In Hello World issue 17, Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Cat Lamin talks about how building connections and sharing the burden can help make us better educators, even in times of great stress:
“I felt like I needed to play my part”
In March 2020, the world suddenly changed. For educators, we jumped from face-to-face teaching to a stark new landscape, with no idea of how the future would look. As generous teachers pushed out free resources, I felt like I needed to play my part. Suddenly, an idea struck me. In September 2017, I had decided to be brave and submit a talk to PyConUK to discuss my mental health. Afterwards, several people in the audience shared their own stories with me or let me know that it helped them just to hear that someone else struggled too. I realised that in times of pressure, we need a chance to talk and we had lost these outlets. In school, we would pop to the staffroom or a friend’s classroom for a quick vent, but that wasn’t an option anymore. People were feeling isolated, scared, stressed and didn’t have anyone to turn to.
I realised that in times of pressure, we need a chance to talk, and we had lost these outlets.Cat Lamin
Thus, the first Global Google Educator Group Staffroom: Mental Health Matters was launched on 14 March 2020, which coincided with the US government announcing school closures and UK teachers still waiting anxiously to hear when doors would close. The aim of Staffroom was to give teachers a safe space to talk about how they’re feeling under the overwhelming weight of school closures. To say it was a success would be an understatement, with teachers joining the calls from Australia, Malaysia, the USA, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Europe and more!
“Staffroom for me is a place and time to connect with other teachers from around the world. I remember seeing the calendar invites by mail and I kept thinking I should join but was afraid to do it. The first time I did it, I listened first and it made me realize that my struggles during pandemic online teaching were the same struggles as everywhere else.” – Pily Hernandez, Monterrey, Mexico
Which William are you today?
In those early days, we just gave teachers a chance to talk. The format of our meetings was simple: what’s your name, where are you from, and then an ice breaker question like ‘What colour do you feel like?’ or ‘What song represents your current mood?’ It wasn’t long before we hit upon a winning formula by making our own ‘Which image are you today?’ picture scale (see the ‘Which William’ image below!). Using the picture scales allowed people to really express how they felt. Often someone who had been happily chatting would explain that they were actually struggling to keep their head above water because a silly image allowed them to be honest.
One of the most important messages from Staffroom was that many people involved with technology in schools were feeling alone. After years of suggesting teachers use technology, suddenly they were blamed for schools not being properly prepared. They were struggling with not necessarily knowing what to suggest to teachers with technology difficulties, as they were grappling with their own personal lockdown situations. Hearing that other people, all around the world, were experiencing something similar was hugely eye-opening and took a great amount of weight off their shoulders.
“As someone who thrived from having in person connections and networking opportunities, lockdown hit me hard. Staffroom really helped to keep those connections going and has developed into such a lovely safe space to talk and connect with others.” – Abid Patel, London, UK
We varied the tone of the sessions depending on the needs of the attendees. In the first few months, we shared our lockdown situations and our different experiences across the world. We could share advice and tips, as well as best practice for delivering content and things that had gone terribly wrong since switching to remote teaching. Or we’d discuss food in different countries around the world (did you know that in Australia, fish and chips is made from shark?) or joke about whether Vegemite was actually an edible product (it’s ok, I tried it live on camera during one Staffroom). Other days, we would discuss how difficult we were finding teaching, isolation or life in general during a pandemic.
An honest environment
One of the things that people continuously mentioned was that Staffroom was a safe place where they felt they could share, be listened to, and be understood. We made it clear that no one had to speak unless they wanted to. I made a point of always being completely honest about my own mental health. As a person who had suffered from depression and anxiety in the past, it was no surprise to me when I was diagnosed with both near the end of 2020, and I was fortunate enough to get virtual therapy. I shared my story with the group, which allowed attendees to feel more comfortable being open and talking about their own struggles, in some cases leading to their own diagnosis and getting much-needed support.
“Staffroom has been the best ‘out of my comfort zone’ leap that I have ever taken. I have met educators from all over the world and learned that there are more things that unite us than divide us in this world of education.” – Frederick Ballew, Minnesota, USA
People would join Staffroom to share new jobs, engagements, even cross-country moves, but equally they would join after losing a loved one or hearing of a pupil sick in hospital. Staffroom became a safe haven for teachers, coaches, IT directors, and pretty much anyone involved in technology within education. It is a place where we could bond over shared experience, share a joke, ask questions, get ideas, and even plan our futures.
Do not underestimate the power of connections, and of sharing your story.Cat Lamin
Alongside Staffroom, I also built a website to allow teachers to share their mental health stories and to feel a little less alone (mentalhealthineducation.com). I continue to host regular Staffrooms, although less frequently. 18 months ago, we needed a chance to talk three times a week, but now we meet two or three times a month instead. You can find current Staffroom dates at www.globalgeg.org/events. If you take one thing away from this article, however, it is this: do not underestimate the power of connections, and of sharing your story.
Cat Lamin is a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, CAS Master Teacher, and Google Certified Innovator who works as a freelance trainer and coach, supporting schools with digital strategy and enabling educators to use technology more effectively. For running this regular mental health staffroom, she was awarded a Mental Health Champion Award from Edufuturist.
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