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Michael Smith, a therapist for Optimal Healing in North Adams, leads a workshop on practical strategies to educators that they can use to help both themselves and students on Tuesday.

County Educators Learn Strategies for Job-Related Stress

By Brian RhodesiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — More than 80 educators from across the county gathered at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to learn how to cope with job-related stress.

"It's about being aware of what you do every day and the impact that your work has, but also the impact the work has on you," said Michael Smith, who led the participants in the professional development workshop.

Smith, a therapist for Optimal Healing in North Adams, and Scott Balawander, the school adjustment councilor for Hoosac Valley Middle School, put the workshop together. It was one of more than 50 offered to the county's educators on Tuesday by Berkshire Educational Resources K12 (BERK12) for its Fall 2022 Professional Development Day.

"They are acknowledging the inherent stress in their work. And now they want to figure out a way to deal with it," Smith said. "So we've done a lot of base-work around trauma and the trauma they see in their classrooms. And then the stress that they see from three different angles: their organization, their professional expectations, and then their personal stuff, too."

Throughout the day, participants engaged in journaling and other self-care activities, such as creating a work-life balance plan, as part of the exercise. Smith encouraged the educators to continue with this kind of planning after the workshop.

"What I do hope is that you'll take the opportunity to apply that plan in some way, shape or form in your world," Smith told the teachers to start the workshop's afternoon session.

Smith said the workshop's goal is to offer practical strategies to educators that they can use to help both themselves and students. During afternoon session, he stressed the importance of creating a support network made up of colleagues, formal and informal mentors, and others.

"In my world, as a private therapist, as a private provider, I seek out peer supervision," he said. "I have cases that I don't know what to do with. I think I know, but I want to validate it and use the experience [of others]," he said. "I want you to think about building an internal support team around people, and connect with people that share the same values that you do and look at education in the same way that you do, as well."

Smith said most of those in attendance were front-line teachers who work directly with students.

"The teachers who we're working with are amazing. And they deal with situations that none of us can ever imagine," he said. "And all while they're expected to not only provide education, but social emotional support at the same time. So having a basic understanding of where trauma is and what it does to kids becomes really important for them."

The educators, according to Balawander, seem to agree that job-related stress is a significant factor in the field. He said more than 100 people signed up for the workshop, initially limited to 30 participants, and about 85 were in attendance.

"All of the attendees seem to be very engaged in some of the activities and conversations that Mike has been having. So it feels like they are, they're getting some good stuff out of it ... When we had first decided to do it, they had us capped at 30. And I am like, 'No, we are going to need more than that,'" he said. "And sure enough, when people see, I think this was the most popular one looking at roster."

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith explained, have been especially difficult for both teachers and students. He said having such a workshop is even more important, given this.

"We're seeing an impact of two years worth of COVID. So we're seeing kids developmentally being behind two years," he said. "So a kid in the third grade is really, sometimes, functioning at a first grade level and demonstrating behaviors that aren't third grade, but rather what we would see or expect in first grade. And that includes having been isolated, not being able to socialize, being exposed to trauma and all the things that prevent them from learning."

In addition to MCLA, BERK12 offered workshops at the Linde Center at Tanglewood, the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield, Arrowhead, the Berkshire Museum, the Mount Greylock Visitor Center and others.

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