Teacher Shift

What Teachers Need to Live Well With Nicola Fleischer

September 20, 2023 Ali Simon & JoDee Scissors Episode 68
What Teachers Need to Live Well With Nicola Fleischer
Teacher Shift
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Teacher Shift
What Teachers Need to Live Well With Nicola Fleischer
Sep 20, 2023 Episode 68
Ali Simon & JoDee Scissors

Today, Ali and JoDee talk with Nicola Fleischer, the Co-founder and Executive Director of EdWell, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting educator wellbeing and career satisfaction. Together, they will discuss what makes EdWell unique, strategies for burnout, and ways to set up teachers for success.  

Connect with Nicola:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/edwellcoaching/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/edwellcoaching
Website: www.edwell.org

Connect with Ali and JoDee:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/teachershift
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/teachershift
Teacher Shift LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/teacher-shift
Ali’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alisimon/
JoDee’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jodeescissors/


Episode Transcriptions

Show Notes Transcript

Today, Ali and JoDee talk with Nicola Fleischer, the Co-founder and Executive Director of EdWell, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting educator wellbeing and career satisfaction. Together, they will discuss what makes EdWell unique, strategies for burnout, and ways to set up teachers for success.  

Connect with Nicola:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/edwellcoaching/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/edwellcoaching
Website: www.edwell.org

Connect with Ali and JoDee:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/teachershift
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/teachershift
Teacher Shift LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/teacher-shift
Ali’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alisimon/
JoDee’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jodeescissors/


Episode Transcriptions

Ali  0:06  
Teachers are natural innovators, entertainers and problem solvers. They dream of growing old into the profession, teaching their kids kids. But sometimes career goals shift, and that makes opportunities outside of the classroom seem intangible questioning who am I, if I'm not a teacher? I'm your host, Ali Simon.

JoDee  0:29  
And I'm your co host, JoDee Scissors.

Ali  0:32  
And this is Teacher Shift.

JoDee  0:43  
Unpacking the great teacher resignation was our mission when we started this podcast. We learned quickly that teacher wellness should be prioritized. Today we talk with an expert to help us understand the tools and services for thriving in or outside of the classroom.

Ali  1:01  
Nicola Fleischer is co founder and executive director of Edwell, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting educator wellbeing and career satisfaction. An educator and a lifelong learner, Nicola is driven by her passion for diversity and equity in schools, workplace wellbeing, and unlocking potential in the people around her. Nicola believes healthier, happier school communities are possible when we support the whole educator, and the whole child. Welcome to the show today Nicola. 

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. 

We're really excited to have you on the show and to learn more about Edwell. So to start us off, can you tell us what inspired you to create Edwell? 

Nicola  1:44  
Yeah, absolutely. So I started my career as a teacher, and pretty quickly went into a role where I was sup porting peers either in like a co teacher model, or I eventually became an instructional coach. So I was doing a lot of work with other educators and supporting them on their, their practice, their teaching, practice, lesson planning, classroom management. But so often, I found that people were coming into my office, coming to these coaching sessions and really what we were talking about and unpacking was their emotional well being. Their ability to cope with stress. The tools in their toolkit to navigate conflict, set healthy boundaries, and just really take care of themselves in a very difficult job. And so, you know, I, I have this story that a lot of people would leave a coaching session with me and say, Wow, this was this was great. This felt like therapy. And I would always say, I'm not a therapist. I'm not trained to do that. But clearly, there's something here, right? There's, there's a need that's emerging among my peers, that I'm able to serve just as a coach. And then the other side of it is, you know, I had my own mental health struggles. And I had the immense privilege of being able to access licensed therapy to talk through some of my stress and my challenges. But I realized that not everybody has the access to that, the financial access, but also, they may have stigma in their family or in their community that prevents them from seeing a licensed provider. And so I really wanted to take that idea of how can we support educators with their mental health and well being, but do something different than therapy, do something that is more focused on coaching, which is something that's very familiar to educators. There's lots of coaching models in schools, but none that really put the adult at the center and just say, how are you as a human being? And what do you need in order to thrive?

JoDee  3:38  
You said that you wanted something more accessible? Why is this more accessible than going to a therapist?

Nicola  3:46  
Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of therapists... first of all, it's a time thing, right? So many therapists have pretty set hours. And you've got to kind of commit to, you know, the 3pm, on a Tuesday appointment every week or every other week, or you lose your slot. And we know that for many teachers, life isn't like that. Things come up, you have meetings after school. It's not a flexible role. So we really wanted it to be flexible in terms of scheduling. We also wanted to create a structure that had lots of appointments after school and on weekends, so that people if they wanted to have someone to talk to after school or on the weekend, they could. But we also wanted to create it as a structure that you can do during the school day during your prep period. And so because this is a service that's provided by your school, that many of our schools people do do it during their lunch or their prep. And then the last thing is the price, right? So therapy can be really expensive. If you have benefits that cover therapy, that's great. But many, many people, even if they do have benefits, they actually can't find a provider that will accept their insurance. And so there are just lots of barriers to seeing a therapist at a good price point. And so with our model, the school is investing in the educator and the services free for the educators themselves. So it's both financially more accessible. Schedule wise, more flexible. And then the last piece is the stigma question of like, we're framing it as coaching. We're trying to approach it as coaching rather than therapy very intentionally. So folks who may have some walls up around the idea of going to therapy see this is genuinely something different, that they're more open to. 

Ali  5:22  
You talked about this coaching as a way to attain well being or to work towards well being, how do you define well being? 

Nicola  5:32  
I love that you said attain, and then you said work towards because we often say that, you know, it's never done. This work is never done. It's something that you're constantly working towards. 

Ali  5:41  

Nicola  5:42  
But yes, so we think about well being as a state of wholeness with your values, your identity, that includes both your mental and emotional wellness, your physical wellness, the things going on around you, and how you are responding to those struggles or challenges. We trust, well, being is not being happy all the time, or not having any stress. Because we know that anyone and especially educators experience stressors on a day to day basis. For us well being is having the tools and resources and the self awareness to handle the challenges that life throws your way. And overall feeling like you're living in accordance with your values and your purpose and your vision.

JoDee  6:23  
I'm really connecting so much with this model you all have. One because it... the way that you've set it up first, you've reduced the barriers for teachers to be able to access the services. And that's a huge piece of it. Secondly, you are looking at the whole teacher, which is very important. Because as we know, the whole child is a concept in education, which is immensely important to be able to hit all of those skills that are really deeply interconnected. So how do you grow in adults skills in that way, because we don't grow out of them. We grow as adults, but sometimes we can reuse skills, but sometimes we need new skills based on what life throws at us, or sometimes things from our past that come up that are a catalyst for behaviors that we haven't exhibited before.

Nicola  7:20  
Yeah, so so many thoughts on that. I mean, one quick anecdote, you know, the first year that I taught a formal SEL curriculum and a program, I was teaching kindergarten, and there were, you know, all these exercises and these lessons. And I would say to my counterpart teacher, in other kindergarten class, like, this stuff is amazing. Like, I need to use this in my relationships, I need to support mom and dad to use this with my partner. And just had this realization of like, no one explicitly taught me like how to set a boundary, how to express my emotion, how to explain how somebody hurt my feelings, right? We're in a generation where we didn't learn, we didn't have SEL in school. So a big part of what we're doing is that, you know, adult SEL, but we also believe that the concept and the framing of adult SEL can feel quite patronizing sometimes, right? It's sort of saying, Here are these basic skills that we're teaching the 7,8,9 year olds, and we're also going to make you go through the same classes and lessons. Like that does not fit and that does not land with real, whole human adults who have gotten through 20, 30, 40 years of life without that lesson. And so instead, we really frame it as a process of understanding yourself, and learning to take care of yourself. And that those are two things that really never end that you're constantly building new skills, to better understand yourself, recognize what is happening within your, in our life, and then respond to and take care of whatever is happening to you. So we weave in skill building that looks very similar to a traditional SEL, you know, self regulation, communication, conflict resolution, but through this path of constant like self exploration, and building your awareness. 

Ali  8:59  
So the topics that you brought up that you talk about as well, like the values and the identity, those are things that I know I've gone through in traditional therapy as well. And so I like how you're kind of taking some of those components of things that people would think about, try to do some self reflection and figure out who they are. But you're giving them like, tools from this social emotional learning toolbox, on how they can figure out who they are, and then how they can implement that in real life which I think as teachers we do a really good job trying to give our students those tools but then we never were given them. And especially because you know, kids growing up now maybe will be fortunate enough to have that education, but it was not around when I was in school growing up. I did not learn all of those things. I feel like I I could have probably saved you know, lots of time and money but...

Nicola  9:55  
 I mean, it's funny you say that I'm so curious for when like, you know Gen Z becomes educators because they are already so much more self aware of their emotional processes, and they're able to kind of name what they want and communicate with their friends about their emotions. And so yeah, I mean, hopefully there isn't a need for Edwell, by the time that generation is running our schools, because they will have had such a different experience with it.

JoDee  10:19  
You're so right about that my daughter is 10. And she can describe the way that she is feeling and how in tune she is with her own body in a way that I couldn't do until I was an adult. And it is very, it's very enlightening, just to like, see this small person, just be so informed about themselves. And I to wonder, like, what is this going to look like, one day. And that's nice to know that, like, your mission, one day is to go out of business, if if everybody, you know, adopt these strategies.

Nicola  10:56  

Ali  10:58  
I actually don't think you'll necessarily go out of business, because I think teachers have been overlooked for this type of support for a really long time. We know that in other job industries, companies will give you just mounds of benefits, right? Like, okay, included in your, in your benefits, we're gonna give you a gym membership, and we're gonna give you this, and we're gonna give you how many counseling sessions. And for whatever reason, teachers often get, you know, good health benefits, good pension. But these extra benefits, they're not always there. And it really does depend on where you live, what state you live in, your school district, how much money they have to spend. But I definitely see you filling a void of services that have not traditionally been available to teachers. And then over time, they might change. But, I mean, right now, we know with the teacher shortage that, that teachers are leaving. And there's a possibility that if they had some additional support, if things were different in the system that they might not want to leave. And so I love that you're, you're doing this work now. It's so important.

JoDee  12:02  
One of the things that we see in terms of teachers leaving is burnout. I personally didn't leave because of burnout. But it's not to say I didn't experience burnout, and I still experienced burnout in days and my job now. But I know how to manage that. And I honestly feel like I have a little bit more access and room to be able to exercise the skills I need to avoid burnout. So do you guys address burnout? And do you have skills to be able to teach teachers that are in the classroom? They're jam packed from start to finish. What does that look like, from your type of coaching?

Nicola  12:40  
Yeah, I would say that we absolutely do. We address burnout, we are talking about burnout. And it all comes back to what I said earlier about, like understanding yourself and taking care of yourself. So when we're learning that we're learning how to see the signs of when our bucket is getting too full, right. And I think that one of the things that we do in a lot of our coaching and then some of the whole group workshops we do too, is just talking to people about understanding the physical indications that that sort of like stress hormone bucket is getting over full. And then teaching, what are the short, whether it's a five minute activity, a 10 minute thing, it's something you do after school, the short things that can actually help you release those hormones and get your body and your nervous system back into a calm, safe state. So that when the next stressor comes, it's not being piled on top, but it's, it's reaching you when you're back at baseline. And so that's one of the things that we do. But the other point I will make, and that I say to everyone I'm talking to at  Edwell is that at the end of the day, we think well being is about, you know, the things going on inside of our heads, but also all the things going on around us. And at Edwell. And in coaching, what we're really working on is what's going on inside of you? And how can you make sense of that and process that and learn tools to help you respond to things internally more effectively. And we're going to try to help you navigate what's going on outside of you. But there are also sometimes things that go on outside of you that are just not in your control. And sometimes what's contributing to your burnout is a level of demand on your time, right? A level of expectations about what your job looks like or what your caregiving responsibilities are outside of work. That is not sustainable for you. And so the thing I do also tell people is that most of the research on burnout is that once you've, you've crossed into that true burnout state, the only real like cure or response to that is an extended period of rest. You can't get yourself out of deep, deep burnout. Where you've truly you know, on the all the burnout inventory has been measured, you've lost all interest in your formally enjoyable activities, right? It manifests similarly to depression in a lot of ways. If you've hit that state like little five minute walks around the block in the middle of the day are not going to get you out of that, right. So we're trying to be a little bit more preventative and like proactive for folks helping them learn to manage their stress earlier in the cycle. So they don't reach that point. And if they have reached that point, helping them figure out what is the best next step, which is something I think you all are doing in various episodes of your podcast, too. 

Ali  15:18  
I was going to ask you what you think the biggest obstacle is to well being but that it right there potentially is that if your plate is too full, or you've gone too far on that burnout scale, there's no magic pill. You can't just reset it, you can't just do the five minute walk. So there are different things that, you know, we talk about on the podcast that people can consider, like a career transition, maybe was still within education, but doing something different. I know one thing that helped me a lot was just trying to lighten my load. Teachers, we have this like, personality, I think where we want to do all of the things because we believe in making and enriching children's lives, like making them better enriching children's lives. So we weren't, we were on all these committees, or we're coaching sports. And then we maybe have our own families. And we're doing all these extra things, too. And eventually, it took me a very long time, but like started to say no to things and started to lighten my load, then I could go back and try to do the things that you're talking about whether it was going going to therapy or walking or doing better exercise. But it was really when I was at that heightened level where I just had so much going on, and you feel the pressure to keep going right, because you don't want to let anybody down. That's the worst thing. So I really appreciate that you share with our listeners that it's not just going to be an overnight change. And I completely agree with you that this should be something that we start doing very early on with new teachers, because we need to give them the tools to be successful in the classroom long term. to teach them that they don't have to wear all of the hats that exist in their building, you know, five might be enough. And then hopefully it can be more sustainable. I think that's where my my heart is the teaching is like trying to make it a field that could potentially be more sustainable for younger teachers or educators, people that are new to it. But I really agree with so much of what you said, Nicola.

JoDee  17:22  
I used to think my younger self, that the people that left a scenario and went for a walk, were avoiding something. And as I dug more into myself, I got my own help. I realized that they were helping themselves in a moment. And it wasn't about everybody else in the room that it was they were doing something for them. And as I grew older, I found myself needing to take a walk to de escalate or if I was in an overstimulated environment or something. Even at a... I come from a really big family with eight siblings, and sometimes family events can be very big. And I'm usually the one that's kind of leading whatever we're doing. And so sometimes I will step back and have alone time. And I always wonder, is this being perceived as like withdrawn? Or does my family know me enough to know that, like, I just need to decompress for a minute, because I've been going and going and going, and it's something that I need.

Ali  18:26  
Well, I know this is not necessarily Edwell's mission, but there's one thing that I feel like is still a little bit of a barrier for this, the well being and the more balanced lifestyle that I think you're seeking is that it can be frowned down upon. If you do say no, and if you become one of those teachers, and one of our recent guests said this, but you know, leaves soon after the bell at the end of the day, and that you're not a team player. that you're not. So I think part of it is definitely giving the teachers the tools, but trying to figure out how we can change the system to not overwork. I don't know, I was trying to think of a more eloquent word.

JoDee  19:08  
I think you were saying like, Ali, earlier, when we go to professional development before the school year, we're going in and we're learning about the whole child, but are we doing anything about the whole teacher? So like, how do we equip systems, schools, people with the resources to set teachers up for success? Because we know that if they are successful, students will be successful. And so I think it just goes back to like, how are we integrating? How are we prioritizing this type of coaching, this type of help for teachers? Because we know that if they are well, we will see students flourishing. 

Nicola  19:51  
Right. Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of it comes down to the leaders in the building and and that's where you know, if we are talking about like, what systemic structures are in place to support people's whole selves. It really does matter what leadership you have, and how they are addressing and approaching, like creating space for people to have time for themselves. If your leaders are modeling that themselves. And we feel just so, so grateful and thrilled really to have our founding school partners and the leaders in those buildings who are, you know, they're, they're really big leaders in this work and saying, I'm going to invest in this thing, Edwell, that is brand new. But it sounds like something that will support my staffs well being, and I know that that's going to impact kids, and it's worth the investment. So I do think it is about looking to the school leadership as well. 

Ali  20:41  
I want to kind of end our episode today, you stated how leaders are really important, and they can influence the teachers in their building and support them. So let's say we have one of those leaders who's listening to this episode. How can they bring Edwell to their school, have you been able to work creatively with either school principals or school districts to be able to find the funds to bring Edwell to their school and just wondering if you can talk to us a little bit about that? 

Nicola  21:07  
The first thing that I will always say to any school leaders, listening is like the most low lift thing that you can do in your building, even without bringing Edwell in is making sure that you have some kind of structure built up on your staff where every single adult working in that building has at least one other adult who's, whose job it is to make sure that that person feels seen safe, connected, heard, and belonging at that school, right? Everyone from the person who serves lunch to the person who's getting people off the bus in the morning, to all the classroom teachers, to the parents, right? I think we always try to make sure that every student is feeling seen and cared for. And we sometimes get kind of lost in the shuffle and forget that really having that roster of who is looking out for each adult, just as a person goes such a long way in making sure that people feel cared for. 

JoDee  21:56  
And check on your teachers and portable classrooms because they are so isolated. It's a really isolating experience being out there. And you don't see the like hallway camaraderie among teachers that you can check in during transition times and stuff. That doesn't really exist in portable classrooms. And I always worry about the teachers that are there isolated.

Nicola  22:20  
Right? Or especially, you know, if you are a roving Spanish teacher who's moving from classroom to classroom, right? 

JoDee  22:27  

Ali  22:28  
I have literally been that teacher on a cart. So yes, and it was amazing, the teachers whose classrooms I would go to, you know, sometimes they would take me under their wing, especially when I was a new teacher. And that helped so much. I'm fortunate unfortunate that I've moved a lot like JoDee. And so I've been a new teacher multiple times. But what that often meant was that I was in some sort of a new teacher program with a mentor or with someone else who was responsible for me. And it helped me a lot as a teacher just to have someone to go to, to ask questions about the school district, or just the school or just anything, just to know that someone was there. So I love that advice that you gave.

Nicola  23:09  
To that point, and I will get back to your question, we actually see that the largest like percentage or proportion of our participants are people in years, like three through eight of their profession, right. So it's the people who have kind of gone out of the phase where you get assigned a mentor in the district, or you get someone who's really looking out for you. But you're kind of like, hey, but I still need support. I've only done this for three years, like I definitely still want help so. So that's something we're able to provide with Edie well, so how people can bring us to their school, we see it in a couple of different ways. First of all, we really consider what we're doing as a professional development and learning because it's making sure that you have the tools and resources you need to build healthy relationships with students, form a healthy classroom culture and climate, like implement any of the school wide behavior, or SEL initiatives that you're doing. Like you need to do your own work first. And so we do see some schools using professional development funding for bringing Edwell and offering coaching. And then the other area we see it sometimes come out of is like the special education students support side of thing, because so often, part of what that money is going towards is creating a safe and supportive classroom environment for all students. Making sure it's an inclusive school. And that really requires teachers having the right tools and resources to care for their well being and then care for the well being of the kids in front of them. 

JoDee  24:32  
We need to keep all of this in mind, especially with the data that you just shared about teaching for three to eight years. Since we just saw a great teacher resignation, which meant new teachers were coming in and some states are filling it with just bodies, that those people are coming up on that three year mark. And we need to be there for them. 

Nicola  24:52  
Yeah, absolutely.

Ali  24:53  
Yeah. And the other thing that came to my mind was that there would have to be grants out there for this type of work as well. So I work in Grants Management. And I think that that could be another really great tool, you know, way to get Edwell into your school is to consider looking for grants that would help fund that opportunity.

JoDee  25:12  
I wanted to tell our listeners that we met you at South By. Will you be at South By this year? Or in 2024? 

Nicola  25:18  
Undecided yet, but I will, I will let you know we've got a lot of conferences on our agenda. So we'll have to see. 

JoDee  25:26  
Yes, of course. Well, the reason I brought it up is that all all of these teachers that go to these conferences, look for the organizations that are supporting teacher wellness.

Nicola  25:36  
It's it's definitely a underrepresented topic as a lot of conferences, but it's growing even in the last couple of years. It's been growing, which is great. 

Ali  25:44  
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time today. 

Nicola  25:47  
Yeah, thank you. 

Ali  25:48  
I want to let our listeners know that they can connect with you on social media at Edwell coaching, or on your website Edwell.org.

Are you interested in suggesting a topic for Teacher Shift, being a guest, or recommending a guest? Please see the episodes page on our website to make a submission. And if you'd like to write for us, see our blog page. If you liked Teacher Shift, give us a five star rating and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Apple podcasts, Spotify and Amazon music. Today's episode was written and recorded by me, Ali Simon and my co host, JoDee Scissors. Executive produced by Teacher Shift. Produced and edited by Emily Porter. Original Music: Emoji by Tubebackr.