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Take Good Care: Prioritizing Teacher & Student Well-Being

Take Good Care: Prioritizing Teacher & Student Well-Being

Date of the Event: January 20, 2022 | Box, Giselle Abrams, Ramona Johnson, Gabby Lubin, Jenny Portillo, Dr. Seth Shaffer, and Marianna Stepniak
Show Notes:

In this webinar, teachers and students reflected on their challenges, unmet needs, and mental wellness during COVID-19. Mental wellness and social-emotional learning experts examined how to integrate wellness into school and district culture to support students and teachers, with the goal to reimagine the future of mental wellness after COVID. This webinar featured MAEC’s new publication for teachers, “Managing Mental Wellness: Tools for Yourself, Your Students, and Your Classroom.

Nikevia Thomas:

Welcome everyone. We’re honored that you are joining us for our Take Good Care Prioritizing Teacher and Student Well-being webinar as part of our Reflecting, Reimagining, Reforming Education series. I’m Nikevia Thomas, a senior specialist at MAEC and I’m serving as a virtual event planner for the webinar. On behalf of MAEC and today’s panelists, we welcome you. As everyone joins the room, please type in the chat where you are joi...

Nikevia Thomas:

Welcome everyone. We’re honored that you are joining us for our Take Good Care Prioritizing Teacher and Student Well-being webinar as part of our Reflecting, Reimagining, Reforming Education series. I’m Nikevia Thomas, a senior specialist at MAEC and I’m serving as a virtual event planner for the webinar. On behalf of MAEC and today’s panelists, we welcome you. As everyone joins the room, please type in the chat where you are joining us from today. Let’s see. All PG County, Oceanside, welcome. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Long Beach, Rochester. I saw Alaska. Wow. They’re flooding in. I’m here in Maryland, just outside of DC. Someone’s here from Baltimore, Cleveland, Ohio, Silver Spring, Maryland. Deep South Texas. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome everybody.

Before we begin today’s webinar, I would like to go over our webinar etiquette and introduce you to our team. Would you please go to the next slide? Thank you. For our webinar, we ask that you please use the chat box to engage with each other, other panelists, and with the participants. We recommend that you click on the chat icon on the bottom of top tool bar on the screen. We do not use the raise-hand function. Please keep that in mind. Also, we are having polls conducted through Mentimeter today. We ask when it’s time that you please use the QR code that appears on the screen or the link that will be provided in the chat. You can only respond once, so please reflect on your answer before responding and then keep your browser open to participate in the poll. The facilitator will read some of the responses. There will be a Q and A toward the end of the webinar. Please put questions you want the panelists to answer during the Q and A section in the Q and A box.

Next slide please. Thank you. This webinar has transcription enabled. To enable or disable live caption, you can follow the following steps. One, the live auto caption should show up on your screen by default. To turn them off on the webinar, you can do so by using the control panel at the bottom of your Zoom window and select live transcript or close caption, and then select hide subtitle. To view them again, you would simply repeat the steps that way. Next slide. There are many hands that make for a wonderful webinar, and here is our team that is doing the behind the scenes work. We have Claire Rhulman. She is the data and evaluation associate at MAEC and she will be working on the operations and tech support. Kathleen Pulupa is the communications associate, and she will be working on Facebook live as a Facebook live monitor and post webinar support. Then there’s me, Nikevia, I am a senior specialist at MAEC and I am working on as the virtual event planner, and I will be providing chat box support. Next slide please.

Our facilitator for today’s webinar is MAEC’s own Jenny Portillo, a senior education equity specialist. Jenny has over 10 years of experience with the public education sector. Currently, she serves as a senior education equity specialist for MAEC. As a senior education equity specialist, Jenny supports the work of the Center for Education Equity, one of four equity assistance centers founded by the US Department of Education. Jenny provides technical assistance and trainings for state departments of education, districts, and schools to improve instructional practices, student engagement and family, community engagement, to create supportive learning environments for all learners. Jenny began her career as a classroom teacher and then moved into education administration, adult development and curriculum design. Jenny holds a master’s in education in school leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education. While at Harvard, Jenny was awarded the equity and inclusion fellowship, an intellectual contribution award for school leadership. Jenny also holds an MA in curriculum and training from teachers college, Columbia University, and a Bachelor’s of Arts in English and History from Fordham University. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Jenny. Next slide, please.

Jenny Portillo:

Thanks so much for that introduction, Nikevia, really appreciate it. Thank you everyone for joining us today. We’re really excited to have this space together to talk about this very important topic that is wellness for students and teachers. A little bit about MAEC, the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, our vision is that we envision a day which all students will have equitable opportunities to learn and achieve at high levels. This informs our mission, which is to promote excellence and equity in education to achieve social justice. This webinar is, next slide, please, brought to you by our Center for Education equity project. As Nikevia mentioned earlier, the Center for Education Equity or CEE is a project of MAEC in partnership with WestEd and the American Institutes for Research. It’s one of four equity assistance centers funded by the Department of Education. We operate in 15 states and territories along the east coast, including the US Virgin islands and Puerto Rico. This webinar is also brought to you by our Collaborative Action for Family Engagement, otherwise known as CAFE, which is our statewide family engagement center for Pennsylvania and Maryland, which MAEC also operates. Next slide.

This webinar is part of a longer series we’ve been conducting this year on Reflecting, Reimagining, and Reforming education that started in light of changes in schools sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as arising calls for racial justice and equity as of 2020. For today, our agenda, we’re in the middle of our welcome and introductions; I’ll get to talk to you about our amazing panelists in just a moment. We’ll begin by reflecting on the current state of education for teachers and students during COVID-19. We’ll then think about what needs to change, what needs to different so that reimagining piece and what we’d like to see different in schools to support wellness. Then we’ll move into how do we actually make those changes happen, if we know what we want to see, that’s reforming. Finally, there will be a time for Q and A from both myself, with our panelists, as a round table and audience Q and A and then we will close out. Next slide, please.

Our objectives today are really to facilitate a conversation. We’re very lucky to have student joining us as well as two wonderful educators, as well as some great experts that are going to lend us their voices so that we can learn more about their experiences with mental health within their schools and districts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll also identify how mental health can be systematically and systemically included into pre-K 12 education rather than being treated as an add-on or a side service. We will also share resources on supporting mental health and social, emotional learning practices for both students and teachers that will be brought to you by our wonderful panelists. Next slide.

One of our panelists today, we’re lucky to have our student, Box is an eighth grade student in Maryland, and I’ll elaborate more on their amazing accomplishments as they speak later on. We also have Ms. Ramona Johnson, who’s a professor and teacher, also joining us from Maryland. We have Gabby Lubin, who is the CEO and Founder of Spark by Gabby who’s with us from Illinois. We have Ms. Giselle Abrams, who is also a teacher with the District of Columbia schools. We also have Dr. Seth Shaffer, who is a licensed clinical psychologist in California, who’s with us from California. We have Marianna Stepniak who’s our content specialist for MAEC who’s joining us from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Next slide. We want to give a quick disclaimer that we are very grateful for Dr. Shaffer’s input throughout this session today, but we want to make sure that it’s clear that his input and expertise in this session does not establish a therapist’s client relationship and should not be considered a clinical mental health service or therapy.

We encourage you that if you or someone you know is in need of any sort of services or therapy, that you reach out to local mental health professionals. We’ve also included a helpline here if you or someone you know is in need of specific support or services. Next slide. Given our topic today being around wellness and how we can support that for teachers and students, we’d like to start by asking you how you all are as you enter this space. In the chat, if you could use an emoji to describe how you’re feeling today, are you feeling loved, confident, perhaps a little bit nervous, maybe guarded, overwhelmed. Go ahead and let’s take a minute to pop any emojis in the chat that kind of let us know how you’re entering our space today. Seeing some confidence already, some content, seeing some ecstatic faces, some sleepies. Yep.

Seeing more happy faces, that’s really great. Couple of frazzled sort of looking faces, some hopeful, yes, that’s great. Seeing someone who’s like ready to cowboy or cowgirl up, that’s great. Wonderful. Feel free to keep popping those in the chat. Whenever we start, we’re seeing some overwhelmed, for sure, we like to just make sure that we know how folks are entering the space. We hope that this is an opportunity for you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, if you’re feeling hopeful, that we’re meeting your needs throughout our time together. Great. All right. We’re going to go ahead and move into our next slide.

Wonderful. We’re going to begin by reflecting on how education has been for teachers and students during COVID-19, which we know is still raging on, but before are we jump from hearing from our panelists, we’re actually going to have an opportunity to reflect as a group. On our next slide, you will see a QR code and a question. The question that you’ll be answering is, if you are currently in a school or have a child in school, you’re working in a school or if you’re a student, what has your school done to support your wellness? Or maybe it hasn’t. This is an opportunity for you to reflect on that. You can use the QR code that’s currently on your page and access it from your mobile device. Or you can use the link that will be populated in the chat. Thank you, Nikevia. Keep your browser open because we’ll be using the same code a few times throughout this session today. I’ll just be sharing it out some of the responses that we get from that. We’re going to go ahead and take two minutes for you to just write out your thinking.

Again, our reflection question is, what has your school done to support your wellness or perhaps they haven’t? I’m seeing a lot of nothings. I’m seeing some saying that they’ve been getting self-care sessions, which is great. Professional development around mental awareness, but also seeing nothing specific to staff wellness, in some cases, some biweekly check-ins, some self-care workshops again. We’re seeing kind of a mixed sort of response from schools and districts that there has been some help provided. It looks like extra support for students is definitely coming across in many cases, but it looks like for teachers perhaps a little less consistently. That’s great, we’re seeing an employee assistance program, wonderful. Providing living-well workshops, yoga, giving the option for remote for safety, looks like also needs are being met around physical needs, like masks or other things of that nature for COVID, but not necessarily mental health resources, looks like some time off, some self-care day, professional development days.

Great. Feel free to keep populating those responses in. What I hope we’re taking away from this is that responses have been sort of all over the place ranging from not really doing anything to doing sort of self-care initiatives to providing actual professional mental health resources. We’re seeing a lot of difference in the way that different schools, administrations, et cetera, are supporting their staff and students during this time. Great. We’ll be looking at these responses as well. Thank you all so much for sharing. If we could go ahead and pivot back to our slides.

Great. Next slide. Now, we’ll get to start hearing from our panelists. We’ll first hear from Box, who, as I mentioned, is an eighth grade student in Maryland. They are currently 13 and turning 14 this Friday, tomorrow, so exciting. Their hobbies include drawing, animating, cooking, baking. Their favorite subject in school is Art and happy to report that they’re making all As in school, which is really exciting. We’ll first hear from Box, and then we’ll hear from Dr. Shaffer. Dr. Shaffer has worked with children and therapeutic capacity for over 10 years. He received his doctorate and master’s degree in clinical psychology from the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University in Washington, DC, with a focus on the effects of mindfulness based techniques on therapy. Dr. Shaffer is a child psychologist licensed to practice in the state of California and uses his skills-based approach to help children, adolescents, and families.

His current interests include working with individuals who have autism, ADHD, and anxiety and/or depression, social skilled deficits, and impulse control disorders and aggressive strong-willed tendencies. Dr. Shaffer’s goal is to meet the needs of children and collaborate with caregivers, teachers, and other professionals to help child and family learn effective tools in order to achieve balance and thrive in their environment. Now, we’ll begin with Box. Box, we’d love to hear your thoughts on what has your school done to support your wellness or perhaps not. We’d love to hear your reflections.


So I think that my school has been doing pretty well on trying to support their students. Like for example, our school counselors, they’re around and ready to help almost all the time. Usually the times that they’re not is because they have like meetings or they’re in with another student. And usually, the counselors are very helpful and it’s very nice to know that I have someone at school who can support me. Even the teachers, like the teachers are very welcoming. Most teachers are very helpful. And if you ever have a problem, you can go up to them and they won’t be like super upset at you or like super weirded out. I think it’s a very comfortable situation at my school.

Jenny Portillo:

Do you think that’s the case for students overall? Or do you feel like you’ve gotten kind of lucky here?


For me, I think that I have a very lucky school. I know that a lot of schools in Maryland are different, but for the few that I’ve visited or like been around, it’s usually been like a pretty good situation. But I know from like talking with other peers of mine, that their experiences have not been as well. Some feedback that they have given me, or like complaints that they shared is that their counselors are not as helpful. Some of their teachers are kind of strict or they don’t really get the opportunity/chance to interact with their students in a positive or helpful environment.

Jenny Portillo:

That’s a great reflection. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and also what you’re hearing from friends and other students you know. Dr. Shaffer, would love to hear your thoughts from your work. If you have a sense of what schools have done to support student wellness or perhaps are lacking in terms of support.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Similar to, I think, what Box mentioned that it’s kind of a mixed bag, but one thing that stood out to me about what Box shared is that students have someone who they can talk to, someone who they can connect with, of course, caregivers are included, whoever’s in the home, then a counselor, like Box mentioned, that feels good. It can help children get through this. When I reflect about the past, almost two years now, we’ve been living through the pandemic. I forget almost sometimes what it’s like pre-pandemic. I mean, for me, both professionally and personally, it’s such a huge part of my day to day. I’m a parent too. I’ve an eight year old, me and my wife, how we make decisions about what we do, who we hang out with, keeping in mind safety and health and things like that.

Then professionally, a lot of it has felt like crisis management. When I meet with children, my clients, certainly that comes up. A lot of it, the work we’ve tried to all do together is put out fires. Later on in this amazing webinar, which I’m so happy that it’s happening, Jenny and the rest of the MAEC crew, that we need to keep dialoguing. I think about two things in particular with reflecting. One is listening. I was thrilled and enthused that we’re having teacher participation, not only in terms of audience, but actual people on this webinar, who I can’t wait to hear from, so stay tuned to hear their voices and hear what their experiences have been. I mean, I’m biased as a psychologist, but there is a lot of power in listening.

I think we all need to just continue to listen to each other and support one another through these, what are challenging times. The second, I think, and final thing I’ll mention as I reflect is, and I think about Reverend Martin Luther King and MLK day this past Monday, and me and my family, my wife again, and my son. My son had read a book about Martin Luther King early in the day. And then he wanted to listen to, I Have a Dream speech. So he listened to it, 17 minutes of it, the full clip, not just like the final part a lot of us know and one of the very well-known quotes that many of us have, if not, all of us, know about the Reverend Martin Luther King said that it had to do with just kind of keeping things moving.

I don’t have the exact quote memorized, forgive me. I think it was on a slide at some point, but it’s all good. But the point is, is that, I think about resiliency and I’ve benefited and learned a lot from the children that I try to help professionally, from my son, from teachers that I interact with and the like, to just kind of keep things moving and support one another. I think the last note that I’ll just mention is, while times have been extremely hard just to see Box’s smile, when they lit up and talking about having a counselor or someone they can talk to and how good that feels, it gives me hope and it inspires me to keep things moving. We’ll get into more of the nuts and bolts a little bit later about tools and things like that, that some of which teachers know and administration and educators already know, but Marianna and I will touch on that. I’ll pass it back. Thank you so much for this opportunity.

Jenny Portillo:

Thanks so much for your reflections, Dr. Shaffer. We appreciate hearing your perspective both from a professional standpoint and as a parent, it’s really critical right now that we’re thinking about full school communities, including students and families, not just students in isolation and teachers as well and their roles as family members. Great. Now, we’re going to actually get to hear from two of our wonderful educator panelists. We’ll first be hearing from Ms. Giselle Abrams, and then from Ms. Ramona Johnson. Ms. Abrams is an early learning support special education teacher in the District of Columbia. She holds an undergraduate degree in ed special education and a master’s degree in curriculum instruction. She’s been an educator for 29 years. Yes. Teaching at private schools, charter and public schools in both DC and Maryland.

Our second panelist is Ms. Johnson, who is a full-time Spanish middle school teacher with Montgomery County public schools in Maryland. She’s also a part-time adjunct professor in the school of education and the workforce development program. She has taught the CDA 90 hours with portfolio of creation and other random classes during her tenure with Montgomery County public schools, where she holds a bachelor in economics with a minor in Latin American studies, a master’s in early childhood education and a second master’s in curriculum and instruction to focus on STEM. Folks, we are so lucky to have these two very accomplished and wonderful educators with us. So thank you both. So let’s start with you, Ms. Abrams. We’d love to hear more about your reflections on whether or not your school has done anything to support your wellness and what that’s consisted of. Oh, you’re muted. There we go. Thank you.

Giselle Abrams:

I just want to say thank you so much for doing this. And like Dr. Shaffer said, having teacher voices is so important and we are often left out of a lot of conversations when it comes to schools. A lot of people say things that they’re going to do, but no teachers are usually involved in the conversation, so I really appreciate this. There has not been a lot done for teacher wellness in my school and even with some of my colleagues, we’ve always had an EAP, employee assistance program, but in lite of the extra anxiety and stress during the pandemic, nothing extra has been done. I saw some of the conversation happening in the chats with the Mentimeter, people were getting the supplies is one thing I can say. The physical supplies for COVID protocols have been there. My school in particular, my principal is very, very adamant about making sure we have what we need as far as virus spread mitigation. We have those things. But in terms of dealing with the emotional wellbeing of staff, nothing really has been happening.

Jenny Portillo:

So it seems like there might be some discrepancy in what we’re thinking about as wellness and perhaps thinking more holistically about what it is our teachers need right now.

Giselle Abrams:


Jenny Portillo:

Definitely. So powerful. Thank you so much for sharing, Ms. Johnson will now pivot to you. Same question. We’d love to hear your reflections on what your school has or hasn’t done to support your wellness. And thank you again, both for being here.

Ramona Johnson:

Well, thank you for your time. And I concur with what Ms. Abrams is saying. I think we’re broken. We’re broken as a school system nationwide and COVID has just come to really show the unrealistic expectations that are put on our shoulders as teachers. What have we received as teachers is more work, more responsibility, and the gas lighting of making us feel that if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it? I was mentioning before that last Friday, we had 25 staff members out, 17 teachers some due to COVID, some due to mental anxiety.

We came back from break and this is at a county level, not even at a school level. As much as my principal would love to have, they’re not being provided at a county level. So early on around November, we ran out of cleaning supplies. So the county decided that the spray that we were using was not on approved list, so we went almost three or four weeks without any cleaning supplies for our classrooms. So again, what’s going on? It was on the news the other day, Montgomery county, when we came back from winter break, if your school received a 5% of COVID positive cases, then we would go viral. Within two days, some schools were at 30 to 40%. So when they saw that the numbers were a bit large, they decided to undo the 5%.

I was sick with COVID and I brought it home. My mom is 73. She lives with us. So now she had COVID. My son is 11. He had COVID. So everyone got COVID. So where are the protocols? Where were the tests when, I mean, D.C, in order for them to come back from winter break and, Ms. Abrams, correct me if I’m wrong, each school was given the test before school started and the teachers and the students needed to provide a negative test in order to come back to school. MCPS just gave us our free test last week, and that’s two weeks after we came back from school. So now what are we be doing with students? We’re focusing a lot of our energy on students and their mental health. And on Wednesdays, we’re presenting a curriculum to help them feel safe, to feel comforted, to feel whatever, but staff, they’re placing the burden on us.

Giselle Abrams:

I agree.

Ramona Johnson:

And it’s that gas lighting, I keep saying it’s oh, but if you don’t do it, who’s going to do it? I’m not buying that Kool-Aid anymore. I’m not drinking it. I can’t because we have to plan. We have to take care of the children. We have to clean the classrooms. We’re down 25 staff members, so we’re covering classrooms. We don’t have substitutes. No one wants to sub because who wants to put their life in danger if the school isn’t taking care of us? So we’re troopers. We show up as much as we can. I don’t like to not go to school. I miss my babies. I know that my children depend on me because I am extended part of their family. But if I have COVID for two weeks because the school system did not put in place protocols necessary for us to be healthy, how does that play with our mental aspect? We’re drowning.

Giselle Abrams:

Yeah. Can I interject, Ramona?

Ramona Johnson:


Giselle Abrams:

And just like what Ramona is saying, it’s interesting the contrast. For me in D.C, the issue was never getting COVID. At least this is me personally. I’m a special ed teacher like you guys said, and my concern was, I don’t know how I’m going to do virtual teaching with five and six-year-olds virtually. That was my source of stress. I was one of those people, I went to my principal and said, “Okay. Look, let me just come in. Make sure you have all the PPE.” I said, I’ll put a mask on, a gown on, a shield on, all of that. I said, just let me come. And with my kids. I was like, nobody else had to be here. He’s like, no, we can’t do that. I said I can’t teach my kids virtually because we have, I mean, most teachers and like Ramona said, we are trained to be there for our students.

My biggest source of stress was knowing that virtual learning was not going to give my students what they needed. And again, getting COVID was actually in the back of my mind because, literally, we had head coverings, shields, masks, gloves, gowns, stuff to cover your shoes. As one thing I could say, we had PPE coming out the wazoo. We had a lot of PPE. Again, my principal, he’s a stickler for that kind of thing. But like Ramona also mentioned, during COVID what happened was, the stress that I felt was the districts in almost all public school districts were plowing ahead as if everything was normal. There was no shift, there was no stop where somebody said, okay, we need to adjust how we do things. I still have testing that I have to meet.

They want us to still have the same level of rigor. They want us to still show instructional growth. We had diagnostics to do that children were doing virtually and I had to bring up those test results cannot be used because they were not in a controlled environment. So it was more that we had to do like cleaning classrooms and sanitizing, those types of things. So just a Ramona said, what we got was more work and everything was about, well, we’re going to do this for the kids, do this for the kids. There was literally nothing being done for staff and teachers in terms of how to keep us sane.

Jenny Portillo:

And so… Oh, sorry.

Ramona Johnson:

I’m sorry. Just quickly, and we’re both parents. So on top of us being overwhelmed at work, we still have the social emotional aspects from our children. And not every teacher is as compassionate and as flexible as it sounds like we both are. So I know someone said in the chat that they had to ask their child to repeat first grade or something. I had to take my son out of public school because he developed a nervous tick because his teacher was very unrealistic in fifth grade. So I took him out of the school system where I work in because it wasn’t a good fit for him. And then as a teacher, I teach middle school. So my children were not logging into classes.

So me being the teacher that I am, I would go during the midst of COVID knocking on doors to see if they were okay because I know I work in a community that is high risk. So I was exposing myself to go out and make sure that my babies were fed, were being taken care of, they knew how to log into the computers. I know, Giselle, one of her students didn’t have a computer so she was fundraising for her children. It’s been very difficult, not only as teachers, but as parents, as a society.

Jenny Portillo:

Yeah, definitely. And we’re hearing from both-

Ramona Johnson:

Especially in the medical field as well.

Jenny Portillo:

Definitely. And thank you both so much for being so candid. And as you’re seeing in the chat, you’re not alone in this and it’s something that we’re seeing nationwide, unfortunately. And so what we’re hearing from you all is look, all these compounding issues where we’ve got… in some cases we’re worried about physical health and other cases worried about mental health. In some cases, there’s also just access and structural issues. So there’s so many different contributing factors that are impacting your wellness as well as your students, because both are tied. It’s hard to have happy students when we don’t have happy teachers, and so that’s really critical. And I think this is a great pivot point to hear from our next panelist who is Gabby Lubin, who is the founder and CEO of Spark by Gabby. Gabby is a wellness professional and a Harvard graduate school of education alum.

As a former early childhood educator, Gabby really seeks to answer this question of how can we help teachers stay in the classroom because as we’re hearing from Ms. Abrams and Ms. Johnson, these are the factors that are driving many teachers out of the profession at this moment. And the systemic problem of teacher burnout motivated Gabby, in fact, to create a wellness space specifically for educators and honestly by educators that combines mind, body, community, and social justice. So Gabby, we’d love to hear from you around what supports have you seen schools implement in your work or perhaps the lack thereof as well.

Gabby Lubin:

Yeah. Thank you, Jenny. I’m so privileged to be here and I’m so honored that we’re having this as a topic. So I’ll reiterate what other people are saying. The other thing I want to say is thank you so much, Ramona and Giselle for sharing your open and honest opinions and for being incredible motivators for your students. So thank you for that. I see things a little bit differently. I see things both on an individual level, thinking about the teacher and on the systems level. I also taught in D.C schools not long ago and it’s really helped me stay close to what teachers are feeling right now, but I did leave before the pandemic started. So I cannot imagine the things that Ramona and Giselle are going through. I can’t put myself fully in their shoes. At the same time, the issues right now that we’re feeling and experiencing were also happening before COVID.

In fact, these are things that were embedded in our system when education was built in our country. So we truly never value teachers or the profession of teaching as much as we absolutely should. Bottom period, that’s it. We have not valued it enough. And right now what we’re experiencing is this uncovering of all the difficulties and issues that have been embedded in the system and that are now exacerbated by COVID, and the wellbeing of teachers is just one of them. But I think it’s one of the more prevalent ones that we’re seeing because bottom line, if we can’t have teachers in the classroom, then there’s no education that’s going to be happening. We have to have teachers to teach and thus students to grow. So what does that all mean? What is the reality right now? To put it bluntly, I think we’re on the cusp of an educator crisis. And the numbers aren’t telling a completely clear picture because the numbers aren’t super clear right now. There’s a lot of influx and change.

But before COVID, before the pandemic, 44% of teachers left the classroom or their career and the first five years. This was an important number that a lot of researchers have honed in on. But the issue right now is not just these early stage teachers leaving. There’s a lack of incoming teachers into the profession, and we’re thinking about these older veteran teachers wanting to leave as well because right now, 75% of teachers are feeling immense stress and that’s compared to only 40% of other working adults. More specifically at the beginning of the school year, we at spark calculated an of 300 educator vacancies in a district. 300. Now these numbers are not exact because we don’t have aggregate data from all over the country, but what I do know is that 300 is three times more vacancies than pre-pandemic numbers. So this is a huge problem and again, we need teachers in order to teach.

And unfortunately, I’m sure the educators in this call know what this means to have so many vacancies. Time, money, and energy are taking away from your students, taking away from you and it leads to this feeling of overwhelm. And I totally get that. There are pockets of people who are trying to change this on both an individual and a systemic level including myself. So just as Jenny was saying, I left the classroom to pursue this question before COVID even happened because it happened to me. I burned out. So I wanted to know why did I burn out, and why was this happening with other teachers? Because the reality is this is not an individual’s problem. I’m going to repeat that again. It is not any one person’s problem. This is not your fault. It is not you. This is a collective issue, a systemic issue. And in the past we have treated it like it’s an individual problem.

Go be well, take a bubble bath, figure out how to meditate, maybe you can wear jeans on Friday. These are things that we’re all probably familiar with. They’re short term, they’re lackluster, and they’re burdensome stress like Ramona and Giselle were saying because it’s putting me ask on teachers. If any of you have looked at this research, this is the question of burnout versus demoralization, which I’ll talk about a little bit later. But one thing that can give us a little bit of ease is knowing that you’re not alone in this. You are not the only one experiencing this. And that was something that gave me a lot of ease. When I realized I was at that space of burnout and thinking about how to make that change for myself and other people.

And of course as an educator, there’s no other profession that experiences this as we are, as you are. There’s no other profession that is having this issue in this specific way. So what’s important and I think as we start to reflect is how are we going to start to find some resources, some things that we’ve built that are from educators, thinking about educators and bringing them to the mix there. So I hope this brings you a little bit of ease that we don’t have to solve this problem by ourselves as an individual teacher or even as an individual principal or district, but that we can start to do this work together. Yeah. I’m excited to dive in a little bit more, but Jenny, hopefully that was a good case start into some reflection.

Jenny Portillo:

Wonderful. You’re getting some kudos in the chat there from folks who are really agreeing, and Ms. Johnson bringing out the important point that it goes beyond teachers as well and infecting all levels of school staff, which impacts the daily experience of teachers and students as well. So definitely excited to hear more from you. So as you’re starting to talk about we have the capacity to change, and I appreciate the hopefulness there, Gabby, we’re going to shift into our next section of the presentation here. If we could go back to the slides. And we’re going to start thinking about reimagining and what really needs to change, what needs to be different.

And just like we did with at our… So it’ll be the next slide, Claire. Thank you. Yep. Perfect. And so just like we did before, we’d love to hear from you on the Mentimeter. It’s the same link as before. It’ll be placed in the chat again for you or you can also use the QR code. It’s the same one as before. We’d love to hear from you, what does the school that actually supports wellness look like, feel like, sound like, or what needs to change? And a good way to think about the change is those concrete day-to-day experiences of look, feel sound. So again, we’re going to take about a minute or so to jot down some responses in the Meter. Just give us your wish list here of what would it look like to be in a school that supports you as a student in your wellness, as a teacher, in your wellness, as a staff member, et cetera.

And we’ll show that Menti in just a moment. So understanding what those social emotional needs are so that we have those resources readily available, and having open discussions, yes. We can’t fix or we can’t address what we don’t know and what we don’t talk about. Compassion, listening as Seth shared earlier. Even the presence of something like a mental health stay. An isolation and won’t do anything but as part of the full holistic approach. Yeah. It’s crucial having flexibility. That’s crucial right now where there are so many unknowns. But truthfully, if you’ve been in a classroom, you know that there’s always unknowns. At least that was the case when I was an elementary school teacher as well. Having more empathy, having district staff and folks at the systems level who make decisions that are actually thinking about what’s the best interest of teachers and listening to them, to Gabby’s point. Having a focus on fun and development and human growth, not just testing academic achievement especially during this time, yes.

Celebrations, positive energy, that’s definitely something that you would feel in a school that feels supportive. This feeling, just that positivity feeling that empathy all around. A place that even looks inviting. A visual environment is critical to how we internalize information as students and teachers. It sounds like being able to actually disclose your feelings and being candid, just like Giselle and Ramona were being with us and how important that is and often how we as teachers don’t feel that openness in our schools. Wonderful. A space to advocate for your child to empathetic years, not to feel dismissed.

All, thank you so much for these responses. These are wonderful. And again, we’re going to hang on to these. But it’s important to think about what that vision is of a supportive school so that we can start to think about how do we get there. So feel free to keep populating your responses in. We’re going to now shift back to hearing from one of our students. Box, welcome back. We’re so excited to hear from you. I hope you saw all the shout-outs to you for your amazing insights. We’d love to hear from you. What do you think needs to change in schools? What would a school that actually… It sounds like you’re in a good spot right now, but you said not everybody is. So what would it look like to be in a school that really supports student wellness? What does it sound like, look like, feel like?


Well, for example, my school is getting a new building and the new building looks amazing. So there’s a lot more space and there’s a lot more area for children, not only to roam around in, but to thrive. And I guess it’s a good visual start, but for emotional things in my previous school, there was this little activity where you were taken out of a class right before lunch. And it was a thing where it was like a mental health break. And you basically were in this very cool calming room with not much noise with a bunch of people who want to calm down and just want to be centered and relax, focus on their schoolwork without being super stressed.

And I think having that like once a week would be nice. And then listening to all the teachers complain about how they aren’t getting enough support made me realize that a school isn’t supposed to be viewed as like a triangle where it is just like the adults are on top and the children are at the bottom. It’s supposed to be like a circle of understanding. Students are supposed to respect their teachers and understand where they’re coming from and teachers are supposed to support their students.

Support their students. And I guess students are also not supposed to take that for granted. It is supposed to be balanced. And I think maybe once a month for maybe 10 minutes for… In my school, there’s a thing called alpha time. Having that but also for teachers, I guess, would be helpful. Because, I know teacher who personally is a… Who isn’t doing very well right now, and I hope that they get better. And so I think a lot of the stress that’s being put on to teachers is they could have something like alpha time for them. That would be perfect.

Jenny Portillo:

I really appreciate that you’re thinking about what that supportive school would look like, sound like, feel like for you and other students, but also thinking about your teachers. That’s what we need more of, thinking about schools as a whole community for everyone. Love it. Thank you so much.

So we’re going to go ahead now and shift to hearing from our amazing teachers again, I hope you all are also seeing all the shouts outs that you’re getting from everyone for your wonderful insights. But we’d love to hear from you. We can start with Ms. Johnson this time, just hearing about what would that supportive school look like, sound like, feel like; what would be different from your schools now to feel like you’re actually being supported in all these different dimensions of wellness that I know Gabby’s going to talk more about later.

Ramona Johnson:

I think it’s a nationwide change. I think we have to revamp our whole education system. So right now each state, each county has too much autonomy. I think if on a personal, I think we’ve lost. I think Giselle was saying it. Everyone makes decisions except teachers. I think from a standpoint… I remember when I was in kindergarten; kindergarten looked like what preschool is right now. The three year old classroom. So I think we’ve moved away from what…

The understanding of human growth and development and the ages in which children are physically and mentally able to do the majority of the concepts that are being asked of them. So I think that if we went back to the time when we were younger and we made school fun again, I think that would help teachers and students equally. I think the over testing, I think the labeling your ESOL, your SPEN. You’re this, you’re that. I think it’s that labeling and like Box and their wisdom.

We’re not a triangle, we’re circle. It’s a fluid situation. Box, I’m going to steal that. And I love you Box. I think again, it’s a nationwide epidemic. We need to go back to the foundational aspects of what a child can actually do, because what we’re seeing right now is the pressure is so high. And you’re social promoting children.

That by the time they end up with me in middle school, they don’t know how to read. Why? Because if they miss the preschool, then it’s a wrap. So again, going back to, what does my ideal classroom, my ideal school look like? That it’s fun. Kids want to learn because they’re not being tested every two months. They’re learning according to their developmental age. The classroom sizes. Oh my gosh. What an interesting concept. They’re manageable. The class sizes. You have 18 kids instead of 32, 35.

Jenny Portillo:

I love that you’re… Oh, go ahead. Yeah.

Ramona Johnson:

No, no, no. That to me is an ideal class… Ideal day in school is that I can walk in and I can truly have fun and teach children what they really need to learn. If anything, this pandemic has taught me. And I think it should teach society that learning two plus two divided by three, whatever it is mathematical craziness that we teach them, is irrelevant. If they don’t know how to live day to day and be healthy, mentally. So…

Jenny Portillo:

Thank you for that. And what you have me thinking about. And I saw that someone in the chat posts this too, is you’re thinking let’s blow this thing up and start over again, and really ground ourselves in this question of, “What is the purpose of education, right? And why do kids go to school?” And I’m seeing from some folks they are, “Wow, that’s overwhelming.”

And we’re going to talk more about what that system side of things could look like. But also there’s small incremental things that we can do, for the folks who need that approach too. But I appreciate you thinking all these layers of what a school day would sound like if it were actually to change. Ms. Abrams we’d love to hear your thoughts around that same idea of what needs to change. What would a supportive school look like, sound like, feel like? For you and for students.

Giselle Abrams:

Well with me, and I have to say, I don’t know who’s raising Box, but this is a glorious-

Jenny Portillo:


Giselle Abrams:

That Box is a glorious human being. I don’t know who is taking part in the molding of that human being. But I was almost in tears, but I’ve been in education for a long time. And I’ve seen a lot of changes. One of the biggest issues that trickles into classrooms, because the school is just a microcosm of the society. So whatever is happening out there is happening inside. So society has changed so drastically and lack of accountability with parents and that kind of thing.

But I could go into the whole what parents have to do this and parents have to do that. But one of the things I… When I have conversations with some of my younger colleagues is, “Well, I can’t really control what happens outside of my classroom.” I was, “But what I can do is control the culture in my classroom.” And one of the things I was always trying to do was be an advocate for parents.

I’m a SPED parent, myself. My daughter has Asperger’s and I was one of those parents. Somebody else told me they saw me coming, it was going to be a problem. Because I had to fight for my child. So I know what it’s like being a SPED parent, and I have young students. So I understand the perspective that their parents come from. So one of the things I strive to do is really build relationships with the families.

And I think when we reimagine schools, we need to look at even teacher education programs, because that was something that was not taught. About building relationships with anybody, except your students and how to teach. Establishing those relationships with parents is very very key. And I found that, especially in the last couple of years, I was SPED resource teacher, was a reading intervention teacher as well.

And most recently in the beginning of the pandemic, I came back to being a self-contained special education teacher with my own class. I remember coming back, setting up to come back to in-person, because I was one of the people who volunteered to come back to in-person teaching because I said my kids have to be in the building.

So I remember seeing one of my intervention students last year because she needed to be in the building. And I remember she was, “Ms. Abrams” And she was running to hug me and I had to stop her. Because, you couldn’t hug them. And I remember just going back to my room and I bawled, I was inconsolable. And one of my colleagues was, “I understand.” And I’m like, “I can’t not hug this child.” My principal calls me Mama Abrams because that’s what I do. I hug children and that kind of thing.

So over while COVID was going on and we have these virtual things, my parents didn’t know what they were supposed to do. So one of the things I made a decision to do was, teach the parents how to navigate the platforms. And I took a lot – not heat – but I absorbed a lot of the repercussions of not doing rigorous instruction because my focus was on relationship building.

And I said that I’m in a position where my students stay with me for three years and then they go to another class. So my… Right now, I have established some really really solid relationships with my families. I am a strong believer in schools need to build relationship with children’s families. It could be whoever’s raising these children. We have to spend a lot of time doing those things.

And when we reimagine schools. What are we doing as schools, as districts, as teachers? To build relationships with families, you will get a lot out of a family. If you build a relationship with them, a positive relationship. You should not call a parent only if your child is acting a fool. You should not only hear from a parent. And as a SPED parent myself, before my daughter was able to function more appropriately, I would see the phone ring from her school and get physically ill because it was so stressful.

I have parents now. They know when I call them, they don’t know why I’m calling them. They just know, “Oh, hey Ms. Abrams,” That kind of thing. And I tell people, and I’m very proud of relation… And the work that I did with my parents, I adore my parents. Because, and I tell people, if I ask my parents, “Go to the middle of the ocean and find a mermaid and bring a shiny scale and pluck it off.” My parents will do that for me.

And because what they need as well, I’ll do it for them, but everybody’s not me. And everybody doesn’t have to be with the same mind, but we really need to look at, in light of everything. The one thing we could control is how you establish relationships to people. These are the children… I tell everybody, I don’t care who you are. It could be from the ratchet to the righteous. That is somebody’s child. And I don’t care if the parent is a drug addict. I don’t care if the parent is a Supreme Court Justice, I’m going to treat you and your children with respect.

And we need to really look at that in schools, because I don’t think that that is a focus, a lot in public education, especially. And we really need to take a look at, “How do we establish and create a community school where relationships are established as we go forward.” Because as we can see, a lot of relationships have not been established and COVID just made… The pandemic just made everything kind of blow up. But relationship building, I think is extremely important.

Ramona Johnson:

[crosstalk 00:59:39] I’m sorry. Can I add a little to that? I am a true believer in everything that Ms. Abrams is saying, but I think in teachers school, we need to take social work 101. There has to be two… Because what we’re seeing is we have a lot of teachers that are wonderful in creating a lesson plan, but has zero compassion of children’s needs. And the problem right now, what I see is we need to… I’ve moved, I’m like Ms. Abrams, I’ve moved a lot from the academic to the social emotional. Because a lot of my children… And again, my son is not special needs, but he’s a minority. And as a minority, I still have to fight for my black child, for my child of color. Which is also another label that… So again building those relationships, not only as a teacher, but as a parent and a lot of us are not equipped as teachers to do that.

Jenny Portillo:


Ramona Johnson:

And 85% of your classroom battle is your relationship. The children want to do right by you if you do right by them. And they will learn. [crosstalk 01:00:56]

Jenny Portillo:

Absolutely. Yeah. And it… There’s this myth of students don’t have to like you. And it’s, [inaudible 01:01:02] It’s not that they have to like me, but they have to trust me. And they have to know that I respect them on a human level. And both of you are echoing such important themes of a school that’s actually supportive of every kind of wellness. There has to be trust.

There has to be this feeling of mutual accountability and mutual support more than anything else. Right? We also have to think about building skills for starting as early as teacher prep programs around, “How do you become an advocate for every kid? Whether, regardless of what their designation is.” Because, every child needs an advocate at some point or another. And teachers are taking that on without always having all the capacity they need for that.

So thank you both so much for that. And I want to… We’ll have another, thankfully, another opportunity to hear from both of you because so many people are they’re resonating with what you’re saying. We’re going to go pivot now to Gabby and think about what are some of those things that teachers need to build their capacity to care for themselves, but also to in turn care for students. Because as we’re seeing, the social emotional health of one impacts the other directly. So Gabby, we’re going to turn back to you now. And then Claire, if we could get Gabby’s slides up, please. Thank you.

Gabby Lubin:

Thanks. Yeah. So my job has been… Has shifted obviously from being in the classroom with students to be thinking more about this system and all educators in the building. So I want to just echo what other people were saying in a chat earlier, all educators in the building, not just teachers. This question of reimagining.

Reimagining the system of education, what Jenny was saying, kind of the burn it down mindset or even just something else, is really overwhelming. So when I feel this personally or professionally, I think about what can I do by just starting somewhere by doing something. And that’s really where our work comes in at Spark. So at its core, what we’re going to… What I want to teach you and talk with you about because I can’t be on a webinar or not teach you something. Because that’s in my bones. I want to be thinking with you about long term, whole school teacher wellbeing initiatives, and how critical they are.

And I want to rephrase that and actually say, educator wellbeing initiatives, not just teachers. So we can think more holistically about everyone in the building. So earlier I mentioned, “Self care is not the answer.” And I’m going to say that it isn’t, and it is part of the equation. Because at the end of the day, if we don’t have a baseline us as educators, a shield that can protect us from the inevitable stressors of education that both of our teachers today are talking about.

And if you’re an educator that you’re likely feeling already, if we can’t do that, then where are we going to go? There’s nowhere to go. So we have to think about this both individually and systemically. And today I’ll do a little bit more focusing on individually because that’s what’s in your capacity, your locus of control right now. So one of the issues that we’re seeing in all the schools that we work with is the state of fight or flight in schools.

On an individual human level. This is the science that tells us that we are in a state of stress or overwhelm and that we’re not at ready to effectively learn or effectively think really. I would argue that most of education is in a state or fighter flights since the pandemic hit. And this is one of the reasons why we’re feeling overwhelming. When you tired at the end of the day and not able to kind of give into the other parts of our life than we want.

And this reality really humbled me because I have tried to forecast what’s going to happen in schools every year. And let me tell you, I am wrong almost every time. Because things are changing. COVID changes. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. So there’s a lot more that we can learn. But I know that if we want to make a change, we have to start by equipping the individuals with the tools to be successful in this system, while layering some of this within the system so it actually works.

And so that’s where the work that we’re doing at Spark by Gabby and where that comes in. We’re working to equip individuals as a part of this system to interrupt burnout. If I can have the next slide. One of the ways that we do that is through closing the stress cycle. So what is the stress cycle? Why are we talking about stress?

As I said earlier, learning or growth only happens when we’re at of state of calm, not in the space of fight or flight. And since stressors cause our immune system to kick up some hormones. So think adrenaline and cortisol. You’ve heard of that and move us into different states of being, it is our job as an individual to learn what we need specifically. Because it is different for everyone to come back down to this state of learning.

So that’s why I like looking at this model that Dr. Nagoski and her sister, they both wrote this book that is amazing. So highly recommend it. ‘Burnout the secret to unlocking the stress cycle.’ It uncovers a stress research and puts it into plain language. And it is incredibly powerful specifically for females and helping professions, which is many of us. Also helpful for anyone else I believe.

And they talk about what happens when you experience stress. So generally, if we’re looking at this model here, when you have something that happens in your environment, everything is a stressor. It’s kind of like a stimulus. When something happens in your environment, you’re adrenaline and your cortisol increase. So that’s kind of what the chart is showing to us. Then there is a choice that we have essentially, either we may have the tools or we may not to do this.

One option is that our stress continues to increase. And we’re at the state of peak arousal, which means our body isn’t really functioning at the most effective state. And something will happen for us to come back down to that space of learning. The thing is, we’re trying to equip you with tools to be able to do that faster and to spend less time in this space of stress, because you are more effective as a human, as a learner, as a teacher, as a whoever; if you have less stress that you’re experiencing.

Our work at Spark is meant to provide some of these most effective stress relieving tools to educators. And we do this with the most effective stress reliever, which is technically exercise, which is awesome. Mindfulness and breath work are also not that far behind. But we wonder what happens when you put both of them together. You can head to the next slide.

I’m not going to dive into all the specifics of it. But the thing that we have really pioneered at Spark is this specific Spark class method sitting in my gym. This is where some of it happens. We have a virtual mindful fitness program that dives into all this. And it is really working for teachers who are just like you in the classroom and for leaders who are also like you, supporting teachers. If you want to connect more on that, we can talk more about that, but let’s keep moving. So I can show you something that might build your toolbox a little bit greater. So let’s head to the next slide.

Exercise is not the only stress reliever, even though we’ve commonly assumed for it to be kind of the number one, which is accurate. There are ways to support the whole system in stress relief. And we can think about it by thinking about what our entire being needs. Yes, [inaudible 01:08:24] That this works for you. My goal is to have takeaways always. So here’s our takeaway. Now we’re going for it. There’s six different parts of the whole person of your wellness. There’s occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional.

I’m going to tell you a quick story about why though it’s important not to just have one category. So I started Mindful Fitness Company. I am big into fitness. I’ve loved it. And it saved me. I think it illuminated me from what I was feeling as an educator. So I’m a huge proponent. However, I have gotten injured a few times and one of the times I got injured. The first time I got seriously injured, I was kind of in a state of panic. I didn’t know what to do to relieve my stress. I didn’t know how to come down effectively. I didn’t know how to interact with my environment anymore.

Because I didn’t have that one tool that I always used. So instead I started diving into my spiritual practice and I learned about mindfulness. And it was really powerful for me to now have two different things I could lean on to really think about how I could open up my horizon to deal with the things that were happening in the classroom and in my personal life.

So I want to spend a second here to just shout out different components of wellness that you know, so in the chat, that you have used or you’ve seen someone else use. Whether it is emotional one, a social one, intellectual; go ahead and just type in the chat. What are some things that you know that support the whole person? Let’s see what we learn.

Jenny, I’m going to push you on the spot for our first one. Since [inaudible 01:10:18] Look quiet in chat. What’s your favorite?

Jenny Portillo:

I think for me the intellectual, I am just a big nerd at heart. And so that dimension of wellness is one that always settles me down. When I can nerd out with a fellow person who enjoys reading a particular thing or analyzing something. But for me, that’s really critical. Is growing my brain as my kids would say, when I was an elementary school teacher,

Gabby Lubin:

I can attest to that, Jenny and I went to grad school together. And it was pretty awesome doing that with you. I love seeing the different thoughts in the chat here, there is not one right answer. There’s not one right answer for you in the moment for you and the person who sits next to you, for you and your partner, for you and your kid. There’s so many, so many different ways to go about this.

And I think that’s one of the most exciting things and also really overwhelming. So here’s where we’re going to take one more step to make this even more practical for you. I want you to take… We’re going to take 30 seconds if we can jump to the next slide. And I want you to think about one dimension of wellness that you want to dive into, that you want to set as something that you’re thinking about, just doing more with.

So if we can jump to the next slide, I think it should still be there. Using the sentence starter, I will try to give us a little bit of self compassion. What’s one thing that you want to do? Won’t you want to give a little bit of time to? You can share it with yourself or feel free to share it in the chat. Yes. Jason, “Why do you use that sentence starter”. “Leave work at work.” Yes, Katie- Yeah. Yes.

There’s really no one way to do this. I want you to remember that, and remember that things change and we have different things in our capacity and our ability and different things are at our disposal. Knowing that the extra step sometimes, just to take the second to reflect, like we just did, that sometimes is the magic wand for us personally to make that happen.

The thing that I do want to remind us, really fast and we’ll be done, is that even if we arm ourself with all these practices personally, it still needs to be embedded into the system. This is a work that we’re working really hard at Spark to do, giving teachers access, either independently to this mindful fitness platform, so this most effective way of relieving stress, but also embedding it into the climate of schools. When I reimagine what education looks like, it looks like giving teachers paid time to practice wellness as they want, with whom they want, how they want. I think just that one thing could make a difference. It may not change everything, but it least we’re going to start somewhere.

If you want to head to that last slide I have there. I want to help do this for you. If you want to be a part of this with us, please, please, please connect with us. We’re giving 30 free days to all educators, if you’d like to join. This is something that we want to bring not just to you, but your entire school. It is something that I’m very, very passionate about. If I’m not hitting the mark for you, I want you to tell me. This is a conversation and a way to really grow this together. We’re going to sign you up, so don’t worry. I’m going to pop my information in the chat if you want to see more, but I’ll stop out there for now. Thanks.

Jenny Portillo:

Gabby, and I think what folks really appreciate is you highlighting both the individual practice we can do, because as Giselle said, we sometimes can only control what is in our space, but also, as Ramona said, we also have to blow some things up. I want to just plug, having taken some of Gabby’s classes, both around mindfulness and fitness, they are amazing. I love that they’re or for and by educators and there is a lot of attention to that, which is not something I’ve seen before. Also, really want to highlight the work that they do with schools overall too. Thank you, Gabby.

We’re going to go ahead and pivot, since you’ve brought us to reimagining. I know we’re starting to run short on time, but I want to make sure we get to that. Next slide, Claire, please. Now, here it comes, right? If we reimagine the what we now need to reform the how, how do we actually make that sustainable change?

I’ve got one last Menti poll for you. Next slide. We say your school, assuming that you’re a teacher, a staff member, a leader, a student, but schools, what can schools do to support wellness of the school community? Whether that’s students, teachers, families even, because as Giselle and Ramona both stamped, those relationships with families are critical. A school is an ecosystem that involves all these moving parts. In the Menti, if you could just jot down the how. What can your school do to actually get us to this great vision that Gabby’s brought us to, to those feelings that Box elicited, and that Giselle and Ramona stamped for us as well? We’re just going to spend about a minute here. Thank you, Claire, for populating the Menti there for us.

Also, as you’re putting your thoughts down, a quick plug for thinking about how you can bring programs like Spark and others to your school, those ESSER funds are out for any educators out there and folks are thinking about how do you get longterm impact out of short-term funds, programs like this that impact your whole school community are really critical like that. If you have your school leader’s ear, send them Gabby’s way. Gabby can point you to other resources. Seth and Marianna are about to jump in to share another free resource, which is really critical for both students, teachers, and school-wide as well.

Yep, this key thing about ask what they need. Let’s not make assumptions on what we think, let’s actually go to our stakeholders, to the folks that are impacted by decision making. Providing access to those wellness activities, gyms, spas. Full-paid healthcare, yes. Having that time off. Life happens, we need to make sure that we’re accommodating for life when it happens for our educators, our leaders, our staff members. Having more fun events, like Ramona said, school needs to go back to feeling fun, feeling like we’re doing something more than taking a test. Time built in, yep, space to build that capacity to step away. Time is a key thing, and that’s what’s hard to reimagine, so we need to think about the how.

Great, please keep putting your ideas in the Menti. I do want to take us now to Marianna and Seth, who are going to talk us through one of the resources that we think would be really critical for you all, which is an MAEC publication. Claire, when you get a chance, just hop me back to the slides.

Marianna Stepniak:

Awesome. Thank you so much, Jenny. We’re going to hop right into this. We’re actually going to speed through the first slides, because we were just going to reiterate everything that you’ve already heard.

First, just a brief introduction. My name is Marianna Stepniak, and I am a content specialist at MAEC. I worked with my co-author, Seth Shaffer, to work on this toolkit, which we are so excited to share with you today. If you could go ahead, Claire.

We are, as you all know, as we’ve been talking about in this session, in the middle of a mental wellness crisis in the US. This conversation is not limited to teachers, it’s not limited to students, it’s not limited to healthcare workers. This is for all of us. Just because our conversation today is on teachers and students doesn’t mean that it’s limited to those folks.

Moving along, Claire, please. We’ve heard directly from Box about what their experience is in school, what they’ve been hearing from their friends and their peers. Just to ground ourselves in some nationwide statistics here, before COVID came on the scene, one in five kids experienced mental, emotional, behavioral and/or developmental challenges. Since COVID has started, and I’m using COVID as a proxy, there have been many, many other things that have happened during COVID, including increased hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islander communities, including national backlash to increase police brutality or more widespread and highlighted police brutality against Black and Brown folks, so this is a proxy for what have we been seeing in the past two years, we’ve seen an increase in suicidal thoughts, depression, and/or anxiety for kids, including increased emergency department visits related to wellness challenges, and as both Ms. Johnson and Ms. Abrams talked about, students who are experiencing different social readiness levels as they’re moving through school, kids who aren’t “where they’re supposed to be”.

Moving on to the impact on teachers, I’m not going to say anything we haven’t already heard today, increased stress, increased anxiety, increased worry and concern for students, personal trauma and secondary trauma, experiencing through our students, and this small phrase but huge concept of challenges to work-life balance. As Ms. Abrams was talking about, helping parents learn how to navigate a new platform, that takes her personal time and that’s really important, and that’s an add-on to all the other add-ons. Especially, as both Ms. Johnson and Ms. Abrams have talked about, when you are a parent with kids at home as well, how do you balance those two things at the same time?

Moving forward please, Claire, next slide. We, Seth and I, have been developing this toolkit over the path year and a half called Managing Mental Wellness: Tools for Yourself, Your Students and Your Classroom. It is live, I know that folks have been plugging in the chat. Basically, it’s grounded in so many concepts, especially this one, that if teachers are taking care of themselves and doing well, they will be healthier, they’ll create a healthier classroom, and their students will be healthier.

I want to emphasize that teacher wellbeing is important because teachers are humans, not necessarily because teachers are important just because of their impact on students. Humans are important, humans matter, and so your wellbeing matters as an individual. But grounded in that concept, this toolkit starts with teachers, builds on what Gabby has been talking about, about what does it look like to have individual change, and thinking about systems-wide change and how do we marry those two together.

I’m going to pass it over to Seth, and if we can go to the next slide, to walk through some examples and tools from this toolkit.

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

Thanks, Marianna. Let’s see, we’re trying to wrap up at 1:30, we’re trying to do Q&A, but I’ve been taking notes this whole time. I’ve been, this whole webinar, reflecting in the moment. I want to take some time to just acknowledge, which a lot of people in the chat have been mentioning, I’ve actually felt better after just participating and listening during this whole webinar. I think that is in part to hearing Box’s voice, hearing Ms. Johnson’s voice, hearing Ms. Abram’s voice, Gabby’s voice, Jenny’s voice, and just having a platform like this that we can all discuss and dialogue and listen to each other.

I don’t want to speak for everyone who’s participating and also the panelists, but this is step one. We have to connect with each other. Like I think Ms. Johnson said, and Ms. Abrams might have mentioned that, teachers, educators are sometimes left out of the conversation when it comes to, what do we do here, how do we tweak things, how do we meet the needs of students, how do we meet the needs of ourselves and things like that. There needs to be a table. There needs to be a table, whether it’s over this webinar or whatever. Thank you to everyone, I really appreciate everything that you’ve shared, and members of the chat as well.

These table of contents, in the interest of time and given that MAEC, which I want to thank for the opportunity for Marianna and I to put together a publication like this, that this is free. Definitely go ahead and either scroll up or it can be posted again or whatever, click on the link to be able to download this publication or these specific tools. I don’t know, maybe it’s a 40, 50, 60-page document, it’s long. Try to take it in bite size, there’s a page at the front end about maybe how to approach using this toolkit, and connect with MAEC.

Let’s get maybe also a mention in the chat about a link to how to connect or contact us, MAEC, about maybe collaborating, whether it be your school, your child’s school, or if you’re nonprofit person, schools you work with, your district, on possible ways of partnering or collaborating on maybe using this toolkit as a platform, but then Marianna and/or myself, we could maybe make ourselves available or work something out, where we can come host a webinar or whatever gets worked out to connect with you and tailor some of the things, some of the tools in this toolkit, specific to you. We want to hear from you, we want to listen to you so we can know how we can collaborate and maybe help you to be able to meet your needs in slightly different ways or whatever. Let’s go to the next slide.

Okay, self-care. Just full disclosure, it almost can be annoying, I could imagine, for teachers or educators to hear self-care. It’s like we hear that so much, like, “Do self-care, do self-care.” I know Gabby mentioned that self-care isn’t the answer, but there’s also ways of thinking about it as what does that even mean? It’s helpful, we know, but what does self-care really mean?

Anyways, on this page, you can just look at it, which we all are, on the right side is a list of apps that you can download, some of which are free, some of which have a subscription. I’m a huge fan, I’m sure you all are, of free stuff that’s accessible. Maybe you haven’t heard of one or more of those apps, go ahead and download them and check them out, see if they work for you. I think that’s the important thing, is trying, trying different things and seeing what works.

On the left side of this slide, and Gabby touched on this so I’m not going to go into it too much, but when it comes to crisis mode, and I think someone in the chat posted that a counselor they know of had reported something like 12 students were in crisis and they needed some mental wellness attention right away, crisis mode, when I think about crisis mode, I think about going back to the basics of diet, a good diet, good sleep and exercise. Those are the main things. Those are usually the three questions that a doctor, when you go for your checkup, or your student, your child goes for their checkup, they’ll ask through those things because they matter. Just taking a moment yourself to reset and think about what am I doing when it comes to diet and nutrition, what am I doing to help get adequate sleep and exercise, et cetera.

I saw a chat that someone mentioned that if there are any educators, those who are listening, participating or hear this, or just anyone, who has more physical limitations at the moment, where exercise can be tough, I just had the thought of we want to exercise mentally as well and use intelligence. One thing that I heard from someone, not necessarily here today, but that really resonated with me years ago, is that when the body, something is physically happening to you, you can mentally shift to feel a little bit better, but when the mind is disturbed, when the mind is upset, there’s not a silver bullet or a magic thing that you can do to just feel better. You sometimes might need to wait it out and do something.

I think for me, if I just articulated it well enough, that this underscores the importance of mental, emotional wellbeing. Not that that should be prioritized over the physical, they’re both mind-body, that’s all very important, but we all have minds. When I think about that too, I think about, and this is a theme that I’ve just felt from this whole webinar, of compassion. I think it was Ms. Johnson, but it might have been Ms. Abrams, which you both are awesome, high five to you guys, keep doing what you’re doing, I think I heard the thing about compassion is connection. We want students to feel connected to teachers and teachers to feel connected to students.

What that requires is that if I’m a teacher, I am a parent, et cetera, I’m a version of a teacher in a sense, that I need to take care of myself first. That is not selfish, because if I show up to school and I’m there to teach and I have 32 to 45 kids, oh my goodness, I can’t even imagine, if I’m not some version of my best self or I’m not able to compartmentalize and be there for these babies, then they’re going to feed off that, right?

Jenny Portillo:


Dr. Seth Shaffer:

They’re going to feed off that.

Let’s actually go to the next slide. I’m going to wrap up here in a couple minutes. I know Jenny’s kind of being-

Jenny Portillo:

Yeah, we’re just at about a minute and I know that some folks have to hop off, so if we could just-

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

One thing, the last thing I’ll mention, because I want to give a specific tool, two real quick. Okay, a mood meter. We used it a lot earlier on. One thing that I use with the kids that I work with is a one to 10 scale. That could be something that teachers, educators can use for themselves, their families, their students, where 10 would be the most intense whatever feeling you’re having, some kind of check-in. That’s verbiage to use in a way for your students and you to connect with each other, by giving rating one to 10 for however I’m feeling. You can do that in some version in your classroom as part of a check-in.

Related to that, and this is the last thing, Jenny, thanks for your patience, and everyone, is we can’t cover it all, but that’s why get that publication, related to that is what I call, a lot of people call, I statements. As part of a check-in related to a mood meter and for modeling for students and for yourself, because we know about the brain connection that actually when you express what I’m feeling, why, that that actually in and of itself is a coping skill, just what happens in your brain and how it affects you. We’ve all experienced that in this conversation. Mood meter, I statement would be something like, “I’m really frustrated because it’s cold in this classroom,” or, “COVID is still happening, I can’t see my friends that much,” or, “I’m bored,” or whatever the case may be. Mood meter, I statement.

I’ll pass it off to you. I’m sorry, I didn’t stick to these slides here, but-

Jenny Portillo:

No, it’s fine, we appreciate it. But Claire, we could flip through the next one just so folks can at least see the pages. There’s highlighted resources. I know Ramona and Giselle both brought up the importance of relationships, so there’s resources there around how to partner with families in schools. There’s also resources for how to navigate crisis situations that apply to both teachers and student. Please download the webinar, or, excuse me, the publication. Also, this webinar will be available as a recording afterwards as well, if you want to reference anything here. There is the link to download.

I really appreciate you all sticking with us. We’re wrapping up now. I know there was a quick question in the audience from the Q&A around Box’s amazing metaphor around moving from this triangle approach where we’re thinking in hierarchies and more to thinking about this community of care in a circle. A question was about do we encourage a particular group to want to become a part of the circle so that every voice is heard? Box, I know you had shared in the chat that you wanted to share your closing thoughts and folks have really loved to hear from you, so we’ll hear from you and then we’ll close this out.


Okay. Hi. Sorry, my brain completely froze. For me, I think that all people should be a part of the circle. I mean, like educators and students, and I feel like parents should be in there too because they’re a big part of school learning. Taking care of their child and making sure that they’re able to go to school is very important. I think that having a well-balanced circle is important. I don’t know if I answered the question properly.

Jenny Portillo:

We appreciate you thinking about how do we bring more people in. We’ve heard that in the importance of trust and relationships. To close us out, again, I know [inaudible 01:32:13] has been popping in the feedback link. We really do look at that feedback and it helps make sure that we can keep offering you programming that’s meeting your needs if you’re with us here today, so please follow that link.

I would love, just so that we don’t close out so abruptly, to hear what’s one word that you’re leaving with or a short phrase you’re leaving with. I’d love to hear from each of our panelists. Let’s start with Ms. Abrams. What’s one word or quick phrase that you’re leaving this webinar feeling there?

Giselle Abrams:

Community of care.

Jenny Portillo:

Love it. Ms. Johnson?

Ramona Johnson:

That I’m not on this boat alone. We’re going to be okay, hopefully one day, but we’re together.

Jenny Portillo:

Solidarity right here.

Ramona. Johnson:

Yes, yes.

Jenny Portillo:

Yes. Box, what’s the word or phrase you’re leaving with?


I think relaxed, or kind of like I’m content.

Jenny Portillo:

I need to get on your level, Box. I need to be on that content level right now. Love it, thank you so much for sharing.

Gabby, what are you leaving us with? One word or phrase?

Gabby Lubin:

Collective effort, which feels like a huge relief.

Jenny Portillo:

Yep, on that boat together, yep. Dr. Shaffer?

Dr. Seth Shaffer:

I want to say connection, collaboration, and compassion.

Jenny Portillo:



Circle, Box’s word.

Jenny Portillo:

Love it. I’m leaving with hope. It’s really hard, y’all. Being a teacher, being a student is always hard, but it’s especially hard right now. I appreciate this community of care and solidarity that we’ve had here with you all panelists, but also with you participants. Thank you for all the great things you’re dropping in the chat. Please be sure to download this webinar once the recording’s available, download the publication, hit up Gabby. We got to do something, and boots on the ground is the only way that we’re going to be able to do this, to get the people who are making decisions moving and to make sure that our classrooms are places that feel good for us, as teachers, and for our students as well. Thank you all for being here today. Panelists, thank you all. You’re amazing, so grateful to have you here. Thanks everyone.

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