Healing: A Role for Educators

By Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director

As educators return from their summer breaks and begin to establish routines this fall, we are tasked with many things. To help address the trauma so many are experiencing, we may want to add healing to our to do lists. Each of us has a potential role to play as a “healer” who supports self-healing and the healing of others, even in the midst of this pandemic and time of global strife and angst.

What healing is needed? In Mindful School Practices, with co-authors Michele Rivers Murphy and Yvette Jackson, I provided a rationale for what we felt during a pre-COVID-19 period: that children and adults needed healing to alleviate trauma. In our book, we described why we were concerned about healing, that “with healing we take actions to further well-being” (Mason, et al. 2018, p.22). With healing, we are not content to only nurture or foster, with the hope that we will get results. With healing, we focus on both our actions and results—sustainable results. In essence, educators serve as catalysts to bring about systemic, societal change. So, we are catalysts not only for immediate healing, but for longer-term results.

Healing to Address Loss and Disappointment

In this time of physical distancing with the daily pandemic updates of death and illness, many educators are wrestling moment-by-moment with how to help alleviate stress for children. We want things to immediately be better. However, we are also feeling a need for systemic, societal—more universal—changes to bring about a better future. We are experiencing vicarious or secondary trauma on a daily basis (Essary, et al., 2020). Healing for the immediate and for the long-term is needed for both students and teachers.

Educators right now are feeling a tremendous sense of loss—not only because of everything that has happened since March 2020, but because we are also yearning for the past, for the things we most enjoyed about teaching in brick-and-mortar buildings. We are remembering the excitement that surrounds a new school year, the protocols we have used to get to know a new group of students and their families. Even as we grieve over the loss of lives, we grieve over what may never be the same again, for the lesson we may never teach again in quite the same way. These are areas where we may need healing and where we might be able to help others heal.

It would be one thing to experience our sense of loss and disappointment in our own personal space and try to heal at a private, comfortable pace. With such privacy, there is no public pronouncement, and we can allow ourselves to go through some trial and error experiences, according to our own comfort. However, so much is happening under a microscope as educators are under the watchful eye of many who would welcome school to be this year as it was last year. We are being watched by parents who realize the enormous challenges we are facing and continue to want the best education for their children. We are being watched by families and employers who need childcare so that adults can return to work and businesses can start to return to prior levels of productivity. We are being watched by many for a sign that whatever we have put in place is working and that children are learning.

So, the question becomes not only how do we help bring about healing, but how do we do it while under a spotlight, where small steps towards healing may go unnoticed as the errors that are bound to occur may be magnified? 

One image I have is of feeling surrounded by an invisible barrier that makes it difficult to move. Some of you may remember Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (2013) description of “flow” or being in a space of graceful serendipity as we are dancing through life. Right now, there are barriers interrupting flow, making it more difficult to make gains.

Healing Begins with Each of Us

Given the spotlight, how can educators help bring about or go about healing? Healing must start within ourselves and with a conscious awareness of not only the present moment, but also,

  • an acceptance of what has been and what is,
  • an awareness of the constraints that have accompanied COVID-19 and how they are impacting us,
  • an understanding of how we are coping and a movement toward functional coping, and
  • an appreciation of what is going well.

Let’s begin by acknowledging the pain, the suffering that is real. The healing that is needed is both a local and global healing that first acknowledges the reality of our suffering and the chaos and uncertainty that keep disrupting our lives. We can also help ourselves and others by acknowledging how we have coped and how we can build functional coping. Functional coping is positive—not coping through escape, addictions, or by taking out our frustration on others, but rather coping through positive self-care and useful steps that serve ourselves and others (Salkowski & Romi, 2015). Here is a website with many examples of positive coping skills and how to make decisions about when to use and where.

Healing will also happen as we acknowledge and “breathe in the good” (Hanson, 2016). Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson talks about how we can HEAL by taking time to absorb the good, taking time to reflect on even the smallest successes. As we heal in the moment, we add small memories of our healing to our stories. As we help others heal in small ways, we help provide a firmer foundation for developing confidence and courage to handle whatever comes our way – a foundation for resiliency.

Healing isn’t necessarily about a miracle cure – it isn’t necessarily about the end result. Rather, it is a journey, one where we can measure our progress, and actually see the benefits of the path we have chosen and the steps we are taking. And on this path, we may even be able to breathe a small sigh of relief and feel the joy of even the smallest gains.

References

 Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Flow: The psychology of happiness. Random House.

Essary, J. N., Barza, L., & Thurston, R. J. (2020). Secondary traumatic stress among educators. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 56(3), 116-121.

 Hanson, R. (2016). Hardwiring happiness: The new brain science of contentment, calm, and confidence. Harmony.

 Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M. & Jackson, Y. (2018). Mindfulness practices: Cultivating heart centered communities where students focus and flourish. Solution Tree.

 Salkovsky, M., & Romi, S. (2015). Teachers’ coping styles and factors inhibiting teachers’ preferred classroom management practice. Teaching and Teacher Education, 48, 56-65.

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