Christian School TeachersIn the Christian world, we talk a great deal about personal responsibility. And it is true that people are both responsible and accountable for the decisions they make in every area of life. As an employee wellness advocate, I am a firm believer in the importance of employees being responsible to take steps toward their own health and well-being in the workplace. But I have also witnessed the profound impact that the work culture and environment have on an employee’s ability to make positive health choices that will enable them to thrive in the workplace and at home.

When it comes to supporting teacher well-being in Christian schools, I believe it is important for every school leader to ask themselves this question: Is the culture and environment of our school an asset or a detriment to the well-being of the teachers who serve our Christ-centered mission?

In talking with Christian teachers, I learned that what hinders their well-being the most is not the act of teaching itself. Rather, the greatest barrier to teacher health and well-being comes from the management of the expectations of parents, administrators, and community. For teachers, some of the expectations that present the greatest challenge to teacher well-being are in the roles of the responder and the role model. Let’s take a look at each of these roles and how school leaders can support teacher well-being within each context.

Responders Need Routines

Christian teachers are leaders of the learning experiences in their classroom, but they also function as responders. Much like a nurse on a hospital floor, they are tasked with responding to the needs of their individual students. In order to fulfill the responder aspect of teaching, they often feel expected to do “little extras” on their personal time and they feel the pressure to be in “on and respond” mode most of the time.

Good health habits are rooted in good routines. Those in the responder mode especially need to have consistent health routines due to decision fatigue (a term created by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister that refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after continuously making decisions). When in the responder mode, teachers make multiple decisions based on multiple needs of multiple students on a daily basis. The volume of decisions alone can be mentally exhausting. Routines help to minimize this mental exhaustion because decisions become part of an already-decided-upon and established routine where minimal mental activity is necessary for execution.

For most people, making good health decisions would not be hard if those decisions did not have to be made on such a daily, hourly, and even moment-by-moment basis. Because the sheer volume of decisions made each day in response to student needs is mentally exhausting, little energy is left for making and executing the decisions around health and well-being. The more daily health habits that can be incorporated into an uninterrupted morning or evening routine, the better chance teachers will have of living well within the responder role.

As a school leader, what measures have you taken to protect the before- and after-work routines of your teachers who operate in the responder mode most of the day? The chart below will help you think through the answers to this question.

 

Teacher Well-Being Issue Questions for School Leaders
Work commitments before or after school hours disrupt teacher health routines.
  • What are your criteria for determining if an issue is important enough to disrupt the before- and after-work routines of your teachers?
  • Do you have other options for addressing pressing issues?
Parent/student communications outside of school hours disrupt teacher health routines.
  • In what ways have you supported limits of teacher access after hours?
  • How have you clearly communicated to parents the difference in expectation of accessibility and responsiveness of church staff versus school staff outside of business hours?
  • Have you clearly defined what an “emergency” is and is not, and how repeated inappropriate “emergency” communications will be handled by the school leadership?

Role Models Need Resources

Christian teachers are leaders of the learning experience in their classrooms, but they also serve as role models of Christian living to the students in their school. In order to fulfill the role model aspect of teaching, they often feel expected to “walk the talk” and be consistently good ambassadors for Christ to their students. They often forget that attending to their body and mind, as well as spirit, is a part of that. Churches and Christian schools often focus on providing resources for spiritual well-being, while resources for physical and mental well-being are overlooked.  Helping teachers be a role model for Christian living requires resources that go beyond just the spiritual.

As a school leader, what are you providing to help teachers be a positive role model for students in body, mind and spirit? The chart below will help you think through the answers to this question.

 

Teacher Well-Being Issue Questions for School Leaders
Teachers who have no coverage to attend to basic biological functions during the workday will be less able to serve their students well and send a powerful message to their students about the role of the body and health in the Christian life.
  • Do the teachers in your school attend to their basic biological functions (eating lunch, using the restroom) on the fly or is there a provision to perform these activities regularly with a minimum of interruptions?
  • How might you utilize school staff and parent volunteers to add support to this teacher well-being issue?
Teachers who do not perceive a level of safety when dealing with problematic mental, emotional, or relational issues will be less likely to seek help and will send a powerful message to their students about the management of thoughts, feelings, and relationships in the Christian life.
  • Do your teachers have access to a resource for biblical counseling outside of the school (or outside of the church affiliated with the school, if applicable) that is associated with their employment?
  • If biblical counseling in a church-sponsored school is offered to teachers through that church, what provisions are in place to protect their privacy as employees beyond the privacy provisions for the general congregation? 

Scripture reminds us, “And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don’t forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven” (Colossians 4:1, The Message). As servants of Christ, we can be happy that our Master goes far beyond being considerate and fair, as He equips and enables us in our service. Instead, He blesses us abundantly! When it comes to teacher well-being, what can you do to bless and serve those who serve the mission of your Christian school?

 

About the Author

Ginger Hill is a founder of Good Health for Good Works, where she combines her professional wellness expertise with biblical principles to help the earnest, but often exhausted, workers in Christian organizations to take steps toward healthier living so they can fulfill their organization’s mission with energy, effectiveness, and excellence. She is a committed Christian and an employee wellness advocate with over 18 years of experience serving employees on every level in a wide variety of workplace settings, including schools. She serves employees as a wellness speaker, coach, program manager, and consultant. She has an MS in health promotion and has earned and maintains her designations as a Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) and a Certified Wellness Coach. She can be reached via email at ghill@goodhealthforgoodworks.org.

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Questions to Consider:

As a school leader, what measures have you taken to protect the before- and after-work routines of your teachers who operate in the responder mode most of the day?

 

As a school leader, what are you providing to help teachers be a positive role model for students in body, mind, and spirit?

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2 Comments

Scott Hayden

Well said. It reminds me of Moses rephrasing of the Sabbath commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12-15. Most of the text emphasizes that the head of the household must provide rest for all those under his authority, even for his animals! That’s a model for us, too.

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