One of the main tenets of the helping professional oath is to “do no harm,” but what does a helping professional do when the profession is harmful to you? The great resignation has demonstrated that there has been a more apparent shift in the approach to the education field—especially in the staff members’ willingness to leave their places of employment, citing poor wages and benefits, treatment, schedules, and overall conditions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The United States educational system is a microcosm of the larger society, and the coloniality of curriculum, leadership structures, and overall working conditions in the public system reflects ongoing systems of oppression and white supremacy. Teachers, faculty, staff, and administrators across grades and systems have organized and become more transparent about the need to radically shift their professions in order to retain talented educators and support students.
To radically transform educational systems means that there must be a better understanding of 1.) the hxstory of the U.S. education system itself, 2.) how U.S. education has been and continues to be exclusive toward certain minoritized populations (as students, teachers, faculty, or staff), 3.) and how people with power in these systems can better support and advocate with students, teachers, faculty, and staff to disrupt systems of oppression.
How can this happen? How can we all better support teachers, staff, faculty, and, ultimately, students during the great education resignation crisis? Here are some simple ideas and actions to help prioritize people and process over product—and to become a better advocate for self and others over institution.
Teachers, Faculty, Staff: Ways to Advocate for Self and Community
- Find ways to reflect on your own identity, power/positionality, and privilege in your role. How does this impact how you relate to others and systems of oppression? Find ways to hold yourself accountable in your role.
- Find ways to be mindful of your time. How are you tracking work versus other priorities? What happens when that becomes off-balance? How will you hold yourself and the people you care about accountable? When it becomes unsustainable, what will you do?
- Reflect on your own boundaries and limits in your professional role. At what point do you know your role resonates? At what point do you know you need to transition to a different one?
- Sometimes it’s more important to prioritize process over product in the classroom. Demonstrating a regulated nervous system is one of the most important things you can do to support students and your peers in the midst of a traumatizing moment in hxstory. Recognize your power to make an impact by prioritizing your healing and wellness.
Wellness over career is not an easy decision to prioritize. However, our places of employment can also shift to more trauma-informed practices and structures so we don’t have to choose one over the other. Hopefully with the following tips, schools and institutions can help improve education for all.
Schools and Institutions: How to Improve Systems
- Become more familiar with universal design practices and implement them. These practices will improve working and learning environments so that they are more accessible for people with all abilities.
- Students and employees need to work and learn in spaces that feel safe. This means that their feedback needs to be taken into account and honored. Trauma-informed practices are key to improving our systems of education.
- Explore practicing identity-based resource groups and affinity spaces for employees to find support. These should occur during paid time for support services. This allows community building and retention efforts to occur.
- Find ways to shorten interview days/times (yes, even you, postsecondary education!) and provide online/video options for people unable to travel safely. Many interview processes are far too long to be effective and do not reflect the actual ways people work together in the professional setting.
- Engage in wage and equity assessments. Are salaries and wages equitable across talent and expertise level? Are there biases based on social identities? If so, there should be equity adjustments to ensure that employees are being adequately supported and retained.
- Employ the appropriate number of staff for classrooms and campuses so that the student-to-teacher ratio is at the appropriate developmental ages.
- Engage in full 360 reviews (where appropriate) and have accountability measures for supervisors where skills need to be fully improved.
hc lou (she/her/hers)