For those who know me, I’ve referenced this statistic many times—that is, that an average 30% of teachers are leaving the profession within the first five years of their career, and in some parts of the province the number is as high as 40%.
The most common reasons cited for this statistic?
- Other career aspirations
- Loss of passion
- Family moving to urban centre
- Teacher burnout (i.e. teaching full time and teaching several different subjects, some perhaps outside of the teacher’s areas of specialization)
As an optimist at heart, this is the kind of thing that might keep me up at night! But I think there are many health-focused approaches that can change the tide, protect teachers from burnout and keep them joyful of their chosen profession. Of course, from a comprehensive school health lens, I’m making the relationship that healthy staff will stay in the profession longer. While that’s not likely true for all reasons noted above, I think it certainly is for some.
So, where to focus all our positive energy? How to cultivate healthy environments that grow passion and enthusiasm rather than deplete it? I think there are three main ways we can do this.
Focus on our Environment
Social and physical environments affect our happiness, motivation and personal health. Our schools have incredible potential to not only be buildings of learning, but buildings of health. Venturing beyond the school walls, when we take learning outside and into nature we cultivate creativity, imagination, stress reduction and natural play. I see this amplified as I watch my own children enjoy the outdoors—they are different little people when they have connected with nature. I see it in myself and among my colleagues. At any age, our environment plays a role in overall health. A Calgary outdoor advocacy group made a t-shirt for students that says, “Teacher, take me outside.” Staff should also heed this advice—take the time get outside and reap the benefits.
Focus on Kindness
One year at the Shaping the Future conference we brought up researcher Jim Diers. Jim is, hands down, one of the most positive people I have ever met. He looks at the strengths of a community and the strengths of people and mobilizes that into community development. One of his examples involved an initiative to make smiling and eye contact a norm among a particular group. The results were with powerful and left people feeling a greater connection with one another. The power of kindness—even very small acts of kindness—can be transformative to an environment.
Ever Active Schools works with the Kainai Board of Education on a number of wellness initiatives. The school had initiated an “Ever Active” club for their students to attend where they would get off the bus and participate in a half hour of physical activity each morning. Staff were also involved as they connected with peers and students on the outdoor track in the warmer months and in the school hallway during the winter. When asked if the participants would do this on their own, most responded, “No.” The primary benefits of physical activity are great but, it seems, making connections, enjoying group support and shared experiences were the determining factors for success.