BeWell EduDraft Blog for Charity HelmanMarch 26, 2019Author: Jason RogersI 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.
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.ConnectionIn 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 AchorBig Potential by Shawn AchorThe 5AM Club by Robin SharmaThe Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan HaidtDigital Minimalism by Cal NewportDesigning Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave EvansJoyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee168 Hours by Laura VanderkamWhen by Daniel H. PinkThe Power of Habit by Charles DuhiggThe Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond TutuRising Strong by Brene Brown
Friday, 29 March 2019
The Cost of Caring
Dear Rundle Community:
I don’t know, but if you are anything like me, this past week has been one of reflection and reminiscence. The week was bookended by news of loss in our community and by a night of wonderful celebration at the ‘Rundle Has Talent’ event at the elementary school.
In this month’s Head’s Up, I thought it may be appropriate to keep my updates to a simple narrative reflection. I hope some of the words resonate with you and your Rundle Experience.
Jason B. Rogers
“The Cost of Caring,
the Paradox of Small,
The Importance of a Connected Community”
Looking back a couple of years ago, I have a vivid memory of a conversation with a trusted friend who came in to assist our community during a time of loss.
The conversation went like this:
Me: “I have to admit, I’m really impacted by what’s gone on.”
Friend: “I can understand that, do you want to tell me more?”
Me: “I’m really feeling sad and have more questions than I have answers. I am finding it really hard to say goodbye; simply put, this has just been a really hard time.”
Friend: “Jason, do you mind if I share something that I think might help?”
Me: “Of course not.”
Friend: “When you are a part of a small and connected community like Rundle, the feelings you are having are ‘the cost of caring’.”
I have to admit, I have come back to this memory so many times this week and I am sure there are many in our community experiencing this deep sense of loss and the impact of ‘the cost of caring.’ Today, as much as it did years ago, this statement sticks with me and reminds me that in sadness and celebration, the ‘cost of caring’ is a risk I’m willing to take on.
Over the course of this past week, two other important points my friend made during our conversation have come to full light for me; these words are ‘small’ and ‘connected.’
First, let me share my meditation on the paradox of ‘Rundle small.’ One of the amazing characteristics about Rundle is the feeling of being small. From our classes that are smaller than 15 students to the small schools to the opportunities to be involved that come with small co-curricular offerings; everything about Rundle exudes the ethos of smallness. That being said, the feeling of ‘Rundle small’ is a true paradox. Rundle College Society is among the biggest private schools in Canada in many respects including school achievement, physical footprint, student population, and staff size. If you think of it, there are nearly 1100 students, which means, if you count staff, faculty, students, alumni, parents, siblings, etc. - our community is well beyond a population of 5000 people. This number, when put in the context of my home province, Saskatchewan, would be big enough to be considered one of the province’s top 15 sized cities. The true magic of ‘Rundle small’ is that we are close enough to all 5000 people in our community that we live a huge shared experience. With this breadth of impact, we can count on sharing the full extent of the human experience with each and every season.
The second thought is around the term ‘connected.’ I really love the notion of the in-person connection we can have as a result of our culture of caring and smallness. In a world that is consumed with digital connection, which is proving to be related to isolation and a host of emotional challenges, it is nice to know that we are in a community where we can genuinely be together during easy and hard times. Although it may be easier to be a digital arm’s length away, I encourage our community to continue to embrace the human side of connection. Rundle will always be a place where kindness counts, where we believe in best intentions and where we can come together to create a community that supports each other. The highlights of our days often come in those handshakes, hugs, hallway conversations, and handwritten notes.
To close this ‘Head’s Up,’ let me thank you for your support, for sharing in the cost of caring and for being a part of our small and connected community.
On the Shelf:
Head’s Up Podcast - Episode 60 - Primary Students Ask The Headmaster (literally anything)
If you are looking for a little levity, give a listen and hear how my conversation with 4 students from Rundle Primary went!
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
Monday, 28 January 2019
Sunday, 2 December 2018