Professional development day on wellness receives mixed grades from teachers

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Graphic by Lucy Dockter '23

On March 23, teachers had a half day of professional development devoted to improving overall wellness and developing a more connected Staples community.

*Names have been changed for anonymity.

Students got a half day last Wednesday, and it felt pretty good. We were able to use that time as we chose—to finish schoolwork, to do some exercise, to meditate. You could say it was time dedicated to our own personal….wellness. Teachers got a different dose of wellness, in the form of mandated professional development.

Teachers and building staff attended professional development with a focus on wellness and connectivity on March 23. The day was divided into three parts: first, a workshop on how teachers can improve their Connections classes, presented by the administration, then, an offering by Chartwells about creating healthy eating habits and finally, “Creating a Culture of Connection,” a workshop about enhancing staff wellness that was facilitated by former educators, Dr. Susan Guiney and Kristen Ancker. 

The day was designed to help educators who are struggling after years of living and teaching through COVID. 

“Teaching is stressful enough, but the last two and a half years obviously has certainly impacted our students and teachers,” Principal Stafford W. Thomas Jr. said. “And the key is for the teachers to be role models. We have to make sure that they’re in a good place because that trickles down to the students.”

Some teachers appreciated the focus. They said that learning and practicing wellness is beneficial for both faculty and students.

“I think it’s a valuable exercise to consider one’s mental state,” history teacher Jonathan Shepro said. “If you find yourself negatively impacted by your working conditions to the point where it is negatively impacting your personal life, reflecting on the causes and solutions can lead to greater overall happiness.”

I think it’s a valuable exercise to consider one’s mental state. If you find yourself negatively impacted by your working conditions to the point where it is negatively impacting your personal life, reflecting on the causes and solutions can lead to greater overall happiness.”

— Jonathan Shepro

History teacher Eric Mongirdas also supported the efforts of the administration to design a professional development day that they believed would best serve faculty.

“They’re the administration for a reason. This is what they do,” Mongirdas said. “Not to get all Hobbsian, but sometimes they have to tell us not what we want, but what we need.”

Other teachers appreciated the Chartwells’ food and were happy to learn how to make it themselves. Chartwells did not have a presentation, but rather a spread of food, listed with the health benefits of each.

However, teachers who requested anonymity were disappointed with the focus on wellness, and said they would like more targeted professional development, relating to their own interests. They believe that would better improve their classrooms.

“I would really like to learn more about stuff that is relevant to me or stuff that interests me,” Michael* said. “I want to learn something that can enrich my students’ experience in the classroom. But most of the stuff I get is these wellness activities, which I don’t really get much out of.”

Other teachers commented that they found the focus on wellness patronizing and irrelevant. It  did not address their authentic needs.

“I didn’t learn any new information in the wellness section and wished we could have had the time to spend doing whatever we personally needed to do to take care of our mental health and wellness,” Jessica* said. 

Jessica* added that there was not even a choice of activities, which is somewhat ironic for a day supposedly devoted to wellness.

“[The administration should] give teachers more opportunities throughout the school day and professional development days to engage in a choice of wellness related activities,” Jessica* said.

A common refrain was that one professional development day that is so conscribed and pedantic does not meet the needs of teachers. Some teachers suggested that the most valuable wellness activity would have been to be given time to work and connect with peers. Arlene* summed up what many alluded to, that the day was too little, too late.

“Teacher wellness needs to be addressed and considered always,” Arlene* said, “not just in a one off meeting when the school year is coming to an end.”