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YOU ARE NOT ALONE – Supporting Teachers & Counselors

By Liz Hayter, Administrator, Dutchess BOCES Adult Learning Institute

Do these scenarios seem familiar?

You are teaching math in a conference room at the local library and an adult student starts arguing with you about the validity of an answer. What should you do? You feel alone!

You are meeting with an adult student at the community center to review career goals and career strategies and your recommendations are not being heard because the student is talking on their cell phone. What should you do? You feel alone.

In some workplaces this type of repeated stress is called burnout.

“The term burnout describes more than a passing slump. The concept, introduced by Herbert Freudenberger in his 1974  book “Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement,” describes a condition that grows out of increased work stress and can result in energy loss, emotional exhaustion, dissatisfaction and pessimism.”

In our workplaces repeated stress becomes the norm and eventually you are asking yourself, why am I still coming to work?

STOP! Before you look for another job, another agency, another location, I want you to know that you are not alone and we need you! We need your experience, your knowledge, your dedication and most importantly your motivation to be there for others. “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” – Dr. Seuss

Adult educators are all on a journey to assist other adults with getting a second chance at learning, achieving, or simply growing. This is difficult, stressful work, but also satisfying. We need you and we need to support each other!

What can we do? In many workplaces, a peer support network is formed to alleviate stress. Many programs have teachers touch base with other teachers, having lunch together, giving each other a call, sharing ideas, maybe even sharing students! At my program teachers who are in the same building start by working together to substitute for each other. Seasoned teachers are encouraged to find some time to mentor new teachers. “Effective mentors are not only good teachers, but also able to articulate the art of teaching—to convey what they do and why to achieve positive results. Mentors must have strong interpersonal skills, the ability to build a trusting rapport, and the capacity to respond to the challenges faced by other teachers.”

Counselors can help to support teachers by talking with them, starting out with student stories and moving on to personal stories. Counselors are good listeners and I encourage them to work as a team with teachers in support of student success. However, where do counselors go for support? Typically, counselors have more flexibility in their day and can network with other community counselors, which is helpful. Also, as a program manager, I feel a strong responsibility to engage the counselors when they are frustrated, support good decision-making and recognize a job well done. One of my counselors also appreciates a little chocolate occasionally.

A program with less stress typically is also a program with good leadership, leaders who find creative ways to alleviate the negative stress. If only we could bottle it. “Leaders choose to be positive. They have vision. Even when others around them cannot see, leaders paint a picture in word and deed that enables others to catch the vision too – a possibility, a glimmer of hope. They encourage, motivate, and inspire others to be positive also.” Creating an environment for collaboration, celebration of success, incorporating trust with each other and respect for excellence, a good leader keeps stress down to a minimum.

These are some suggestions on how to support yourself and others.

“Create a morning ritualMeditate or stretch before getting ready for work to help with inspiration and relaxation.” (Personal) (At Work) Start your day in the classroom with a “do now,” allowing you to ease into the class time or with peers in the office by making coffee or smoothies. Something simple like checking in with everyone is also helpful. I do what is called “management by walking around.” It takes a good half hour, but they know I am here in the building and here for them, also if you do it routinely you do not need to do it every day.

“Develop healthy habitsEat well, exercise and get enough sleep to combat the effects of stress.” (Personal) (At Work) Do not fill up bowls with candy for you and students, it will boost energy and then create a sleepy group of people before the day is done. In the fall, I will fill a bowl with apples and in the spring with berries. Plan for healthy breaks, maybe start a walking group at lunchtime, or plan for healthy snacks at gatherings. By working together to come up with healthy activities, it will show everyone that you know this is important and that you care.

“Spotlight satisfaction pointsInventory the aspects of work that are personally gratifying to focus on the positive rather than the negative.” (Personal) (At Work) When a student achieves a measure of success, then communicate that we all do! I want all teachers and staff to know how important their contribution to the whole program is for the success of that student. So we find time to celebrate the students, with small appreciations and big ceremonies, everyone is a part of it. When we are having a tough day, I always ask – why are we here – and the response is, “for the students.” In addition, we thank each other, not just to be polite but also to really communicate appreciation.

“Take time for humor –Strive to create an enjoyable environment. Studies show links between fun workplaces and higher levels of work quality, productivity and job satisfaction.” Encouraging humor, laughter and outright joy in the workplace is one of the most important things you can do. It does not mean you need to be a standup comedian or come into work every day with a joke. It does take being comfortable with your own humanity and sharing real life stories. Like the time I came to work with a black shoe and a navy shoe – you bet I went around and showed everyone and we all had a good laugh!

“Seek out supportTake advantage of mentoring and learning opportunities to decrease isolation. Professional development courses can provide effective strategies for helping teachers and counselors which can lower stress.”

The Hudson Valley Region Directors have met for lunch at least a few times a year for the past 15 or 20 years. Each time we meet and openly discuss challenges, and achievements we say we should do it more often and we should! Each staff member should know their counterparts locally and beyond. Attending RAEN trainings and NYACCE Conferences will help you to realize that all around New York State the same challenges are being met, you are not alone. Also, these are perfect times to build your own support network.

Please consider joining us at this year’s conference – 2020 All Systems Go! April 19-22, 2020. You will meet old friends, create new ones and feel supported by your colleagues from all over the State! You are not alone! Check out my shoes (wink) and say hello!

References reflection from an adult educators point of view, Grayla Reneau

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