September 29, 2018

Supporting Student & Educator Well-Being: Assistance and Resistance Required

Graphic by Karen Kliethermes

Sometimes educators are asked to follow policies that stunt student growth or worse, cause harm. This is why I am hoping you will stick with me for the next 5 minutes or so.

Today is both my son’s and my aunt’s birthday, one a student, the other a career high school educator. The best way I can think of to celebrate them is to ask for your partnership in supporting educator and student well-being.

Part One: 2 Gifts You Can Give Educators Today

Let’s begin with educators. Like my Mom and Dad, my aunt is an exemplary educator. Her optimism, high expectations and compassion contributed to outstanding student outcomes across her career.

Some of the greatest heartache and lost sleep educators experience stems from being told to do things they know are not in a student’s best interest. In Colorado, the statute that defines emotional maltreatment of children only applies to interfamilial relations. This places educators whose make decisions inconsistent with policy, yet supportive of student well-being at risk. Educators should not fear disciplinary action, including losing their jobs, for prioritizing children’s health. Many policies contribute to the dehumanization of students by failing to take into account individual needs and circumstances. Best practices are at odds with policy more often than many realize. 

I invite you to please consider one of the following quick gifts to support educator well-being:

  1. A Service. If you are a provider (anything from spa services, to accounting, acupuncture, legal or nutritional services, estate planning and more), please consider donating your time to educators. Colorado ranks among the lowest in educator compensation and together we can work to bridge this gap. We’ll create a database and match participating providers with educators in partnership with local schools and non-profits of similar mission.
  2. A Story. If you are an educator and have a story of a time you were asked to follow a policy at the expense of a student’s health, PLEASE share with us. Take a few minutes to record a video and email it (we are good at transcribing), craft a short email or provide a more detailed account. We are intimately aware of the risk of retaliatory behavior and honor requests for confidentiality.

We are hopeful the day will come when educators will be exempt from following policy when there is evidence that doing so could negatively impact student physical and/or mental health.

Me and Aunt Sandy

Part Two: 2 Gifts You Can Give Students Today

And next, for youth. We can greatly reduce the number of student psychological injuries. Schools being under-resourced contributes to these occurrences; however, it’s not an excuse. While great lessons can be learned from experiences of oppression, discrimination and even abuse, not all have access to the resources needed to heal and it’s unrealistic to expect this will change anytime soon.

Psychological injuries are among the most difficult to recover from. When you have visible physical injuries, neighbors and friends are cued to step in and offer support. Students with unseen injuries are often marginalized because their unbearable feelings can result in behaviors perceived as challenging. In the cruelest instances, these children are pushed out of schools. The societal costs far outweigh any perceived short-term financial savings to schools that engage in these isolating practices.

So…now for two asks to support student well-being:

  1. Reach out. Craft a note, share a song, hug or other expression of encouragement with a child you think may be experiencing psychological injuries. Connection is one of the most powerful healing forces.
  2. Report. Communicate about incidents of perceived emotional maltreatment of youth in schools to the appropriate authorities, district attorney’s office, local and/or state board of education. This takes courage and we’re standing beside you. If you have concerns about reporting, please share your stories with SoulSpark Learning. We will protect your privacy while compiling relevant data.

If the data is compelling, perhaps legislators will be called to action too. Given youth spend much of their optimal learning hours in school, educators have a significant influence on development. It is reasonable to expect youth will be protected from psychological injuries, not only at home, but at school too.

In sum, please consider taking a few moments to:

  1. Donate a service that supports educator well-being.
  2. Share a story of a time school or district policy conflicted with student health.
  3. Love on a child in your neighborhood or school community who may be suffering.
  4. Report incidents of emotional maltreatment of students in schools.

Happiest Birthday Mr. B & Aunt Sandy – I love you!

SoulSpark Learning is a non-profit dedicated to optimizing the development of youth and the educators who care for them.