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Put a Spotlight on It

by Shandy McLean ASEBP | February 1 2018

Have you ever been a part of an initiative that you know is vital and, after years of growing momentum, you have an experience that leaves you feeling like you’re being lifted to new heights? Now just picture how the feeling grows as you’re surrounded by others who are just as passionate as you are. Have you ever had a “YES!” moment, if you will? Thanks to the efforts of the McConnell Foundation’s WellAhead initiative and McGill University’s Faculty of Education, I recently had mine.

I was fortunate to represent ASEBP at the two-day National Summit on Teacher and School Staff Wellbeing in Montreal this past November—an issue that I am very passionate about and I’m thrilled that it’s getting the attention it deserves. Joined by over 70 stakeholders from across the country, we were challenged to collectively explore how we can make meaningful, long-term improvements to the well-being of teachers and school staff in Canada—a soapbox I was happy to jump on!

What’s it All About?

What I heard is that the challenge of promoting and protecting the health of school employees is real, consistent and complex. Although there are common experiences across jurisdictions, there are also contextual differences that shouldn’t be ignored when trying to develop solutions. I also learned that we, at ASEBP, are deep in the sandbox—pun intended—working on this issue with some incredible company. We learned from colleagues in unions, professional associations, community agencies, government, universities and researchers, educators and school administrators—each with unique and credible wisdom and perspectives. Never before has the conversation been so robust and informative!

Action Awaits

Based on the post-event report, the following are just some of the themes and identified actions that emerged from the Summit.

  1. Work through the barriers. We need to crack open societal views about well-being and the education profession, in general. Well-being is something we all need and barriers like rigid systems and cultural tensions are things that need to be addressed.
  2. Time for training. Pre-service training and in-service teacher professional development should include a focus on mental health and personal well-being.
  3. Look at the whole school. While school leaders are uniquely positioned to help make well-being a priority for both students and staff, they also need access to supports to enhance their own mental health and well-being. Tackling this issue requires a whole-school approach that is inclusive of students and all school employees.
  4. Schools make for a unique workplace. The school work environment and daily demands are challenging to well-being. We need to better understand demands on school employees resulting from the structure and culture of schools as workplaces.
  5. Think about a variety of cultures. There are unique needs related to school employee mental health and well-being within the indigenous context, stemming from intergenerational trauma and related issues in these communities. Increasing understanding of these historical roots and the impact on the school community, as a whole, is required.

So, What Now?

Participants identified several tactics that could help move this issue forward including, but not limited to:

  • Bring the issue to decision-makers and work together to develop a common message and/or framework to guide action.
  • Synthesize and share existing knowledge, resources and effective practices with your colleagues and other wellness champions.
  • Build public awareness about the issue and the need for action by sharing stories and information.

Work in this area will undoubtedly continue in jurisdictions across Canada and I hope that many of our readers will be along for this journey as well! To read more about the WellAhead initiative and their shared work in the area of school employee well-being, visit their website and explore their concept paper on this topic.

Shandy McLean

With a background in social work and a masters in health promotion, 'Shamu' (yes, like the whale) is a tireless advocate in the public health arena and ASEBP’s former director of Health Strategies and Stakeholder Engagement. We know that her questionable claims of being 'related' to actress Claire Danes is a way of coping with her crippling fear of sharks. But it’s okay—we’re all in this together, Shamu.