Teacher resilience often starts with creating the space for it to take root.
June 10, 2020
Despite corps members’ best attempts, caffeine-fueled 15-hour workdays do not the best teachers make, says Julie Gronquist-Blodgett (N.Y. ’06), who leads programming for Teach For America Kansas City. Her region and others are promoting a more sustainable tack: coaching corps members to be able to say, “I can do meaningful and hard work for the rest of my career because I know how to be resilient.”
Hillary Blunt (Kansas City ’14) helped to develop Kansas City’s curriculum linking corps member resilience to leadership in the classroom. Blunt’s team has made space for corps members to do the work alongside peers with shared racial identities. The curriculum includes processing emotions, caring for essential needs like sleep and nutrition, and “dismantling internalized messages and thought patterns rooted in white supremacy culture.”
For Jeremiah Kim (Kansas City ’18), it proved essential. After a challenging stretch during his first year in the classroom, he was looking for a way out. Instead, Blunt offered him an avenue to change and grow. “She gracefully gave me an opportunity to reflect and sit with the sense of disappointment I felt,” Kim says. “Not shaming me for that, but also not letting me blame another.”
In Idaho, teacher coach Sophie Stokes (Idaho ’15) started a corps member wellness group. Using research-backed approaches like the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales, Stokes began by helping teachers create a personalized plan. Too often, Stokes says, wellness initiatives presume a solution (be it mindfulness or a fitness regimen) without first identifying needs.
Jenell Mee (Idaho ’18) narrowed in on meaningful social connections as key to her resilience. She shifted her classroom practices to include more chances for students to share feelings and build strong relationships. It’s the work she most looks forward to when schools reopen, “to reintroduce relationships and to be a community again inside of our own classroom.”
Teach For America’s Greater Delta region partnered with Breathe For Change, an organization focused on “wellness as a vehicle for social change in schools and communities” (co-founded by Bay Area ’09 alumna Ilana Nankin), to train corps members in holistic healthy practices.
Ahonui Bowman (Greater Delta ’18), who teaches gifted education in Greenville (Mississippi) Public Schools, attended a Breathe For Change retreat as a first-year teacher. Through simple practices like breathing exercises, yoga, and playing games, the retreat rejuvenated her and offered her new ways to connect with her students.
At a statewide conference of gifted educators, Mississippi’s director of gifted education led a mindfulness session. “I was so happy to see that,” Bowman says. “To see that the work is really catching on.”
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