May is Mental Health Awareness month. I know a handful of my students were struggling spring semester and still are even though school is out for the summer. In fact, just today I visited with one who is having a hard time dealing with life. She talked, she cried, I listened. She said she is getting professional help and is getting better (so thankful for that).
Dr. V. and I had the privilege of watching and listening to Gerry Brooks, well-known Kentucky elementary principal, give an hour online ASCD Mental Health Summit presentation on how he has uses object lessons to encourage his staff and build up their mental wellness.
When googling the definition of object lessons, you are given several choices. The Oxford Language website defines it as a “striking practical example of some principle or ideal.” Dictionary.com explains it as “a practical or concrete illustration of a principle.” My favorite definition is the one found on Wikipedia (I know, I know…not the most trustworthy, but hey, it’s my favorite!)… “An object lesson is a teaching method that consists of using a physical object of visual aid as a discussion piece for a lesson. Object lesson teaching assumes that material things have the potential to convey information.” (Carter, 2010).
Below are a few of the mental health object lesson ideas I found extremely beneficial:
Light Switch: Principal Brooks gave his staff a light switch. This object is a reminder to his school family to switch off their professional lives and turn on their personal lives when they leave the school building and go home. His professional switch goes off Friday and switches back on Sunday afternoon. His advice to his teachers is you are no good to anyone if you are stressed out so it is okay to turn off your professional switch! Many of his teachers liked this idea so much they went out and bought all their students a light switch. Teachers will ask their students to pull out their light switches and turn off their math brains and turn on their science brains…a simple but yet powerful tool for all to destress!
M & M’s: Gerry likes to gift his staff with tasty treats. He especially appreciates M & M’s because of all the different flavors (for his diverse staff). If we were to give our colleagues these same treats would we know which kind to give to others? If we know one of our colleagues has a peanut allergy, we certainly would not give them a bag of Peanut M & M’s. We are told to know our colleagues on a personal basis. They can be a support system. Gerry encourages us to send a friendly text to five people a day and just imagine the joy you would have if YOU received such a text:
1 whoever you need to track down his/her number
Reading Glasses: Principal Brooks gives all his teachers a pair of reading glasses whether they need them or not. He wants us to try our best to look through other people’s lenses so we can be the best we can be in our profession. By doing so teaches us empathy, sympathy, and understanding. Imagine you are teaching your math lesson. It is a very important concept your students MUST know for the test. You are interrupted by the school counselor asking to have one of your students come with her/him. You may be thinking…absolutely not! This child cannot miss this important lesson. What you don’t realize is this counselor has two sets of very angry parents in the office and the only child who can help resolve this issue is the one she needs to take with her. We must try our best to see situations through the lenses of others.
Peanut Butter and Jelly: This object lesson was eyebrow raising for me. I’ve known about it all 34 years of my teaching career, however, this was the first time to ever hear someone point it out and say it out loud. P in peanut butter helps Gerry remember professional, and the J in jelly reminds him of jealousy. OUCH. Truth right there. Honest to goodness truth. Professional jealousy is real!! He admitted he experiences this when he compares his school’s test scores to others. Or a teacher is asked to present at the staff meeting about something wonderful he/she is doing in the classroom and the colleagues become jealous. A little jealousy rears its ugly head when we start to compare ourselves to others. We may begin to have a little conversation in our head that goes something like this… “what did they do to earn that score? Why did that teacher to get to talk at the staff meeting? I’ve done amazing things too.” I know I’ve made these same types of comparisons, and I’m confident you have too! We must stop this!! We cannot grow if we start to allow professional jealousy.
Valentine Heart Candy: Jerry picked out Valentine’s Day heart candy because they are seasonal. He also shared he has a freezer full of Girl Scout Cookies because once the season for those cookies is done, he cannot get them until the next year. BUT…the good news is, those cookies and those Valentine’s Day candy hearts will be back. The season without them will come to an end. We all have been in a crazy season. Our pandemic the past 14 months has taken a toll on many. It is seasonal and let’s remember the good news is “this too shall pass!” It WILL end.
Thank you, Gerry Brooks, for sharing your education wisdom with us. Your presentation is one I will always remember.
The last object lesson I’d like to share is a pillow. The craziest school year in history is coming to an end (thank goodness). To all of you, my fellow educator rock star colleagues…may you be blessed with sweet rest this summer. Lay your head on your soft pillow and smile when you close your eyes. You did extraordinary things for your students this year and for that we applaud you.
Even though this blog is written from an educator’s perspective, it truly applies to all!!! Turn off your professional switch when you are done working for the day; get to know your colleagues on a personal level; be respectful of others’ perspectives and try to understand the situation by looking at it through a different set of lenses; keep professional jealousy out of your heart and mind and workplace; and when you are experiencing tough times, know it’s only for a season…this too shall pass!
Take care of your mental health, everyone! Your mind matters!!
Carter, S.A. (2010). An object lesson, or don’t eat the evidence. The Journal of History and Childhood and Youth. (V. 3, Number 1). John Hopkins University. Retrieved May 23, 2021 from https://muse.jhu.edu/article/370309