Voices from the Field

Voices from the Field is a place for administrators, teachers, school support staff, community, and family members to learn what experts -- researchers, practitioners, family -- from across the country think by reading a short post that includes the latest promising practices on a range of school climate topics, along with references and related resources.

What Can Practitioners Do to Reset After Winter Break to Help Students and Staff Thrive?

Collectively, school communities have faced a great deal of hardship since the onset of the pandemic. Administrators, staff, students, families, and communities have experienced loss, grief, and disruption of normal routines. These stressors continue for many and are disproportionately experienced by students of color and others who face economic disadvantage. This stress affects both learning and the ability of schools to operate effectively.

After a challenging fall, the return from winter break provides an opportunity to reset. As schools start up again in January, what can school-based practitioners do to help students and staff thrive? This blog post explores what it means to thrive and provides intentional practices to promote thriving.

What Does It Mean to Thrive?

When it comes to supporting our school communities, we must go beyond well-being and focus on thriving—a process in which people individually and collectively experience grounding, well-being, and agency (Osher et al., 2020).

  1. Grounding is about knowing who you are and how you are connected to others. Grounding includes identity development and a sense of meaning, spirituality, and purpose, as well as civic and community engagement (Osher et al., 2020).
  2. Well-being is most simply understood to mean “judging life positively and feeling good” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). There are multiple types of well-being, including how one is doing physically, economically, and emotionally (Osher et al., 2020).
  3. Agency enables people to address life’s demands and impact community and societal change. To foster agency, people need to develop social and emotional competencies as well as cognitive competencies such as metacognition, deeper learning, and creativity (Osher et al., 2020).

What Strategies Can Practitioners Use to Reset so Students and Staff Can Thrive?

To intentionally support thriving, practitioners—whether they are administrators who support staff or staff who support students—can focus on building individual capacity as well as building a supportive environment.

Building an individual’s capacity is a key element for thriving (Osher et al., 2020). Capacity is a function of motivation, individual attributes, and environmental support for using one’s individual attributes and realizing what one is motivated to do (Osher et al., 2018). School-based practitioners are already steeped in the work of capacity building; as they approach the new semester, they can consider what new practices may spark progress in capacities related to grounding, well-being, and agency of the students and staff that they support.

Individuals are affected by their environments, including the dynamic relationships and spaces around them (Osher et al., 2020). To thrive, individuals must experience an environment that is safe, supportive, inclusive, challenging, and caring (American Institutes for Research [AIR], 2020). The return from break offers practitioners the opportunity to take steps to build more supportive school environments.

Although practitioners may not be positioned to make multiple major changes to their practice midyear, they can likely make at least some shifts—which could mean starting something new or refining something they are already doing—to help build capacity and improve the learning environment. The following strategies offer a starting point for planning.

  1. Identify and Address Needs of Students, Staff, and Families. First and foremost, it is important to consider your entire school community. Although we often talk about self-care, what we really need is community care. Now, more than ever, it is vital that students and the adults who support them are a part of your community care plan. Staff, students, and their families have all experienced traumatic events and are being impacted differently based on a variety of factors, including social identities and availability of social supports (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 2014).  With that in mind, it is important to consider the unique and different needs that individuals in your school community may have as you identify strategies to implement.
  2. Make Staff Well-Being a Priority. Educators often default to supporting students at the expense of their own needs. It is important to address the fact that staff are tired and often don’t feel effective. These are factors that undermine staff well-being and, if not addressed, will limit their ability to support and respond to students and fellow staff members.
  3. Assess and Adjust Priorities According to the Bandwidth of Staff and Students. People are overwhelmed. When you are deciding on what to implement, consider helpful practices that can easily integrate into current systems and routines. Social and emotional learning and trauma-informed practices are vital, but not if the practices feel overly burdensome or like “one more thing” on people’s plates. Anything that is rolled out should be communicated clearly, without staff having to figure out how to fit it in their day.
  1. Take Opportunities to Celebrate. To build and keep up morale and buy-in, find opportunities to publicly celebrate individual and collective progress and successes, big and small.

For practices to support student and staff thriving after a tough start to the year, check out Leveraging Reset Opportunities to Help Students and Staff Thrive. Individuals or teams of practitioners can use the tool as they consider how they can strengthen and refine current practices to build capacity, improve the school environment, and enable students and staff to thrive.

Acknowledgments

This blog was authored by Megan Gildin from NCSSLE.

American Institutes for Research

U.S. Department of Education

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