Are you adding to the person or the plate?

Please bear with me as I try to process my thoughts through writing…This might seem like a bit of a ramble, but I am trying to work through some ideas.

I read something on a picture sharing site (I cannot find the image, but this is not my idea) that has stuck with me and has been bubbling in my brain. It said something similar to, “We spend all of this money and time developing and providing mental health initiatives in the workplace yet we don’t look at the things that we do in the workplace that may be contributing to the problems in the first place.”

That made me pause and reflect.

As someone who struggles with my mental health and has placed a strong emphasis on this in my life, this is something I am trying to learn more about to support others. I spend less time on social media, more time exercising, more time with friends and family, and have learned to say no to requests a lot more.  It has helped, but I have a long way to go on my journey. I believe in the importance of “hard work,” but there is a fine line between that and “overworked,” which can lead to a lot of issues.

So when we look at education, think about this reality. No matter what decade you went to school, the time frame of the school day was pretty close to what it is today, yet the demands of educators, as well as students, continues to go up.  I know there is a lot of conversation about homework and whether it is valid or not, and I know it is not this simple, but I am not a fan because I want kids to have a childhood.  As someone who grew up playing multiple sports, I wonder the impact of playing the same sport year-round and creating teams that almost act as mini-professional teams have on our youth.

I know that “work” is not the only factor in personal mental health, but I still think there are things we can do within the workplace that can perhaps help.  Here are a few things I think about:

  1. Initiative fatigue. Are we so focused on doing everything that it leads us to a) not doing anything well and b) total exhaustion? There is value in having our eye on depth, and I encourage groups that I work with that if you are going to add an “initiative”, we have to be explicit about taking 1-2 things off the plate platter of our schools. Think about it this way…are you adding to the person or the plate?
  2. Longer time for breaks, reflection, and connection. As I work with schools on professional learning days, I have done my best to challenge the idea that “structured learning” is the only valuable way to spend our time during the day. Longer breaks between some of the structured learning opportunities give people time to process, connect with others, or, go off on their own and have some downtime.  Not only does overscheduling lead to an overwhelming feeling, but it also models something that we should bring into our classrooms.  Maybe if we quit calling breaks “breaks” and called them “reflection and connection” time, we would see more value in that informal time.
  3. Giving grace. Not all people are at the same place you are, whether it is ahead or behind. I always think about how there are things that I do today that I swore I would never do that has become my norm.  But at some point, others were wondering why I wasn’t moving fast enough.  We need to recognize and be supportive of the fact that people are at different places in their journey and that as long as we are learning, we are on the right path. The speed of that journey matters less than the focus on moving forward.  This image was shared with me recently (I am not sure who this quote is from), and it stuck with me as a good reminder.

I am not sure if any of the ideas I have suggested will lead to the better mental health of others, but I don’t think we shouldn’t try as organizations and individuals.  We should be more focused on what we can do to identify and help alleviate the cause rather than looking for the cure.  Again, “work” is not the only factor in our mental health, but I still think we should try to find ways within organizations to support those we serve in their unique journeys.

This post by Ann Weiler gave me a lot to think about regarding the topic of mental health if you are looking for further reading.

Source: George Couros

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