The words “unprecedented times” cannot be over-stressed this school year. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed how schools look and feel for students, parents, and staff. Students and parents are facing the struggles that come with remote learning, parents being teachers and students needing to use more self-autonomy than ever before. Teachers find themselves needing to teach in ways they’ve never been trained for and must adjust to new technology that has not been previously necessary.
The list of teacher job responsibilities was already too long before the pandemic. The time required of teachers to effectively teach students now is more than they have in a day. With the pandemic exacerbating an already high number of nationwide teacher shortages, it is imperative that we all do what we can to prevent further loss of teachers by supporting each other.
What is Peer Support?
Peer support is the way that educators support each other on and off campus. It includes how teachers collaborate, network, socialize, vent to each other, and help each other in times of need. Peer support among teachers can occur within the school building or outside of school during personal time. It can also happen face to face or virtually through social media, videos, or messaging.
Why is Peer Support Important?
We know that when teachers build relationships with students, it drastically improves student learning. Likewise, when teachers build relationships with their peers, it drastically improves teaching. Peer support is also crucial to teacher job satisfaction. In one of the top-ranked most stressful jobs, relationships with peers can make or break an educator’s decision whether or not to stay in their position or even their career of education overall.
Educators fight an uphill battle against the systemic issues of public education together and it can help create unity, but it is important to be even more purposeful this year in creating and maintaining peer support systems that provide help in times of struggle.
Michelle Kinder, author of WHOLE: What Teachers Need to Help Students Thrive, cites “A shocking statistic in education reveals that 70% of K-12 teachers work under chronic stress.” This statistic was published before COVID-19 changed everything. Educators are now faced with the additional stress and anxiety of being concerned for their family’s safety and their own. Balancing between being a teacher in the best way they know how while maintaining safety protocols and little or no time face to face with their students puts everyone in need of higher levels of support than before. Teachers supporting each other is one of the best ways to start refiling some very dry buckets of support.
Ways to Provide Peer Support
As previously stated, peer support can be provided through many means and can look very different depending on current circumstances. Here are some ways to provide peer support.
Teacher planning and preparation typically takes much longer than the time allotted for teachers during their school day. Most teachers spend hours at home on nights and weekends preparing lessons and resources to meet the needs of their students. Teacher collaboration can help reduce this time greatly when the work is split up among the group.
As a seventh-grade math teacher, I collaborated with my peers who also taught seventh-grade math, and together we planned and then split up who would prepare the materials and assignments for each lesson. This helped up develop a support system within ourselves and reduced our personal stress of feeling overwhelmed. It also created an accountability for each of us to create the best learning experiences we could possibly think of for our students because we never wanted to let each other down by sharing a product that was less than the best for each other and our students. We focused our time on creating impactful and effective learning opportunities, possible only because we shared the work.
There is a special bond that is formed through the camaraderie that is shared from teaching. It is a unique profession where no two days are the same. Spending time with others who understand your successes and struggles is comforting and uplifting. Sharing a story from lunch duty with someone who is not a teacher is not as fulfilling as sharing it with someone who completely understands the environment and experience.
Teachers can relate to each other and they have more in common than not. Spending time supporting each other off campus is a very effective way to provide each other support. Teacher social support has traditionally happened at happy hours after work, holiday parties, or exercise clubs. Now, those groups are meeting virtually over Zoom for happy hour or game nights. They can also happen through social media and group messaging.
Professional Learning Communities
These groups are typically abbreviated and called PLCs. They encompass a process through which educators work together collaboratively on various topics and subjects, conduct collective inquiry and action research, and share and learn from one another. Through PLCs, teachers can find and share great resources, lesson plans, and conferences, find inspiration, learn the latest trends in education, make international connections, find emotional support, and get connected to the work of other great educators. PLCs provide an opportunity for teachers to network virtually and get connected with teachers that they don’t see every day.
Teaching is a humanistic profession. Evidence shows that the greatest impact on student success is the teacher in the classroom. With that knowledge, it is important that we recognize that teacher peer support is the humanistic way of coping with the stress that comes from this incredibly rewarding profession.