Every school year, a small number of Canadian Indigenous and mainstream students take their own lives. Teachers and school boards often find themselves wondering what they can do better and different to help students and staff struggling with issues of mental health, but when Indigenous Peoples talk about well-being, we don’t talk about it in negative terms. An Elder once told me that “there are no words in our language to talk about bad mental health – there are only concepts to describe wellness and balance.” It’s about being prepared for what life throws your way and there’s no good or bad. This statement is a good way to describe our network’s upcoming Well-Being: A Key To Success Symposium – this notion that educators need to be prepared mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally for all of the stresses of teaching and life. That their mind, body, inner and outer spirit – how they think, act, feel and interact – are balanced.
Nobody is perfectly balanced at any given time and educators aren’t immune to that. In today’s world, classrooms don’t turn off at the 3:00 p.m. bell. Today’s educators feel the constant pressure to be there for their students all the time, but they have the right to reclaim personal time and space away from school in the evenings and on weekends.
Educators also need strategies in place that refer them to support from psychiatrists and health professionals in community-based structures when the needs of their students overwhelm them. School boards and ministries of education have roles to play in putting these support structures in place, for both students and educators. When we can successfully help children in crisis to navigate their way back to wellness for themselves, this provides a safe zone for educators to navigate their own journey to well-being and continue a long career. Otherwise, we’ll continue to burn out our most caring and dedicated educators.
First published in Education Canada, September 2017