WHS teachers accept challenge to reconnect with colleagues

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Winters High School educators participate in activities through the Feed the Starter Challenge, designed to help them reconnect with each other. (Courtesy photo)

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As challenging as the pandemic was for Winters High School students, it was — perhaps — even more so for teachers. That’s why, in the wake of COVID, the WHS staff accepted the “Feed The Starter” challenge not only to reconnect with the students but one another.

The pandemic misaligned connectivity between the WHS teachers sought to bolster over the years through their single-site focus plan. More specifically, students’ connection with the curriculum and their overall care to learn. Jeff Christian, the varsity women’s basketball head coach, proposed the ‘Feed The Starter’ challenge so the WHS educators could begin reconnecting — starting with themselves.

“Feed the Starter” is a challenge through the leadership development nonprofit C4 Leaders (of which Christian is a part of) that focuses on empowering groups and/or families to create space to see, hear, feel, and connect with one another.

“We wanted to rebuild the connection with our staff because COVID came and we weren’t allowed to eat in the staff room together, people sat in their rooms by themselves and that’s not the culture we wanted,” said Andrea Hurst, 

WHS education specialist. “So, Jeff came in and worked on ‘us’ with the staff-to-staff connection. The first day back after summer we had a fun kickoff day with him and did team building. That led into the Feed the Starter challenge where we all had to figure out something we wanted to improve on ourselves. Especially with educators, we’re always focused on the kids and put ourselves last and that leads to burnout. So, we all picked our own thing to work on.”

Believe it or not, teachers aren’t pedagogy machines; in fact, they’re humans made of flesh and bone and are susceptible to bad days and low morale just like anyone else. That’s why once the WHS teachers decided on what aspect of themselves they wanted to improve, they would check in on each other during the weekly staff meetings. From exercising, to meditation, to working on gratitude, the teachers would share where they’re at on their journeys and hold each other accountable.

The challenge began eight weeks ago and ended with a pizza party on Wednesday, Oct. 19. In turn, the teachers were able to observe the positive impact their self-improvement had on their students.

“All the teachers took part and we did it to practice what we preach. If our theme is connectedness and building relationships, you got to do it. That was our ‘why’ and we need to start with us,” said Hurst. “It was fun to check in with each other, cheer each other on and ask how each other is doing. It did build our relationships with each other, and it was a great way to connect with our colleagues.”

From the outside looking in, one can try their best to empathize with what teachers endure every day. However, only teachers really know what it’s like in the trenches and understand why they do what they do. To Hurst, the challenge paid off in dividends for the teachers. Moreover, she believes the bolstered morale of the WHS teaching staff has been infectious to the students so far in the school year.

“We were coming out of a rough time, and we needed to boost morale, make people happy and make school a happy and fun place to be, and then the kids are going to want to be there,” said Hurst. “And if the kids want to be there, they’re not going to want to be cutting class, or staying home or faking (being) sick. If we can create an environment that’s fun and exciting, people are going to look forward to school or work. The whole system just works better.”

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