Resilience training offered to help teachers manage pandemic stress

Reporter | November 18, 2020 1:00 AM

Although the concept of social emotional learning geared toward students is becoming a common practice in Whitefish Schools, the district is now experimenting with similar approaches for teachers and staff.

The Whitefish School District is partnering with the Nate Chute Foundation to introduce a brand new training program titled the Resilience Learning Community. According to the district, the professional development course was designed to give teachers and other school staff the skills to help strengthen their resilience during crisis situations and in particular with the new challenges that have arisen related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

District Curriculum Director Ryder Delaloye said the concept was developed over the summer when he sat down with Whitefish High School Principal Kerry Drown to discuss potential ways of supporting teachers in the upcoming school year.

“The profound impact of that conversation on me was when we stumbled upon this idea of resilience, this idea of strengthening one’s resolve and having the capacity to navigate with composure, and well-being, the stress that we face,” he said. “We both knew that we could wrap our head around that which allowed us to begin taking steps toward programming potential for our teachers.”

Using one of the district’s social-emotional learning platforms for students, known as Second Step, as a starting point, Delaloye approached the Nate Chute Foundation’s program and outreach coordinator, Kate Berry, to begin a partnership that could soon benefit several school staff members across the district.

The Nate Chute Foundation was eager to get involved because they have seen the way teachers had to reinvent the way they do their jobs while juggling the needs of many others, Berry notes.

“We have so much love and respect for the teachers who show up day in and day out to educate and care for our children,” she said. “And it was important to us to offer these unsung heroes the extra support they need.”

While the Nate Chute Foundation offers impeccable social-emotional learning experience, the foundation also is providing a stipend for all who take part in the training because of the time commitment it requires.

Delaloye said the district wanted to make sure teachers were compensated, and approached the foundation to provide $150 compensation to each participant.

Berry described the learning course as having many interconnecting parts. It includes modules that participants complete on their own time via the Second Step online platform. After that participants attend group sessions via Google Meet where the co-facilitators, Berry and Delaloye, reinforce the lessons from that week with experience-based data and ideas for practical application. The final step is to allow the teachers to connect virtually in small group discussions.

“I think those breakout sessions are one of the most impactful parts of the program,” Berry said.

There are three different units in the training, as well, self care, caring for each other, and caring for students. The first two sessions have already taken place, with the last one expected to occur on Nov. 23.

The course also gives teachers the opportunity to connect with each other on a better level and form groups of support within each school. In addition it is putting teachers in a social-emotional learning environment, which will help them to better understand how to convey the importance of these concepts to their students.

“One of the best ways to cultivate that culture and embody practice of social-emotional learning in the classroom is for the teachers to become more familiar, more fluent with these learning competencies and domains themselves, as learners,” Delaloye said.

Many of the 30 total educators participating in this initial launch of the training have provided positive feedback, and acknowledged the benefit it is manifesting in their lives. Delaloye said teachers who didn’t sign up for the original offer are asking if there will be another one in the future.

“For those who elected to participate in the course, I think it’s been an opportunity for them to really prioritize their well-being amid the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic,” Berry said. “Teachers spend so much of their time taking care of other people, and we are reminding them that they have to put on their own oxygen masks first.”

“Ultimately, I believe that things like this can have a powerful impact on school culture and student’s ability to thrive,” she added.

Delaloye also hopes that, although this training was formed because of the crisis the pandemic is causing in schools, this can become a regular training that could be offered each year to new teachers and facilitated by school counselors in the future.