Teachers everywhere are facing high stress, leading to increasing staff turnover with 23 to 42 percent of teachers leaving the job in the first five years.
A 2017 brief created by Pennsylvania State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlighted the issues of burnout in U.S. teachers. A major contributor is stress, 46 percent of teachers reported high daily stress, tied with nurses for the highest occupational group stress rates.
One of the solutions proposed in the brief is workplace wellness and stress management programs, which is just what Sartori Elementary School teachers are doing.
The school recently won a $500 mini-grant from Kaiser Permanente, applying against others in the Renton School District to put the funds towards a project for educators’ well-being.
Sartori staff used the funds to create a “Serenity Room” a small former office on the second floor that is now a space for educators to take a break when needed. The room features two chairs, floor pillows, and a privacy screen. The window is also covered up so the person can have a real break from the outside world. Some of the furniture was donated by staff.
Healthier Generation, Healthy Schools Program Manager Tara Witten said she works with all the district schools to guide them through making plans for healthier classrooms. Sartori’s school lead, school counselor Rekeda Rountree, is really active in the program and was really engaged during the grant application process, according to Witten.
Rountree used a staff meeting to do a Healthier Generation wellness survey to help identify what staff needed to support their wellbeing. Stress-management was the top result.
Staff decided they needed a “retreat” plan, and to show each other the school recognizes how sometimes educators need to step outside of the classroom and recharge, so they can return ready to teach.
The Serenity Room is located on the second floor, near the first and second grade classrooms. Principal Angela Sheffey-Bogan said this is a central location in the school. The office was formerly for the speech pathologist, who now has their own classroom.
Bogan said staff can use the room anytime, and their class can either be supervised by the partner teacher, Bogan, the assistant principal or the school’s behavior interventionist.
When the room began late last school year, two teachers who were nursing babies were able to use the room to pump in privacy. Other educators often come in around lunch time, Bogan said, but they are trying to increase the use of the space.
The school is working to reduce the stigma around breaks, and Bogan makes self-care an expectation.
“If the teachers aren’t their best selves, it impacts students,” she said. “We want to address their health before it boils over to the rest of the school.”
Use of the Serenity Room is tracked by a simple popsicle stick system. Staff move a stick from one can to another for each trip they take to the room in a day. In May, for example, staff say the room was used 55 times.
This counting system shows an ongoing engagement with the project, something Kaiser Permanente really liked in the proposal. They also liked that the idea came from a staff survey, Kaiser Permanente Senior Workforce Health Consultant Allison Emery said the grant was looking for small ways to contribute to a larger comprehensive strategy to meet educators’ needs.
This is the latest in wellness initiatives for staff at Sartori, the staff have a wellness committee, workout days and Bogan encourages teachers to prioritize their health.
The mini-grant program is part of Kaiser Permanente’s focus on educator well-being and encouraging teacher self-care, spokesperson Julie Popper said.
Kaiser Permanente’s “Thriving Schools” program has more information on how schools can make over their break rooms to help lower educator stress levels, available at thrivingschools.kaiserpermanente.org.