Over the past year, there has been a lot of talk about wellness, co-regulation, and stress management. COVID 19 has brought some intense challenges that have brought many to a point of “just hanging on”. A recent survey by The Alberta Teachers’ Association recently found that 94% of educators are experiencing fatigue, 95% report stress, and 81% report feeling anxious (2020).
There are no easy answers to supporting these problems. We would like to open a discussion about a framework for developing thriving communities. This framework is based on the premise that caring for and understanding ourselves is critical but our capacity to support is enhanced when we consider what we can do together and even better what we can do as a community.
How do we look after ourselves and each other to get to a place of feeling balanced, and then moving further, how can we move beyond to get to a thriving state where we are able to create and innovate as an individual and as a community? These are the questions that we’ve been asking as we’ve wrestled with the idea of supporting our friends, colleagues and co-workers in education through this pandemic.
So our first step is to better understand ourselves and what leads us to a state of balance or imbalance. As elementary teachers, we often relate complex ideas in terms of a familiar image or story and for this we’d like you to consider your elementary years on the playground with the swinging bridge.
When we run across a playground bridge, the rungs underneath us move and sometimes it is hard to maintain our balance. This bridge represents aspects of our well-being. Although there are many dimensions of wellness, four that remain consistent across many models are:
- emotional well-being
- intellectual well-being
- spiritual well-being
- physical well-being.
Each of the rungs of the swinging bridge represents a different aspect of well-being and there are multiple rungs that represent the dimensions.
When we are in balance with ourselves and the world, our bridge is stable and is relatively easy to cross without much sway or swing. However, at times, our personal bridge may be fragile for many reasons. For example, when we are ill, our physical rungs may be unstable, or when we are grieving, our emotional rung may be unstable. When we are implementing a new initiative, our intellectual rung may not be as solid as we would like. We may have times in our life when multiple rungs are precarious at one time or some rungs may even be missing.
When our bridge sways and the rungs supporting us are tenable, we might stop moving forward altogether and stand on the rung that feels most stable for that moment in time. For example, if our emotional rung is unstable when our bridge is swinging, we might stand on our intellectual rung to feel more secure until our emotions stabilize to a point that we are able to continue our journey across the bridge. The sway of our bridges can happen because of personal choice, the choice of others, or circumstances out of our control.
On our personal bridge, we respond to movement that throws off our balance by standing on a stronger rung to try to regain stability. Within our community, we can tighten our nest of support around those who are struggling to support them in regaining their balance. We can think of our community network as the ropes on the bridge that keep us from falling over the edge.
Often one or two members of a community reach out to someone who is struggling. In this way, we can begin to hold on to the ropes on the side of the bridge and begin to regain our balance and build community. When we look after each other, we truly understand that together is the only way to create community.
When we expand our awareness to those around us and look after ourselves and our colleagues, our connections grow stronger and we develop a nest of support. Focusing on this can move our communities from striving to thriving. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have” (as cited in Textor, R., 2005). We believe that strengthening another’s bridge does change the world! We look forward to the coming weeks, as we continue to engage in conversation about this framework.
Mead, M. as cited in Textor, R. (2005). Margaret Mead: An anthropologist anticipates the future. Berghahn.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association (2020). Seven key findings: COVID-19 prevention, infection and control in K–12 schools reporting from 1,600+ Alberta teachers and school leaders.