It’s About ‘the Why’ Behind the Problem
March 01, 2023
Appears in March 2023: School Administrator.
Do you sometimes feel as if you are chasing your tail? Do you find yourself shaking your head wondering why you feel this way? More programs, more security, more curriculum, more personnel. Are we creating solutions to problems or just better circumstances? Do you sometimes wonder why we are doing this?
I recently received a call from our regional newspaper asking my opinion on providing time off for “mental health days.” I took the opportunity to ask if he was advocating for additional time off for all school and district leaders. After a few minutes of laughter (I am not sure why that was funny), we talked about the root cause and the “why.” If there was a need for mental health days, why was there such a need? What existing conditions cause the need, and shouldn’t we be talking about the why and not an arbitrary solution?
This is a serious topic, but experiencing stress and learning how to cope is a natural part of life. We all get nervous when it comes to test-taking, for example. Learning to manage this stress and ensuring it does not become overwhelming or debilitating is essential to our emotional wellness and stability. What is most important is ensuring that school is a joyful place to learn, grow and socialize.
We should be focused on creating the conditions in our learning environments that make everyone so excited to be in school that the stress and anxiety will all but disappear. How do we create these experiences that repel stress and anxiety, while making sure our schools are safe and happy environments?
Think back to when children played red rover and hopscotch in the schoolyard. I can still hear their sounds of laughter. We must encourage our students to explore this notion, to take a break from the electronics, go outside in the sunshine and enjoy pure, healthy fun.
The importance of teaching reading, writing and arithmetic is a given, but encouraging kindness and positivity within our daily interactions with each other is essential to mental wellness and should be held in high regard. We should model and teach our children to be strong, kind, civic-minded and compassionate individuals.
During the pandemic, a group of Brooklyn teenagers realized they were getting lost in the depths of social media. They deleted their social media accounts and exited the online environment to support their mental health. What are we doing to raise this kind of awareness? Are we instructive and proactive about the negative consequences of social media, the internet or unfiltered news? While an extra day off is nice, what we really need to do is to find the root cause of the problem and address it.
Moreover, we should focus on the love of learning. Assess authentic and meaningful learning. Create social learning environments that foster creativity, choice, depth and breadth of content, and skill development. Promote healthy, productive, social and joyful learning. Take charge of what is within our control. Make school environments and learning experiences warm, welcoming, accepting and exciting.
School should be a place for our children to feel good about themselves and have positive experiences. We should not want them to have less time in school, but more joyful time spent in school. We provide support for our students whenever they need us. Ensuring this type of learning environment will not only ensure a love of learning and school but will make students much healthier overall — both physically and emotionally.
So let’s stop chasing our tails and imposing solutions that do not address the real problem. School district leaders cannot do this alone, but we can start with those things that we can control and then engage others who can help us bring about positive change. If we want to eliminate chronic absenteeism, academic failure and stress (otherwise known as “the problem”), we must identify the why so we can find a true solution.
Shari Camhi is AASA president in 2022-23. @BaldwinUFSD