Self-Care for School Mental Health Professionals: SSWNetwork Chat Transcript from Before…
Hello everyone–I’m posting some additional LiveChats from our Loyola SMHAPP students and others who joined us on SSWNetwork before the pandemic changed a lot of how we live and how we do SSW. My co-host for this chat, Ms. Shannon Sterling of our Loyola SMHAPP Certificate, hosted the week of January 20, 2020 on our network and along with fellow SMHAPP colleague Samantha Prystawik, posted a bunch of excellent resources and ideas in their post “Getting Real About Educator Mental Health“) and this work has only become more necessary as we all head towards the end of 2020 with the pandemic still very much impacting all of us. We invite you to read this chat and let us know over at SSWNetwork what you think are the main issues for you and your schools now as we prepare to take a well-deserved rest and then start our school mental health work in 2021.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 25, 2020
Michael Kelly Ok, let’s get started. My name is Michael Kelly, and I’m Professor at Loyola Chicago SSW and this is our weekly SSWNetwork LiveChat, this time focused on Educators’ Mental Health. Welcome!
Michael Kelly. Today we’re going to discuss this super-important topic together and learn from each other about what this is looking like in your schools, and I’m happy to have this conversation co-led by 2 of our Loyola SMHAPP students, who are mighty school clinicians and educators. Shannon and Sam, can you introduce yourselves for the group?
Lisa Baker I’m here
Shannon Sterling Good Morning Lisa!
Samantha Prystawik. Hi everyone! I am Sam Prystawik and I’m a third-year teacher in Shorewood, WI. This topic is very important to me and I’m excited to be sharing and discussing with you all this morning!
Lisa Baker Lisa Baker, SMHAPP student, Alt Ed School social worker in SW suburbs of Chicago. Good morning!
Shannon Sterling. My name is Shannon Sterling and I’m a School Social Worker in an elementary school in a semi-urban part of Iowa. This January marks 5 years since I started working in schools and I love what I do!
Michael Kelly. Thanks Shannon, Sam, and Lisa for jumping in–I see that we have 3 others in our chat listed: Jacqueline, Amanda, and Lucinda. If you’re here, can you tell us a bit about your work and what brought you to this chat this morning?
Jacqueline Young Hi, my name is Jacqueline Young. I am school social worker in a suburb of Westchester County, NY. I have been a school social worker for 19 years. I have enjoyed the network posts and wanted to make time to join you for a bit this morning.
Michael Kelly. It’s great to have you here with us–we’re going to get into our topic a bit now, and I guess I’d be interested because we’re a small group to ask if Shannon and Sam might tell us about what you hope to discuss with the group today?
Michael Kelly Sam, Shannon, and Lisa are all members of the 4th cohort of our Loyola SMHAPP certificate, and I’ve tasked each of them with coming up with a topic related to their school mental health practice that they wanted to explore more in-depth here on SSWNetwork, and to then possibly infuse it into their coursework and also possibly turn it into an article to publish on our SSWN blog this semester.
Samantha Prystawik. We’re hoping to hear some thoughts on the articles we posted this week and if anyone on here has tried some of the strategies given or has more suggestions that weren’t mentioned. Shannon and I are also up to share some of our own stories in this area and talk through the steps we’ve taken to address our mental health needs
Michael Kelly. We’ve actually had a lot of activity and writing on our SSWN site on this topic of late, including this article by network member Nadia Gomez-Moran that has been viewed by thousands of readers on our site, and was just picked up and retweeted by NASW: https://schoolsocialwork.net/a-new-years-resolution-ssw-p…
Shannon Sterling. I would be interested in learning more about positive mental health practices in other participants’ schools/places of work, such as a whole staff yoga group or being able to openly taken “mental health days”, etc. As Sam said, we are also open to talking about our own journeys and would welcome others to share what they do to support their own mental health.
Michael Kelly. Something I admired immediately about you both Shannon and Sam was your willingness to talk about your own experiences and also to examine research and innovative practices on these areas–a really nice blend of personal practice wisdom and evidence-informed practice.
Lisa Baker. This is a big topic of conversation at my school. We have several social workers in the building and we all do it differently.
Jacqueline Young. The topic today interested me as there has been such a high level of stress in our schools in both staff and children. It seems that we as a district a focused on the children so much that we forget about the teachers and staff that may have their own mental health needs and stressors that they may be bringing into their classrooms. Strategies to help staff is always helpful.
Shannon Sterling09:16 amI think it’s CRITICAL to understand that you’re not alone. As a trained social worker/licensed mental health practitioner/etc., I know the data and the prevalence of these issues, but when it’s happening to you, it’s hard to remember that it’s not just you and that there are ways to heal
Michael Kelly. So let’s take our first question and see what the group has to share–I can start with one and then maybe Shannon and Sam you can follow up with yours based on this week’s posts?
Shannon Sterling. Jacqueline, that’s such an important component that very often gets overlooked. Of course we want kids to be successful and ready to learn, but if their teachers/staff aren’t able to provide their own best efforts, then it won’t work.
Michael Kelly. A 2-part question to start, both using scaling: scale of 1-10 what is the overall mental health of your school educators, 10 being strong, and what is your average # for yourself, especially at this time of year?
Michael Kelly. When I was in my SSW practice, educator mh overall was about a 5, mine hovered between 7-9, depending on the day.But my number was higher only because I REALLY made it a priority, and even then sometime it was a struggle.
Lisa Baker. Overall, I’d say about a 6 or 7. Some obviously struggle and some are very adept. I think I’m at about a 6 right now because things are a little more crazy, but usually I would give myself at 7
Lisa Baker. The administration in my building really make staff MH a priority.
Jacqueline Young. It varies depending on the day. However, in the last 2 weeks because of significant events at our school. Stress is pretty high.
Samantha Prystawik. I would say the staff is around a 5, it’s hard to give a number to everyone but it seems accurate based on conversations I’ve had. For me, I’m usually around a 4 or a 5. Which is part of the reason why I wanted to bring this topic to the site!
Shannon Sterling. I would say that my school staff seems to be around a 6 or 7, but I’m honestly probably at a 4 or 5 right now. As I’ve grown through my own mental health journey, it’s been easier to recognize when I’m not feeling great, which also means it’s been easier to engage in some real self-care when needed.
Michael Kelly. Based on what people are sharing, a follow-up question I have: when we’re in that 5-ish range, ourselves and maybe our school colleagues, what have you all learned to do, both as a school community and individually to take care of your mental health needs?
Shannon Sterling. Lisa, that’s great to hear that your admin cares about this topic. I’d love to hear more about that a little later!
Lisa Baker. I do some type of self-care activity every day even if it is just heading to bed a little early to listen to a book or not immediately jumping in to help out a non-emergency situation with a student
Michael Kelly and for the things you’ve done and your school does, what seems to “work” the best?
Samantha Prystawik. Agreed Shannon! I’m okay with being at a 4 or 5 because I’m at least acknowledging it and I’m aware of how I’m feeling.
Shannon Sterling. I’ve learned to say “no” a little bit more when I’m not feeling great, likely because I’m already doing about 150 things and I can’t take on any more or I know I’ll go further down the scale.
Shannon Sterling. When we’re in that medium place as a school, we don’t have any concrete steps or actions. It does seem to be that everyone commiserates together, which does not help make a positive environment.
Samantha Prystawik. I’ve had a really hard time detaching from school at the end of the day. My coworker told me that as soon as I get home I need to immediately change out of my school clothes and get into my comfy clothes. This has made it easier to literally leave school behind
Jacqueline Young. Our district is now truly engaged in SEL activities for the staff at the beginning of every staff meeting. I believe it is a beginning.
Lisa Baker. As for the overall school MH, we have student focus meetings for each program 2x per week, where we discuss situations and problem solve. We also debrief after a major crisis situation
Lisa Baker. @Sam, I do the same thing. It really helps!
Michael Kelly. Lisa, it would be great to hear more about how those major crisis debriefing are done–most gen ed environments I’ve worked in haven’t figured out 1) that this matters and 2) how to do it in a way that doesn’t just amplify negativity or gallows humor
Lisa Baker. @Jacqueline, What does your district do for staff SEL at the meetings?
Samantha Prystawik. At our last whole staff PD, one of our admin played the song “Lean on Me” and challenged us to lean on others. I think sometimes we feel like we have to do it all alone or be the best of the best on our own but we’re in a community of caring and compassionate people that we can “lean on” when we need support
Michael Kelly. Jacqueline–likewise, I think it’s really encouraging that your school is putting SEL at the start of teacher meetings, can you tell us more?
Shannon Sterling. I love the idea of changing clothes and leaving the school day behind.
Samantha Prystawik. Our Dean of Students recently started offering restorative circles once a week after school just for teacher to learn coping strategies and have a place to be encouraged
Michael Kelly. this is a recent graphic by Ali Hearn, SSW and master trainer at Midwest PBIS that was part of Charles Barr’s column on self-care, use of self, and supervision.
Jacqueline Young. There is an SEL committee and they prepare 15 minutes whole staff activity such as mindfulness, rate how you your day was using color swatches and then talk to your group..etc.
Shannon Sterling. Wow that’s a powerful visual. So true. Kids are incredibly perceptive to adults’ emotions and the aura/environment that they’re learning in. If we don’t take care of ourselves, there will be chaos.That’s AWESOME that there’s an SEL committee dedicated to staff care!
Lisa Baker. @ Prof Kelly We do engage in some gallows humor at times, but we always discuss 1. what went well 2. what challenges were there 3. what could have been done differently and 4. what changes need to be made going forward
Michael Kelly. Jacqueline, this is so exciting to read about your SEL committee–if you ever wanted to invite them to write something about their process and some of their lessons learned, we’d love to showcase that at SSWN and here.
Shannon Sterling09:31 amSam, do you know what the turnout of those restorative circles have been? I would imagine some staff need the space to do that, but don’t want to stay later.
Jacqueline Young. Sorry, I have to leave. I wish I didn’t! I will share more about the SEL activities soon!
Shannon Sterling. Lisa I like that idea of sort of a “compliment sandwich” as I learned it. You start and end with positives or optimistic pieces, but the middle can be full of critiques and challenges
Samantha Prystawik. Shannon, pretty small for now as we just started it. She did send us a survey asking what time would be best for everyone and that’s what we chose!
Michael Kelly09:32 amthanks for being here Jacqueline, please follow up with us!
Shannon SterlingOh cool, good that they got staff input!Thanks for coming Jacqueline!
Michael Kelly. Shannon and Sam, for a small cozy group, I think we have some good stuff shared already and it’s given me some good ideas to take to our Tuesday night class–are there are other questions/topics you want to make sure we cover today, given that we’re now mostly SMHAPP folks?
Samantha Prystawik. We also just partnered with Children’s Wisconsin. They are providing mental health services for our students but they also are doing trainings with staff and they sent out a survey this week to the whole staff asking what we need to take care of ourselves offering things such as mindfulness strategies, check-ins with the therapists and book studies. It was awesome to see our district showing dedication to staff wellness!
Shannon Sterling09:35 amI would want to hear from Lisa if there’s anything else her admin does to support MH. (You did share some good stuff already though!)
Samantha Prystawik09:36 amSame! Would love to hear more Lisa
Shannon Sterling09:36 amOooh that’s great Sam. That’s like one of the top pieces of social work is that you can’t just “Do” to others, the client (aka your staff) really needs to be bought in and want the changes, or else it’ll never work.
Lisa Baker09:37 amIts more just acknowledging that we all work hard and we need to take care of ourselves in order to continue “our good work” with those who need it most. They check in after a stressful situation and encourage us to take time to regroup
Lisa Baker09:38 amMy principal is very good at pep-talks and positive thinking
Michael Kelly09:38 amLots of practice wisdom here today, and glad to see at least some of it starting to manifest and be implemented at school and district-levels, namely that you can’t “change” anybody (kids or teachers) if you don’t engage them on what matters to them and what THEY think will be helpful.
Lisa Baker09:38 amWhen I’ve been having a bad day, they remind me to take a break
Michael Kelly09:38 amAnd even then they “do the changing,” not us as the helpers. 🙂
Michael Kelly09:40 amThanks Lisa–what’s already been so cool about getting to know you and your work context is how much your school really is trying to do right by students and staff.
Michael Kelly09:41 amLots of AltEd settings I’ve worked with struggle to do that well, and/or sustain it, and while I know nothing’s perfect at your school either, you’ve shared so many clear examples of how those efforts are being made to lift up students AND staff, very cool to see!
Lisa Baker09:41 amThanks!
Michael Kelly09:43 amI know I had said this previously in a chat conversation with Lisa, but after today, I’m even more convinced that this could be a topic that could be broadened across a lot of the cohort, to possibly write a series of articles on SSWN this semester, and maybe to design a session for our summer institute too.What do you all think of that?
Samantha Prystawik09:43 amThat sounds great to me!
Samantha Prystawik09:44 amI’d be happy to participate and engage more on this topic
Lisa Baker09:44 amI like that idea
Shannon Sterling09:44 amI think that would be great. I really appreciate all of the self care things I’ve been seeing already in 2020, and to focus it more on school staff mental health care would be specifically applicable to our friends on the SSWN
Michael Kelly09:44 amI’m envisioning something that takes self-care and critiques it a bit with looking instead at deeper issues (personal mental health, school working conditions, principal leadership, issues of race, equity and trauma) that are often missed when we just focus on telling people to take bubble baths ?
Shannon Sterling09:44 amP.S. speaking about summer institute, is there a date selected?
Shannon Sterling09:45 amYES haha that’s such a good point
Michael Kelly09:46 amI’m waiting on a few more people, but it looks like the July 15th-17th dates is the likely time we’ll be planning to do it.I’ll know for sure by class Tuesday night.and speaking of things SMHAPP, is that Janet Kester, SMHAPP cohort #2 grad on with us now?
Michael Kelly09:48 amoops, I think Janet was here for a sec, and then signed off, at any rate, here’s a nifty article she did on this very topic last year for SSWN in case you all haven’t read it yet–https://schoolsocialwork.net/mindfulness-and-me/So I think we have it for today–thanks so much for being on everybody, and we’ll plot more on this topic Tuesday night!
Samantha Prystawik09:48 amThanks everyone!
Lisa Baker09:49 amThanks!
Shannon Sterling09:49 amI’ll be sure to check out that link. Sounds good, see everyone for class on Tuesday!