2018-2019 Teacher Training Focuses on Issue of Student Well-Being

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English teacher Todd Smith helps his freshmen students during North Time.

It was April of 2018 and an ordinary day for most students at BVN. They went to their classes, talked to their friends and answered a survey about their perceptions of their school, teachers and peers. At the time, the survey may not have seemed important, but the responses recorded would become the basis for the 2018-2019 school year teacher professional development session.

Teachers took the same survey as their students and some were surprised by the students’ answers.

“There’s some discrepancies of the way [teachers] think about what’s going on, our perception of the way BVN is, and students’ perception of BVN,” broadcast teacher Charlie Huette said.

The results of the survey revealed that 88 percent of the teachers said they knew their students well, while only 44 percent of students said the same, shocking many of the teachers at the training.

“How can we be so off in our thinking? We thought we knew our kids better than they say we do, so there’s definitely been a disconnect,” counselor Terri Newman said.

Mental health was another factor that was stressed in both the survey and the discussion in light of the recent concerns sparked by tragedy throughout Blue Valley. Many teachers believe that maintaining a healthy mental state is vital to the students’ wellbeing.

“[Mental health] was a big part … there are a lot of things that trickle down from that,”English teacher Todd Smith said. “If students feel they are more appreciated, if they feel like they have friends and advocates in the adults here, that goes a long way towards feeling motivated to do anything [and] feeling excited about doing well academically in class.”

Students and teachers both agreed that there was much more pressure on kids to succeed than before with academics being the primary cause.

“The stress of life today, the competitiveness…is taking its toll on kids and…we do see it here in Blue Valley,” Newman said. “They are competitive with each other and themselves.”

The teachers have acknowledged that these problems can’t be solved right away, but they still hope to spread awareness about the issue. New perceptions and ways to connect with students as individuals were emphasized by Newman.

It’s not going to be an overnight thing, but we start looking at the whole person more and realize that someone who can play the piano is just as skilled and talented as someone who can get an A in an AP class,” Newman said. “There’s so many other ways to be successful.”

Many teachers are implementing new ideas to help alleviate stress for their students and are hoping to make the school feel more welcoming. For example, Smith has changed his grading system from being mostly grade-reliant, to now being focused on a student’s personal growth throughout the year.

“Let’s try to eliminate a variable [grades] that students are so concerned about. They attach a lot of meaning to that [and] I know the system is still geared towards grades but, as much as I can, I want to alleviate stress in my classroom,” Smith said. “On a day-to-day basis, that’s all I can see. I know we have 1600 students, all with individual lives, all with their individual problems, all with their individual challenges, but I hope when they come here, when they come to my room, they can relax.”