By Jasmine E. Crenshaw
From Teacher to Counselor
2021 Fellow Jenni Goolsby is aware of the current needs and concerns of educational professionals who are now in their second school year during the COVID-19 pandemic. She worked in the field of education for over 20 years as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. Before the pandemic, many stressors for teachers and administrators, including Jenni, spurred from the disorganization of school systems, adhering to teaching demands, and lack of resources to strengthen their social-emotional competence. Jenni served for many of her years in education as an administrator, witnessing these types of stressors transform her colleagues. With the pandemic, many educators experienced additional stressors, including readjusting lessons and activities for a virtual learning environment while continually going above and beyond for their students.
Jenni began working towards her Counseling degree in 2019 with the intent to enter into family and couples counseling. Since retiring recently from the field, she shifted her intent in order to start building mental health resources for educational administrators. “I have watched many colleagues go through overwhelming, stressful personal events during the school year and still show up each day. However, I have also seen many people break down and burn out, good teachers who did not feel safe to share the feelings of depression, anxiety, and grief,” Jenni explained, “They pushed through personal experiences and could not be the educator they wanted to be because they were paralyzed to function.” During her administrative tenure, she witnessed many of her colleagues not take advantage of available mental health resources. Jenni’s Schweitzer Fellow project aims to create an easily accessible mental health framework for administrators to help combat stress and burnout. She placed her project focus on administrators because she experienced the variety of stressors associated with the position, and how it can affect their overall well-being. “I wanted to investigate if we could provide mental health strategies for administrators if it would help them deal more effectively with these stressors leading to a more balanced personal life and positively impact leadership capacity”, Jenni noted.
Strengthening Mental Health of Educators
Studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the number of teachers and administrators exiting the field. Prior to the pandemic, administrators, such as principals, have often left the field of teaching within their first five years. Using her wealth of experiences in education, the University of Montevallo graduate student is providing administrators with one to five years of experience with both individual and group counseling interventions at the University of Montevallo Community Counseling Clinic. The administrators receive strategies from Jenni on coping, self-awareness, and other mental health literacy tools during their group sessions, while she provides them with personalized discussions and strategies during the individual sessions. Both individual and group sessions were crafted to promote “taking time to address personal stressors that negatively impact the work-life balance and productivity”, Jenni noted. She reasoned that mental health literacy built into her framework would help administrators balance pressures between their professional and personal lives.
Her Hope for Future Educators
Jenni hopes for educators to be given the space to achieve this balance during this second year of the COVID-19 pandemic after last year’s difficulties. But she also wishes for educators and administrators to develop boundaries between work and personal life. Jenni’s vision is not restricted to the challenging times created by the pandemic, though. “My dream is a counselor in each district designated to support and resource the adults in schools,” Jenni said. “Intentional time spent caring for the educator as a ‘person’ with stress and emotions that deserve attention, creates more productive and satisfied educators at work, an excellent outcome for both.”