Nurturing a School District’s Wellness

Type: Article
Topics: Health & Wellness, School Administrator Magazine

June 01, 2021

AS WE FIND OURSELVES on the uncertain road to “normalcy,” one area that demands our ongoing attention is the social-emotional well-being of our students, staff and community.

Although many programs, resources and models are offered to education leaders as you address staff and student well-being, be-fore launching any sustained and strategic initiatives, it’s important to know well and understand those whom you are looking to serve.

Just as we would not prescribe a scripted learning program or action steps for students without first knowing where they are in their learning progression and what help they need, we should not prescribe blanket social-emotional learning programming for school district staff without knowing their current status, wellness needs and nuances.

Supporting the social and emotional well-being of district employees is critical for creating a high-performing team, but it’s not an endeavor the superintendent can take on alone. It takes the efforts of the entire leadership team.

During the yearlong public health crisis, Buckeye Elementary School District’s leadership team was overwhelmingly stressed as we tried to effectively manage situations we never before had encountered. We met daily and made countless decisions. I noticed, however, that the team was so focused on the work before us that we were quickly losing touch with who we were individually and how interdependent we were as people and team members.

As part of an overall “health check,” I thought it would be beneficial for the senior-level team to dedicate some time to the members’ own well-being. This included nurturing my own emotional well-being as well as that of the team. As a result, inner balance has been restored, we have more time for reflection on our wellness practice as a team and, our ability to function as a high-performance executive team has improved.

One strategy that proved particularly valuable was the consistent use of gratitude exercises at our meetings. When you set aside time to express your gratitude for something or someone, you are acknowledging the value of the effort. 

Such structures allow you to know your team members as people, including what they value, what energizes them and what motivates them in both personal and professional spaces.

Although some may believe time does not permit this sort of attention to social-emotional wellness, especially right now, it’s clear that a well team is far more effective and proficient. Taking time out for wellness are moments well spent.

The work we did together proved more impactful than any of us could have predicted. Not only did we improve our internal systems and practices, we connected emotionally and personally. In the end, our efforts served as a valuable reminder to me, personally, of whom I was there to support and how much we value each other.

As we navigate this path toward normalcy, I hope you’ll provide opportunities for your fellow leaders to really get to know their team members and establish a culture of well-being that can benefit everyone in the school community.

Working side-by-side with your team is a joy and a gift, but it’s even more fulfilling when you truly know, support and communicate openly with those who are joining you in your efforts to serve your community.

Howard Gardner, one of the experts on intrapersonal intelligence, says being attuned to our inner selves to make sure we are in a state of inner balance and harmony is one of the most important things we can do as leaders. When we know how to recognize and build our social and emotional well-being and resilience, we are better able to share it with those whom we serve and lead.