Supporting staff mental health and well-being

By Angela Asch

The pandemic caused many challenges for educators, but teachers, school administrators, and other staff have forged ahead despite these disruptions, often putting their emotional and mental health needs on hold to take care of their students first. In addition to their regular responsibilities, educators continue to contend with a range of more recent stressors: a reported uptick in student emotional and behavior concerns, a dramatic increase in chronic absenteeism that impacts student learning, workload issues due to staffing shortages, and increased polarization around educational topics.

CSBA’s recent survey report of education leaders across the state, Beyond the spreadsheets: Insights from California education leaders on utilizing COVID-19 relief funding, found that high levels of burnout and stress were top concerns for district leaders. Participants rated their biggest staff challenges as burnout at 94 percent and filling open positions at 91 percent.

Not surprisingly, other surveys conducted within the last year found related results. A survey from UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools found that 20 percent of teachers reported a desire to leave the profession within the next three years. Similarly, the RAND Corporation found that one third of teachers and principals surveyed stated a desire to leave the profession at the end of the 2021–2 school year. Protecting the well-being and mental health of staff is critical to keeping schools fully staffed, running smoothly and keeping students on track. When staff are burnt out from working through prolonged taxing situations, and overworked because of staff vacancies, it becomes unsustainable to take on more work, and leaving their job may become an enticing choice. Given the demands of addressing disruptions to learning and the current student mental health crisis, staff burnout could hinder learning recovery.

A 2022 report by the RAND Corporation summarized survey data from State of the American Teacher and State of the American Principal and found that compared to adults working in fields outside of education, teachers and principals reported worse well-being (burnout, job-related stress and depression). Perceptions of well-being for Hispanic and female teachers was especially poor, and teachers and principals that reported poor well-being and adverse working conditions were more likely to report intentions of leaving their jobs. Similarly, new research by the Trauma-Informed Schools Learning Collaborative found that teachers reported higher symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder than healthcare workers.

Supportive school environments increase well-being for staff, which in turn aids students’ success and decreases staff attrition. School environments that bolster emotional well-being include support from family, friends, and community members; time for peer-to-peer collaboration; a healthy work-life balance; and easy access to available resources for physical and mental health.

Los Angeles Unified School District and Oakland Unified are two examples of the many districts across the state that are creating supportive school environments to care for and keep teachers and administrators. Resources like Employee Assistance Service for Education (EASE), an assessment and counseling service, and Care Solace, which coordinates care for K-12 schools and higher education to provide well-being and mental health assistance and services for staff, students, and their families, are just two examples of resources these districts and others have implemented.

Teachers and administrators play a critical role within schools. Fully supporting the mental health of teachers and all school staff is essential to ensure that all students reach their full potential. Board leaders can support staff well-being and mental health by:

  • Acknowledging the challenges educators are experiencing and affirming a commitment to supporting their well-being.
  • Collaborating with administrators to streamline or simplify access to resources that provide counseling, mindfulness training, peer mentorship and coaching programs.
  • Hiring more staff like paraprofessionals, counselors and social workers to address workload issues.
  • Evaluating programs and services to see if they are successfully providing staff with the help they need.
  • Reviewing policies and collective bargaining agreements that affect district staff, including planning and preparation time and paid personal and mental health days.
  • Reviewing the number of local initiatives to determine if there are places to streamline efforts and create a healthy workload.

Lastly, hiring empathetic, supportive superintendents to assess policies to ease staff workloads and offer flexibility, when possible, helps create a community of care, trust and success.

Find more resources and ways to create a community of support for school staff and administrators here.

Angela Asch is a CSBA education policy analyst.