a responsibility to be professional even when they don’t agree. Poor behavior that impacts the students will have consequences.