Faculty Health and Wellness
The research is clear: Teaching is one of the most stressful careers a person can choose. Simply entering into Google the words “teacher burnout” (17 million results) or “teacher stress” (340 million results) confirms this fact. Approximately 40% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years.
Unaddressed faculty and staff stress, within the school setting, leads directly to poor work performance, a toxic and contagious attitude, and absenteeism, all of which harms academic and behavioral functioning for the students. Studies also show that teacher stress has a negative impact on home and life outside of school.
Significant funds are spent solely on frequent faculty absences—on average, 3% of total budgets for faculty pay. For a school with an operating budget of $10 million per year for teacher salaries, the loss would be $300,000, per year. In addition to these costs, administrators’ time is also spent dealing with these concerns. As a school leader, your time is better spent on the performance of teachers and students rather than with the process of advertising, hiring and training replacement faculty or staff.
An organized health and wellness program for faculty and staff that is financially, emotionally, socially and academically beneficial is in every stakeholder’s best interest. With the full support of the administrative team, the program, in whatever form it takes, will be successful.
Begin by inviting someone to lead, one of your faculty or staff member who is respected and whose voice is heard among their peers. This person is charged with forming a committee. The size of this committee needs to be proportionate to your faculty and staff numbers. The committee can now start getting feedback from the rest of the staff on what they are or aren’t interested in with regard to any type of health and wellness program.
The most successful activities are ones that involve some type of incentive. For example, the staff or faculty member that walks the most steps in a certain time period will win an award or points to an award. If every faculty or staff member pays a $1 to participate, the winner gets the pot as an award. Maybe the school can match the amount paid into the event by the employees. It’s the reward, not the amount of money, that makes the difference.
Here are some other suggested activities:
Form a team of “walkers,” and participate as a school in a walker-friendly 5K. Your faculty can get financial pledges that can be for tzedakah. They can have T-shirts made with the name of the group and school. This a great for team building and morale as well as advertising and marketing your school.
Bringing in a person to run a yoga, meditation or other type of class on a regular basis. These can be mix-gender or single-sex, depending on the school.
Movie night: Turn your gym into a theater and provide popcorn and other snacks. Instead of chairs, people can bring blankets and pillows.
Create and manage a school-specific health and wellness website and/or group chat.
Therapy dogs: Pet therapy has been shown to have a tremendously positive impact on moods and behaviors. There are many organizations that visit schools, including day schools, for little to no charge.
Participants can post “thoughts for the day,” articles and links to videos, and even make videos of their own.
Regardless of whether your teachers are still in school or away for the summer, make a commitment now to implement some type of school-based health and wellness program.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Everything that you need, from forming a committee, engaging staff, planning events and so on, already exists. For example, the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago has many free downloadable materials on its website (att.org/jewish-day-school-wellness-initiative).
As an employee of a Modern Orthodox yeshiva for the past 12 years, I can personally attest to the positive impact of programs as simple as “good and welfare” staff and faculty lunches, therapy dogs, book clubs and so on.
If you haven’t tried one of these, now is the time.
Directors of Health Promotion and Education, “School Employee Wellness: A Guide for Protecting the Assets of Our Nation’s Schools”
Sustainable Jersey Schools, “Staff Wellness Program”
Alliance for a Healthier Generation, “Employee Wellness Toolkit”