Guest blog by Lisa Baylis. Lisa is a full time high school counsellor, a positive educator, a mindfulness instructor, and a Mom. She aims to support student’s social and emotional wellbeing by ensuring the wellbeing of our educators.
As a counsellor, I see youth struggling every day. Many kids are tuned out, disconnected, tired, and live with constant low-grade stress. Adding to that, our teachers are also exhausted, over-worked and often under-supported and under-valued. However, from experience, I know that when our teachers are connected, mindful, emotionally intelligent and happy, a ripple effect of positive learning can occur for our students. I believe that when we put as much focus on wellness, social-emotional learning and connection as we do on academics, our students, teachers and staff will all flourish within the school system. So, I was excited to learn about the WellAhead initiative last May, and even more excited to know that my district had applied and been accepted as a pilot district. This was definitely something I wanted to be a part of!
But when I saw that WellAhead’s plan to implement “everyday practices” in year one, I was frustrated and disappointed. The idea of “sustainable everyday practices” seemed far too simple and, frankly, insulting to teachers with years of autonomy and experience. “Don’t most teachers already greet students at their door, talk to them in the halls, care for them in their classrooms, and support their emotional health?”, I thought. “Isn’t that why most educators got into teaching; because they care about connecting with kids?”
I felt that WellAhead had the opportunity to create movement around wellness in schools and the financial opportunity to make change. I wanted to see bigger thinking; I wanted support for all staff and students to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing through approaches such as, social-emotional literacy training, yoga and/or mindfulness workshops for teachers and students, curriculum and language that incorporated kindness, compassion and connection. These are not just “everyday practices” but a way of being in a school. However, I decided to slow my judgements and lean into the process.
Going through WellAhead’s co-design, prototyping and scaling process, I learned more about how everyday practices could be sustained over time and scaled within all schools. I started paying attention to the difference between what educators do daily and what they do intentionally to build relationships and enhance student social-emotional learning. The more I went through the process, the more my doubt and frustration with the everyday practices disappeared. I started to see their value.
Almost all of the everyday practices we developed in our co-design sessions came back to intentionally connecting with students and building strong relationships.
With this in mind, the Greater Victoria School District team chose to prototype the everyday practice that we felt most embodied healthy and intentional connection: 2x10. In this practice, educators take the time to connect with a vulnerable student for at least 2 min, a minimum of 10 times to build a relationship that is based on more than school academics and performance. The practice encourages staff to build connections with their students by learning more about them outside of the classroom.
We prototyped “2x10” in two middle schools and one high school. Implementing this practice was a challenge. We knew our teachers were probably already connecting with students, but now we were asking them to be intentional about their conversations, connect with one student at a time, and then reflect on this process.
Unfortunately, even though the teachers agreed with the idea of “2x10”, it was hard to get them to follow through on the reflection part of this practice. Next year, we are going to continue to scale this practice up within our own schools with more structure and support. For instance, at our high school we have decided to focus on one grade of students (our incoming grade 9s) and to have a dedicated and committed group of teachers connect with every student. Our hope is by being more directed and intentional in our purpose we may be able to make better and more sustainable relationships. Because, as we know – a 2x10 is never just a 2x10 it is really a 2xforever.
What I have gained the most from this WellAhead experience, so far, is the valuable gift of time. I love having the opportunity to sit with educators, community members, administration and students and talk about wellness. I love that we have brought social-emotional learning, connection and wellbeing to the forefront of our education goals through this process. Every opportunity we get to collaborate and connect more is making a difference for the whole system. I am truly looking forward another year of inquiry, collaboration, scaling, and more big ideas and deep discussion about wellness.
To learn more about what Lisa is up to in Victoria follow www.lisabaylis.com