Nurturing a Culture of Staff Wellbeing in Grand Rapids Schools

Well Being
Success Story

February 10, 2024

While the Grand Rapids School District’s Wellness Committee has historically focused on student wellbeing, this year the group is shifting its gaze towards school staff. The understanding behind the shift is that when school staff members are fulfilled and supported, they have greater capacity to positively impact students. Jayme Gabler, SHIP Coordinator and Public Health Educator with Itasca County Public Health, explained: “We want to fill teachers’ cups, so they can continue to fill students’ cups.”

A survey offered by the Northeast Services Collaborative and taken by district staff provided valuable data, revealing a few areas that were driving staff burnout: not enough prep time, managing student behaviors, feeling socially disconnected from colleagues, and a desire to feel more supported.  

The committee took that information and got to work designing interventions that were based in evidence, driven by staff input, and responsive to expressed needs. They looked for ways to schedule more prep time into the day and initiated Communities of Practice—opportunities for teaching teams to collaborate, learn, and troubleshoot together. Gabler worked with Aubrey Hoover, Behavioral and Mental Health Services Regional Manager with the Northeast Service Cooperative, to write a grant that would increase the availability of substitutes, giving teachers coverage to take time off when they need to support their own wellbeing.  

This work has brought renewed energy to the District Wellness Committee. Led by the district’s Nutrition Director with representatives from elementary, middle, high school, and custodial staff, the group has now formed a subcommittee of Wellness Champions. Gabler is working with that handful of staff to launch a series of weekly challenges intended to encourage physical activity, healthy eating, and mental wellbeing. Things like eating an extra serving of fibrous green veggies or bringing a cup of coffee or tea to a colleague, the challenges are optional, accessible to everyone, and they earn you points towards a possible cash prize. With a five-dollar buy in and 89 participants, someone is going to win big.

Looking ahead, the committee plans to conduct a follow-up survey in the fall of 2024 to assess the progress made. The goal is to create a sustainable culture of staff wellbeing by addressing the root causes of burnout and providing meaningful support and opportunities for connection.  

Gabler noted that, as school administrators have so many different responsibilities to consider, it can be useful to have partners to help focus on this aspect of school environment, gather input, and make recommendations. Building and retaining a cohesive, supported, healthy workforce that can be there for students is a goal that many of us share, and it makes sense to work together.  

by Jenna Olson, Public Health Communications Coordinator, Carlton-Cook-Lake-St. Louis Community Health Board

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