August 5th, 2020

Catholic board puts focus on teacher well-being

By JEREMY APPEL on January 15, 2020.

Trustees Kathy Glasgo and Peter Grad at Tuesday's Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education meeting.

Administration proposed a new approach for dealing with teachers’ emotional well-being at Tuesday’s Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education meeting.

Associate superintendent for human resources Chuck Hellman told the board that there’s been “some stress in terms of health and wellness,” which he said was consistent across MHCBE schools.

“We took a look at all the absences for medical reasons over the last three years and we graphed it out,” Hellman explained.

“Our sick medical days are on upward trend and that’s something we need to worry about.”

He said there are “modifiable lifestyle behaviours that are influenced by environment” that the board should encourage among staff, such as physical activity, limiting use of tobacco, alcohol and cannabis, healthy and balanced eating, as well as stress reduction.

“I don’t think that’s a surprise to any of us,” said Hellman.

The MHCBE has available an Employee and Family Assistance Program through Homewood Health, but only 6.31 per cent of staff have used it, which Hellman says is about half of what he’s seen from other educational institution.

“That leads us to believe that perhaps there’s more that we can do to get out this information, because it’s a really good program on mental health,” he said.

Hellman says the board is “making a concerted effort” to get the word out, with posters and pamphlets available at each MHCBE school.

He said administration is going to take a “two-pronged approach” to getting the word out.

First, they’re looking at creating a health and wellness committee, with representation from administrators, Alberta Teachers Association staff members and support staff.

Second, Hellman suggested creating a leave and absence management policy, taking inspiration from Grande Prairie’s separate school board.

“When a staff member gets to a certain number of days that they’ve missed, a caring person – HR or principal – will go and have a chat with them,” asking if there’s anything they can do to help, said Hellman.

Trustees highlighted the stigma surrounding mental health.

“That’s something that really needs to be worked on,” said trustee Kathy Glasgo. “It’s OK to ask for help.”

Trustee Peter Grad used a sports analogy.

“In the teaching profession, there’s an abundance of people who really don’t think they don’t really need to reach out for help and those who equate it to learning how to ski.

“You can get the ski professional to help you or you can get yourself to the top of the hill, point it downhill and just let her go. In which case will you be injured most?”

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