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Unlocking Teacher Wellness Through Awareness, Agency and Connection

I have to be honest, the thoughts of wellness at work haven’t always been at the forefront of my mind.  
I actually remember being a young teacher who took tremendous pride in arriving at work so early that
I needed to disarm the alarm and leaving only when the night caretakers were finishing their duties.  I
remember looking back at it and thinking of this work ethic as (a) a necessity (b) an acceptable level of
dedication (c) a badge of honour. I suppose in some respects, I was right on both fronts. I needed to work
the long hours to hone my craft and be best prepared for my students and I am certain my colleagues and
principals took note of my endless burning of the midnight oils.  However, as ‘right’ as I was, I had obviously
overlooked a concerning blindspot, emotional wellness.

Things started to change for me when I stepped into a school leadership role.  All of a sudden, I was faced
with difficult professional conversations on topics revolving around ‘workload,’ ‘stress’ and ‘work-life balance.’
It was in these early moments of leading that I started to realize that the ‘cost of caring’ in education often
leaves the professionals on the front line depleted.

Years have passed since I started thinking about my own work and the early leadership interactions I had
had with my colleagues.  Over this time, I believe I’ve learned a few things about myself and about the idea
of wellness in education. The learnings on wellness, I believe, can be simply summed up in three words:
Awareness, Agency and Connection.
Wellness at Rundle


Awareness:
The first step in addressing the chronic unwellness of myself and of many others in our profession is first
understanding ourselves.  Looking back, it is easy to see where this understanding was absent when I
thought it was a necessity to work 16 hours a day and how teachers may see the workload of a teacher to
be unachievable.  I have found that through personal growth and learning to be the key in this area.
Reading books and articles on topics such as positive psychology, emotional quotient and interpersonal
coaching have helped me gain perspective and insights.  It is not to say that the cerebral approach is the
right and only path. I believe that everybody can find their own way to understanding themselves in a
pursuit of emotional awareness.

Agency:
It is my observation that until we have a good grasp on our own emotional wellbeing, we may not even
know what to ask for.  A misunderstanding of one’s self may manifest in a feeling of ‘acceptable level of
dedication’ or workplace stress. However, once we do know where we are, it becomes much easier to
know what we can and should ask for.  A deep understanding of what we can ask for and having the
opportunity and belief that we can ask for assistance is at the core of agency. In the spirit of awareness,
it is important to recognize that teaching comes with many gravity problems (report cards, parent teacher
interviews, lesson planning and marking), however with the assistance of others there are countless
efficiencies and synergies that allow us to find the time and space to attend to our own needs as well as
the needs of our community.  The strength and courage to ask for and accept help is a critical step in
overcoming our individual and organizational wellness dilemmas.

Connection:
In my mind, the final tenant in emotional wellness at school is connection. I have often thought about my
‘badge of honour’ that came with working to exhaustion or to the rallying call of ‘work life balance’ and
reflect that these misconceptions often arise from a lack of connection.  When I say connection, I mean
the obvious ‘connection to others’ but I am also alluding to ‘connection to the profession.’ Obviously, one
aspect of workplace wellness is being connected, in a meaningful way, to each other, your students, the
parents and the school leadership. Personal relationships are essential to a sense of meaning and
wellbeing.  

The other aspect of connection which I think is essential is ‘connection to the profession.’  In saying this,
I reject some of the binary thinking of ‘work-life balance’ as it seems like an either/or proposition,
essentially  either you work less or your life is out of balance. If we shift our mindset to a more holistic
conception of ‘work-life harmony’ we can start to better appreciate the ebbs and flows of our work and
home life in an attempt to reconcile the positive and negative stress that is inevitable in all domains of our
life.

By no stretch do I believe my personal, professional or leadership journey towards emotional wellbeing is
complete.  I believe, with my whole being, that the journey is a daily and interconnected practice. Each
and every day I need to take personal time to meditate, to rest, to reflect and to fill my personal wellness
cup.  Furthermore, I need to spend time connecting with those whom I share my life with and work with,
to truly empathize with their needs and, perhaps to bring some greater understanding and learning to
their journey.

My Favorite Wellness Reads:
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Jason Rogers
Headmaster
Rundle College Society
@jasonbrogers

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