It’s Time To Support The Mental Health & Well Being of Teachers
This interview was first published on Huffington Post.
According to NPR, teacher attrition is high, and university enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen 35% over the past five years — a decrease of nearly 240,000 teachers in all. According to the NEA, some sources estimate that 50% of teachers who currently work in classrooms across the country will retire or leave the profession over the next five to seven years.
The statistics for teacher turnover among new teachers are also shocking.
Teacher burnout, too much work, low pay, and high stress levels are all contributing factors to the attrition rate. One area we rarely discuss in the education ecosystem is how to support teachers’ mental, physical health and well-being.
However, one person wants to change these statistics. I had the chance to chat with Dr. Jared Scherz, the founder of TeacherCoach, and a former elementary school guidance counselor who became a clinical psychologist in New Jersey. His work focuses on supporting the well-being, mental and physical health of educators-an area that is rarely addressed.
In this interview, we discuss Dr. Scherz’s background, his history as a school counselor, and his plans to help change the education ecosystem by assisting educators in a holistic manner.
Dr. Scherz, please tell us about TeacherCoach.
TeacherCoach is the first hybrid training platform for educators and parents, generating revenue for the school district. TC is a virtual training medium, providing personal growth and professional development through online learning, coaching, and webinars. Through our innovative Learning Engagement System (LES), districts can build a custom library and even create and sell their custom training.
Branded dedicated district portals, monitored through a control management system, deliver our brief learning installments from national experts in multiple fields, supporting educator’s busy schedules. Financial support from local, regional, and state sponsors helps subsidize training for the district.
Dr. Scherz, please share your education background.
I began my career as an elementary school guidance counselor, working in some of the poorest inner city and rural areas in Chicago and PA. Kids in Chicago would come to school under the constant threat of gangs and gunfire. I worked out of a supply closet where sessions were regularly interrupted for paper requests. On the up-side, I became a relative expert in art projects.
From there I became a clinical psychologist, opening up a wellness center in New Jersey with my wife, who is also a psychologist. I continued my work with educators through writing books, consulting, speaking at conferences and seeing both teachers and administrators in therapy.
I became recognized as a specialist in school violence and organizational health (of schools), leading to invitations to speak at conferences. I worked on redefining school culture to represent its complexity with variables like adaptation, infrastructure, and climate.
I bring a unique paradigm to educator development, utilizing the Gestalt Paradoxical Theory of Change. Here is an example: If we are working on dealing with challenging students, we first need to understand the etiology of the child’s behavior before intervening. Why are they acting out? How are their needs not met? And what is going on within me, the authority figure, that’s influencing how I’m attempting to intervene?
I find this approach more sustainable than bombarding educators with lots of strategy and tactics that don’t encourage more self-reflective practitioners.
What was the motivation or defining moment when you chose to support teachers?
On March 1st, 2000, I remember taking a rare day off from work. I was the clinical director at a residential facility for teens. I was watching the news describe a shooting by a first grader of another first grader at Buell Elementary School in Flint Michigan. The newscasters were interviewing ‘experts’ who addressed what I considered to be a fraction of the complicated equation that potentiates school violence. As a family systems therapist, I decided at that moment I was going to research this issue to see if the data matched my beliefs-and it did.
I applied to doctoral programs where I hoped to combine my experience as a school counselor with the theory offered by a clinical psychology program. It’s where I did my dissertation on school culture and student violence, which ultimately became my first published book.
“Teachers are the most important professionals on the planet, but they seldom feel that way.”
Our level of engagement has plummeted, job satisfaction is a concern, and stress is at an all-time high. If we are going to expect educators to continue their work at a high level, we need to support them in ways we haven’t yet considered.
The challenges teachers face are complex, including political posturing, legislative mandates, funding problems, attention and concentration deficits from students who have been altered by technology, and parents who are less involved. The list is long.
I feel a strong sense of obligation to help educators deal with all these changes to improve their longevity and restore their enjoyment for teaching.
I divide ‘PG’ into family, relationships, and self, each with their own subcategories. Some of the most popular subcategories are fair fighting, intimacy, wellness and behavioral health. We have some unique series such as Preventing Burnout, Fast Food Genocide (a nutrition series by the country’s top health expert, Dr. Joel Fuhrman), and our Stress Series.
How about professional development? Also, how do you see these two areas overlapping?
We have seven categories under our PD heading, and these include Educational Law, Engagement, Leadership, Mandates, Orientation, Systems, Technology.
Educational Law by the country’s top expert, David Schimmel, provides essential learning for every teacher and administrator. Our mandates took these perennially mundane topics and made them both fun and exciting. Our technology series offers a broad range of training on everything from Google to Apps.
We believe that PG + PD = WT (personal growth plus professional development equals the whole teacher). We conducted research that found
“If a child comes to school stressed, their learning is impacted. If a teacher comes to school stressed, their teaching is impacted.”
There is no reason that schools shouldn’t have access to the same wellness and work training that corporate America has embraced for decades.
How does TeacherCoach differ from traditional professional development offerings?
We differ from traditional PD in several ways. Our goal was to help every level of the educational system, to create what I call “Engaged Educational Ecosystems.” If we don’t assist the system, with all its various levels, become better integrated, we may find a continual dis-integration of learning.
We have created the very first Learning Engagement System (LES), which is an evolution to the traditional LMS. Our focus addresses the staggering statistics from a recent Gallup study that found nearly 90% of teachers report feeling disengaged or not engaged at work.
We help the school district, by generating an independent revenue, which allows them to stay competitive in the midst of shrinking funding. This is a fascinating part of work because it’s never been done before, and likely represents the future of education.
We help the parental systems as well, by integrating them more fully into the work of the school.
Our training is made available to families in the academic community, making schools the hub of wellness in their area. Now, parents can have access to any of the personal growth/wellness learning the district allows, at NO COST to the family.
Poorly resourced communities with low-income families can now access the highest quality medical, psychological, financial and other services without the financial burden.
Traditional PD doesn’t integrate wellness and work, which is another unique aspect of TeacherCoach. Blending personal growth and professional development puts school districts on par with for-profit companies, who have been doing this for decades. Our training is based on the paradoxical theory of change, meaning that we help generate self-reflective practitioners through our sustainable training. With limited time and energy, educators need a quick but powerful medium to navigate the multiple challenges that interfere with quality teaching.
-Offers students the opportunity to grow emotionally as well. We offer schools an alternative to punitive measures, providing online learning in many areas relevant to the social and emotional development of young people. We are particularly proud of our work to help students navigate the complexities of social media and technology, which is our newest emerging series.
-Transforms the mandatory training that most teachers dread, into humorous, stimulating, and valuable learning experiences. We value the time of educators and want every learning experience to be meaningful. Through animation, motion graphics, interviews, and soon augmented/ simulated reality; we make the mandates and other areas a good use of their time.
-Is a true hybrid of online and experiential learning through our brief online learning videos, supplemented with webinars, coaching, and workshops. These varied offerings allow learners to grow their insight and awareness, reinforcing intellectual information with experiential.
You focus on mental health and well-being for educators-both personally and professionally. Can you tell us more about this most important gap you fill?
Our country’s adults and children are dealing with more challenges to psychological and physiological health than ever before. Addiction to Opium is now the top leading cause of death for people under 25, nearly half of children are reportedly addicted to their cell phones, and anxiety is growing at a rapid pace. If we don’t help the most important professionals on the planet with an already stressful job and shrinking resources, these societal changes will make teaching an even greater challenge.
Existing research, including our own, shows elevated depression, anxiety, addiction and other mental health issues for both educators and students. We tend to underestimate the impact of psychological influences, which can range from mild to severe regarding learning interference.
We want to be recognized as the primary support place for educators in their mental, physical health and wellness.
How can individual teachers and school districts sign up and get started?
Individual educators can sign up and begin taking online learning engagements in a matter of minutes. They go to TeacherCoach and start building their custom resource library.
School districts can sign up by going to TeacherCoach where they create their own custom portal. Based on the needs of the district, they can select from an existing library of around 200 engagements, which we bundle into sets.
Also, are you currently looking to add more sponsors?
We are in talks with local, regional, and national sponsors, who are eager to associate their brand on our platform, knowing it’s good PR for them and helping school districts. We have received continuous validation from many large organizations who affirmed our model, including ongoing talks with large companies such as Facebook, Allstate, and ENA.
Finally, what has been the most fulfilling moment for you on this journey?
When we first conducted our research during our proof of concept phase, I rented a booth at the New Jersey Teacher’s Convention. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I met two veteran educators who teared up with the idea of a new platform to support them inside and outside of school. That reaction turned out to be more of the norm than an anomaly.
It’s my privilege to support the most important professionals on the planet. I’ll continue to listen to them to figure out new and innovative ways to make their work more rewarding.