Yes, the mental health crisis for teachers is also capturing headlines, especially for its assumed connection to our worsening teacher shortage. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen nearly as much investment or innovation on behalf of our educators.

A year ago, I came across an opportunity to change that. I was offered a job at Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School as a school social worker — but with a unique spin on the traditional role. I split my time between serving the students and adults in the building. While I still have a caseload of students who I meet with regularly, my job description explicitly states that I am the mental health provider for the staff at our school. My colleagues can place an appointment on my calendar, pull me aside in case of a crisis or emergency, and text or call me at any time.

Initially, I was reluctant to take the position. I became a school social worker because of my deep passion for helping, nurturing and caring for young people. I know the need for that work is greater than ever, especially for students from marginalized communities that were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, like the students we serve at Brooklyn Lab. But, what inspired me to take this position and what has energized me every day since, is that I now understand how supporting the adults in the school is among the most important things I can do on behalf of my students.

The creation of this role — an on-site, dedicated mental health resource for teachers and staff — is different from how I’ve seen most schools attempt to tackle teacher mental health. While benefits like free lunch, an extra planning period, or professional development on self-care for teachers can be supportive, they can often feel like Band-Aids on top of a gaping wound.

That’s why my job is so innovative and effective. As a person who walks the halls with the same students and families as my colleagues, I’m able to quickly and tangibly support them with many day-to-day challenges. Sometimes people come to me with personal problems outside of their jobs, but most of the time teachers come to see me about professional challenges. People drop by my office or send me a text because they need to talk about their experiences to someone who understands what they’re going through.

The majority of my conversations center on how teachers can improve their practice. Yes, there are essential skills and technical knowledge that are necessary to teach the quadratic formula, improve reading comprehension or conjugate verbs in Spanish. But any teacher will tell you that a huge part of teaching also relies on soft skills.

Read the full article about social workers for teachers' mental health by Marcelle Davies-Lashley at EdSurge.