Tom and Patrick talk with Mariah Lafleur, the National Program Lead with Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools Initiative. In addition to talking about the support and resources that Thriving Schools is providing to schools and organizations across the country, Mariah walks through the qualities of a perfect day in an ideal school. Make sure to check out some of the materials that Thriving Schools has developed with Discovery Education and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation at readysetrisemodules.com.


 

Patrick

Welcome Mariah. Thanks for joining us. 

Tom

Yeah, welcome.

Mariah

Hi, thanks for having me. Been looking forward to this.

Patrick

Let’s talk first a little bit about the work that you do for Thriving Schools.

Mariah

I am the National Program Lead with Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools Initiative, and Kaiser Permanente is the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system. Our mission at Kaiser is specifically to provide high quality, affordable health care services to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve, and my work at Thriving Schools sits solidly in that the community’s we serve phrase of our mission. Our mission has actually been the same since we started in 1945, and it was amazingly well written and it still is incredibly relevant to day. So Thriving Schools is Kaiser effort and a recognition that schools are a major anchor in hub in the community, and many things revolve around schools and education system, which is similar as healthcare is they have been… Many things revolve around healthcare, we realized that we needed to concentrate and coordinate all of our large organizational efforts in the education space to make sure we were making schools as healthy as they can be, want to lift them up as a beacon of health in our communities alongside the healthcare that we provide as an institution. So thriving schools is very upstream in the health work we do, of course, we fully recognize the importance of clinical health and medical providers and Kaiser Permanent as thousands of physicians and nurses, and medical providers. But our Thriving Schools work is about the environments and looking at the whole school environment and all of the people that spend their days in and around those environments in person, virtual or some of both right now, and is it supporting everyone’s physical health? Is it supporting their mental health? Is it supporting your spiritual health? Is everyone able to be there and make the best possible choices for their day in and around the school, and so Thrive school is looking at the comprehensive piece of things…

Patrick

That’s very cool. My sister is in recovery room nurse, and she always talks about… There’s so many things that could be helped if there was a little more focus on more holistic health, like you’re talking about the environments, the mental and physical health in public spaces, in education, so that not quite so many people have to end up in the recovery room with her.

Mariah

Yeah, that’s exactly why Kaiser has a very strong public and community health focus. We provide both care and coverage, which means we wanna make sure our members and the communities they’re in are as healthy as possible because we don’t want to see them unless we absolutely have to. We wanna see them only for routine things, so just check-ups and vaccines, so we know that… Well, the medical office is incredibly important, and we provide the best medical coverage out there, whether our members are healthy or your… Majority of that happens outside of our wall.

Tom

Have you noticed any trends in the health of people either before COVID or during?

Mariah

Well, if you’re a person in the world and you’ve clicked around on the internet, you’ve probably seen a variety of projections and whatnot. In general… Yes, we’re very concerned. Of course, there is the health of everything related to the virus, which we are at the forefront of addressing, but all of that aside, I have gotten to a big crux of my work, and I think why we’re speaking with you is the mental health of people is very concerning and of young people and of the people that support young people and the mental health of families and parents. I think everybody in this has their own challenges. I heard the analogy that I really like that everyone is in the same storm, but we all have different boats, and everyone’s boat has its own issues and strengths. You could be in a boat all by yourself and you are just feeling really lonely because you’ve not had good human contact. You may be a teacher teaching class from zoom from your apartment and you haven’t seen any of the students you support in a year in person. Or you could be a working parent like myself that is working full-time, my husband works outside of the home, full time, and I have children here, so I am both doing a full-time job and making sure that virtual schooling is happening and everyone is getting supported all the ways they need to, which is a very different challenge than someone who may be feeling more lonely. So all of these things are compounding to a major mental health crisis that I think is very concerning, but in a way, it’s having a moment and it’s bringing a importance of mental well-being to the forefront of everybody’s minds where I don’t think it was before.

Tom 

That was another question I had. Do you think awareness has increased and people are more willing to talk about the challenges they’re having.

Mariah

Yes. Short answer? Yes, definitely. I would say in a good way, even folks that I think viewed mental health and mental health appointments and support is something for people who are sick or an a diagnosed condition. I think over this past year and everything everyone is going through has made everyone a bit introspective as to how am I doing… Where is my stress or is my anxiety, where is my feeling low… Maybe people don’t wanna put a name on it, but the lows and the highs that we’re going through, a lot of people are becoming more aware of it, and the education system is bearing the brunt of a lot of it, which is… I know a lot of what we wanna get into today.

Patrick

And like you said, any person clicking around the internet these days, we’ll see myriad articles that describe what you’re probably feeling right now. I think this is kind of a unique time because, like you say, everyone’s in the same storm, and it seems like The Atlantic and The New York Times and the Washington Post are all publishing these stories that say, We know exactly what you’re going through. And here’s a diagnosis of your experience. I imagine to a degree, people look at those and go, That’s exactly what’s going on with me. And some other people might be like, it kinda misses the mark. What do you think, and this is kind of a big question, but what do you think the value of that kind of reporting is relative to the work that you do in an organization that’s more rigorous and focused?

Mariah

Well, interesting, because the publications you mentioned, I personally read and respect them in general, I would say the New York Times, The Atlantic post, they are known for doing good research in facing their articles, in fact, which is greatly valued by myself and Kaiser Permanente. Science in fact has always very much been in fashion for us, so I think that’s great. I do see a fair amount of, I would say, less rigorous information being put out there, so I appreciate the scientific information that that helps people see themselves in it. There is also thing to be said for these personal stories, that when people are vulnerable, it can really be nice to see yourself in somebody else when you see a blogpost or… Some of the stories I’ve liked the most are the combination of, there’s been a scientific sample study done a survey, spoken with a variety of, for example, educators getting a pulse on where they are and their mental health, and then of course, they’ll fill that in with a couple of personal stories of educators and maybe one that’s in the classroom and really having a lot of stress because of that, and then one that’s fully teaching virtual and having a lot of stress because of that, so that combination is really validating.

That said, I do think that people need to know that it’s okay to be okay sometimes too, and if people are feeling like they’re doing okay for a while or there are definitely a lot of really warm, happy, bright spots that happen right now, and it’s good to feel those, and it’s okay to celebrate, and it’s okay to feel like you’re managing alright. Everyone does not have to be doing terribly all the time right now.

Patrick

That’s really helpful. I definitely do wanna… I imagine we’ll spend the majority of our time in this conversation talking about both ramming schools, the affects the pandemic education and public health and education, but let’s take a step back and talk about how you personally got involved in the work that you do now, what brought you to it.

Mariah

Yeah, it was a circuitous path is probably most people that have an interesting job, they love would say, and also the job that I have, it’s really the intersection of the education system in the health care system, which are two giant systems that are really valued, and so I think when you come together across large institutions like that, sometimes it takes a circuitous path to get there. Young me was pre-med and very interested in becoming a physician, perhaps I’ve always really valued health and just seeing it as first and foremost, if you don’t have health… If you aren’t healthy, what else is there? With my limited knowledge of health, medical school was of interest, I studied nutrition and Biology and undergrad, but I wanted to get out and see a little bit more before I committed to medical school, so I was actually in the Peace Corps for four years and that open eyes in a lot of obvious ways, but it pushed me into the field of public health and thinking about the environments people are in the communities, in the systems institutions that we interact with that make us healthy or unhealthy.

I was in Haiti first and would have finished out my term there, but there was a pretty dramatic exit. We were evacuated to a political coup, and so left very… Suddenly the community that I had had really settled into and spent a lot of time investing in, and then I didn’t feel like I was done, I wanted more… I want us to take what I was learning, and so I transferred and then I spent another couple of years in the Dominican Republic on the other side of the island. So in both of those countries, I was a health volunteer, and again, when you’re working in a developing low resourced community, health means everything. Things such as digging, latrines, teaching about where your protein can come from, washing your hands, some of the basic things that we’ve gone back to in this country, to keep… To keep healthy is a lot of it I was focusing on, but it was really a wide range of help, and then I also just saw a lack of access to quality health care in all the places that I was and how important that is. And oftentimes, that goes hand-in-hand with lack of quality, to lack of access to quality education, and how those two things together can be incredibly damaging to someone’s opportunities and to where they can get or not get in life.

So that put me in the Public Health path and came back to the US and decided to explore a Public Health degree, got my Master’s in Public Health, and then I did about a decade of working on evaluating in research in the public health space. And that really got me into this school and education system, a lot of what I did was see how interventions and programs and schools were working and weren’t working, and it was around a variety of health… Definitely did a lot around physical health, nutrition, what are students eating, how are they being active, what are the opportunities to take care their physical health during the day, and I really enjoyed that, learned a lot was in hundreds and hundreds of schools across the nation collecting data, seeing what worked, but I really wanted to be more at the forefront, I realized, of the doing and not just coming behind and seeing how I was working, but thinking about what do we bring into schools, what do they need, how are we bringing it to them and my strong focus on physical health was important, but I really saw that that’s only a one piece of the pie in the mental health of the students, and teachers and educators.

I don’t think there was enough out there for them, so that shifted me over and I got this amazing opportunity with thriving schools at Kaiser Permanente, and that’s been a great fit because I can work for a large respect institution, and that really focuses on community well-being and recognizes that schools are a big piece of that. When I came over to Kaiser Permanente, driving schools have been going for a few years, and it was really respected, but it was really small, and it had focused thus far in physical health, on healthy eating active living and we really wanted to branch out more into the mental health, and now we are moving into the integrated health or Whole Child Whole School Health that I’ll discuss. So my first couple of years in this role, I built out what our mental health work could and should look like, and then have executed that and have been growing and morphing and changing and tweaking it, and it’s now more important than ever, given this past year that we’ve had… So that was kind of… Kind of what brought me here.

Patrick

Yeah. So there’s a lot to kinda unpack there, that’s an enormous amount of experience culminating in your work at Kasper Permanente. One question that stuck out to me is I was having a conversation with Dr. Mary Jane person, who is a colleague of both of ours, and she’s done decades of research in education, and in one of our conversations, she said when she was doing some work in Texas, she discovered that there is a very clear connection between literacy and potential incarceration that a lot of prison systems used to determine their future prison populations, which was this insane statistic or this insane reality to me that I’ve never let go of, and it’s always in my head. Are there some revelations over your decade of research in public health leading up to your work at Kaiser Permanente, they just kind of stick in your mind as these big indicators or these epiphanies.

Mariah

Yeah, there’s a couple… One, I guess a little more mundane and obvious, but it’s what I really got after my being in hundreds of school, seeing interventions and programs happen, and that is you can plan and fund and have the best of intentions, but implementation is what matters. And again, that may not be a revelation, but I just really saw it over and over, you can do so much on the front end, but if you don’t follow through and actually make sure that the quality resources, information changes in someone’s environment actually happens, it really is all for not… In my year’s evaluation really, really taught me that and that it’s very hard to do and do well, but it can be done well. That was one. And then the other revelation is one that I think probably others on this show or people that you have spoken with have talked about, and that’s the Adverse Childhood Experiences study that actually Kaiser Permanente did in conjunction with the CDC, and that’s also a big reason why we’ve moved into this space, and why I do the work I do, because Kaiser Permanente understands that we were a big part of identifying this problem through our study, and we need to be in are a big part of addressing solutions, and that is the study. It was done by a Kaser Permanente physician, Vince Felitti in Southern California, and it found that again, maybe not surprisingly, but when you lay it all out in a large, really well run scientific study, it is rather shocking that experiencing trauma as a child has a direct dose response to how healthy you are later in life. And there’s obvious ties, such as you have higher rates of depression, suicide, behavioral issues, substance abuse, if you experienced trauma early on. But there’s also a shocking link between early childhood trauma, trauma in childhood and things such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, these are chronic conditions that we used to think of as only being linked to physical things, and the rates of those increase even if you control for other behavioral factors such as how active you are. So this study really, really opened a lot of people’s eyes because it showed how important the mental health and mitigating and addressing and unearthing and figuring out what’s happening when we’re young and keep us healthy later in life. The other major finding of that study is how common trauma, it is not something for a few or for others or for those people out there, it is all of us, 60% of people experience an adverse childhood experience and…So that means if you have a classroom, over half of the students in your classroom likely are going through something such as separation of parents, divorce, abuse and neglect, a whole variety of things, and these are very common and they have very serious consequences, so that study opened my eyes and many others and that why the field is where it is today.

Tom

I had a question about that study, which I believe originally involved women who were obese and that led to discovered that something that they had in common was abused as children, how did… I was sort of shocked in a way when I found that out because it was a sort of strange cohort to attach that to, how did it move from beyond women who were having mental health issues and also body weight issues to become more generalized and also then… Something that, how do we move from a select group to realizing that 60% of children in the class who may have experienced an adverse childhood experience… 

Mariah

That’s a great question. I don’t know the exact path, but I think it was one of the right person, right place, right time epiphanies. Because in interacting and speaking with a lot of other physicians, mental health providers that might be an ear, nose and throat doctor, a pediatrician, they saw some of these issues or maybe saw some connections, but given that this was a Kaiser physician, he had this giant wealth of data available to him.

He saw that these things were happening and then realized and was able to go in and do a research study with thousands and thousands of Kaiser members because he had all of this information available to them. So it wasn’t quick, it wasn’t… And he just looked at that cohort of older women and then flipped right to children, but it was a whole process, and I realized that given the health system I’m part of, I could take a deeper look. And it was ground breaking, and I know many people, very influential high positions, I think, find out about ACES in this study and it really changes their path. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who’s the currently the Surgeon General of California. I had a similar epiphany when she found out about the adverse childhood experience, this study… She was a clinician in a very under-resourced area of San Francisco and she was seeing these same things in her patients, and then she found out about the study and it all just clicked and fell into place, it made sense. So a lot of people realize that I’m looking at obesity, but when I get underneath it, what’s actually causing it, it may not just be that someone is eating too much, and I think we know very much that that’s true now.

Patrick

The Thriving Schools Initiative provides resources to a lot of nationally recognized organizations to do the work that they do, and we recently discovered Tom and I, by accident, that one of her future guests… Actually, our next guest, Elizabeth Cook works for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Can you tell us about some of the work you’re doing with them?

Mariah

Oh, I’m so glad you have Elizabeth Cook already ready. She’s amazing. Yeah, so the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is one of our biggest external partners, I would say, because they’re national and have an amazing region system that it allows us to bring our work to and to a lot of schools and districts. So we fund them in a variety of topics, actually are working on together with them right now, which is very exciting, is moving a lot of these things together into an integrated approach into school health. And so we started off with the Alliance for Healthy Generation, working on more of the physical health, healthy eating, active living. They have an amazing assessment called the Healthy Schools Program Assessment, where school goes in and figure out what they could be doing better, and then they kinda get your resources, and we realize we moved into this space of wanting to do more with mental health, that they had a great platform, and if we could partner with them to bring a similar type of assessment and set of resources available at no cost to every school in the nation, that may be really valuable, so we partnered with them for the RISE initiative, and RISE stands for resilience in school environments.

So we created the rise index with them. It’s really the backbone of the work. The RISE index is based on the Healthy School index, actually from the CDC, and it is an assessment. There is one for districts and one for schools because they’re equally important, but control different levers and are able to change different things to support health. So the district level assessment talks about a variety of things that they can be doing to support the schools, and then the school level assessment are things that schools specifically have control over in their own staff and students in their own school buildings or environments, they’re in whatever that looks like right now. The RISE index has a variety of sections, but it really starts with staff well-being in staff health, and by staff, we need everybody that supports a school district in a school system. It’s not just teachers, it is of course, teachers and they’re incredibly valuable and they’ve been at the forefront of our minds and work for a long time, but it’s also the school resource officers, the bus drivers, Nutrition Services staff, front desk, the assistant principal, the classroom aids, the school psychologist or school counselor, everybody at the school environment needs to understand how important health is and then make sure their own well-being is taken care of. So a lot of what we do at driving school is focused on that whole group of people, so they can show up, be their best selves, and then of course, support students.

Patrick

What does it look like when everyone does get the proper training, the proper support, the proper resources. What is that like, Utopian school look like?

Mariah

Yeah, you know, while I created a little bit of a imagine… What’s the perfect day? And so I’ll harken to that for a minute, and this was when school was fully in person where we will be again soon at some point, but it looks like the bus driver greets everybody in happy way when he or she picks up the students… He or she may recognize that some of a certain set of siblings look a little low, check in with them, that is the first person that sees many children at the end in the morning and the last person at the end of the day, so maybe they do a quick check and see how they’re doing when they get to the school, the school leadership, the principal, assistant principal, etcetera. They’re out front, greeting everybody, they come in… Know, most of or all of the students names in the old world, they would have be giving high fives, maybe not elbow bumps or just happy waves, students are coming in, settling in, maybe there’s a locker, depending on the age to go into their classrooms before all that happened, the teachers had a staff lounge that they were able to be in that was a supportive, calm, positive environment before they started their day, they were able to maybe get a good cup of coffee, how a quiet want me to collect themselves before all of…all of the business of the day started.

When classes are going on, when students have a hard time, they will have a hard time on a small level or a large level, if it’s a small level challenge, it means that they can go to the common or quiet corner in the classroom and self-regulate. There may be things that can look at to calm down manipulatives that have evidence behind them that really help them collect themselves, so when there’s a situation they might be having a hard time, they can choose remove themselves from the moment and go calm down, or the teacher may say, Why don’t you go sit in the Common Corner and join us when you’re feeling more ready to focus. If it’s a larger issue, there’s someone that can come down and support the teacher, either to cover the class while the teacher is able to pull the student out and ask… Not, Why did you do that? What’s wrong with you? But what’s going on? You seem less focused today… Have you had breakfast… Anything happening at home, if something bigger needs to be discussed, there is a school counselor, therapist connection on site that can come in and support that student. That happens as needed on a regular basis for everybody that we know that’s having a challenge in this perfect day in this ideal school. 

Again, staff maybe get to a point where they’re reaching reaching their breaking point and maybe they didn’t sleep well last night and students just aren’t focusing on the lesson that they planned, and they’re about to lose it. They recognize that and they’re able to call someone and tap out for a brief moment in their class, there’s someone who either another teacher, another staff member, and there’s a system, it’s kind of a free pass, it’s a 10-minute break free pass and they can say, Listen, can you come and cover my class and they go to that calm staff room, I mentioned, they’re able to do whatever they need to do, they have the skills and the plan…They know what comes themselves down, they do that, they take a breath and they can return to class and maybe things look better, or maybe they just get through until the end of the period.

At lunch, everybody… first off, is able to access healthy appealing food. Teachers ideally have a place to have a pause in their day. I think a lot of us who don’t work in schools forget the teacher’s desk is not the quiet, calm haven that some of us who have desk jobs elsewhere, is. Desk means you’re on display, you’re on a stage, and so lunch or whatever, their prep breaks are can sometimes be the only time for them to have a calm, quiet, collect themselves, and that at the end of the day, again, leadership or somebody is there with students are leaving, transitioning to wherever they’re going next. Everybody closes out in a positive way, there may be a system, and that’s been really found to be valuable, where students have regular check-ins with specific staff, so each staff may be matched with four to five students, those check-ins could happen it once or twice a week, and it’s just a 10-15 minute sit down. How are you… What’s going on? It really fosters that positive, respective connection, and so that could happen maybe at the end of the day for students, maybe at the beginning. 

So these whole systems all work together, and I just mentioned a portion of what it is, but there’s a lot of things in the back-end that needs to be in place for the school or district for all those things to be working in harmony, but that’s really what it could look like and it does in some places.

Patrick

Yeah, I just wanna draw a connection between what you’re saying and some of the things that some of our previous guests have said too, ’cause they really stood out to me. For example, when we spoke with Julie Beem of the Attachment and Trauma Network, she told us this kind of anecdote about her daughter having an experience at school where she was unable to participate in reading time because there was an emotional trigger for her every time she walked in a certain door at a certain time of day that totally threw her off and rendered her unable to participate, and she worked at discovering the source of that trigger, and she and the staff work together to figure out an alternative, and she kind of painted this picture of the parent and the staff and faculty of the school as being sort of detectives, which was a nice twist on the “additional responsibilities” that some people see educators needing to take on in a trauma-informed approach to education, but seeing them as detectives who are solving a puzzle together sounded both human and exciting. And then Emily Meeks and Taneesha Thomas of Focused Minds Education Group, mentioned to us a few times that they had students in their classes where they were really paying attention in a very human way who would call them aunty or mama, and put this very emotionally-laden title on their teachers, who clearly meant more to them than just someone who taught them content, they are someone who really cared for them and filled a very important role in their lives.

And then finally, Beverly Doyle said—she’s at Creighton University, she’s on faculty there for over 40 years—and she said, it’d be really great if we can provide this kind of sabbatical for our teachers, that faculty members get a universities where they get time to step back and really look at the work that they’re doing, maybe do a bit of research, kind of switch some of their practice, take a closer to look at some of the successes and maybe failures that they’ve had in the past and re-evaluate where they wanna go in the future. And it sounds like these even 10-minute breaks from class can be like this micro-sabbatical where they can just take a moment to figure out what’s going on. I know there was a lot of connections all at once, but just… It seems like there’s a lot of common observations and common recommendations among the people that we’ve been speaking to, and we’re very fortunate to be able to have wide-ranging conversations like that…

Mariah

I love those examples. The sabbatical for teachers. Right, and as you ticked them off, my mind immediately went to, Well, we need… All of these educators and parents who know where there are now proxy educators, we need them to be well… Or those things won’t happen. They can’t be detectives and figure out what exactly this student is having a challenge, needs, unless they themselves are coming from a place of inquiry and they themselves feel like they’re heard. There’s a lot of some brain science behind can we be present and listen and how were we responding to things and adverse child experiences change how our brains operate, and one of the reasons we really focus on staff is also understanding that many of them… Most of them, knowing the percentages, have had their own adverse childhood experiences and bring a lot themselves with them, and we know educators are carrying people… It’s a caring profession. And so, empathy usually run strong in the people that are in the school building day-to-day, and we need to foster that and encourage that without the burnout, because they can be re-triggered. There can be vicarious trauma that they experience when they’re dealing with whatever is coming into the school building every day, so they need to be well, and that’s really what a lot of the resources we put out there is…It’s a bit cliche, but put your oxygen mask on first. 

I don’t love that analogy actually, when people say it, I kind of have a smile ’cause I appreciate that it’s an attempt, but I I like to say, What is the airplane you’re in, does that airplane that you’re in allow you to put your oxygen mask on first? Because it’s not something that you just need to do. Did someone give the instructions ahead of time at the beginning of the flight, is the oxygen mask come down, does it fit? Does oxygen actually come out of it, we need to take that back level, it is not your job. Take care ourselves, the systems were in need to allow us the space and give us the resources to take care of ourselves.

Patrick

This is very interesting, and Tom and I’ve had this conversation quite a bit. Which is resilience almost seems in some contexts, like it’s asking people who are already overwhelmed to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and solve problems that are not individual, but are systematic and need policy solutions rather than individual solutions. Am I looking to… Am I taking two large of a leap there?

Mariah

No, that is the leap we need to take. Especially now, in this really stressful time for educators, they’re being villainized in some situations, and it just breaks my heart to see that they are all trying their very best and they are being asked to do the impossible, and they’re trying and achieving a lot, and yet still everyone is always asking for more, so what is the system that they are in? And let’s go up a few levels and figure out what policies we can put into place, and we’ve seen big ones, small ones… One I hadn’t even thought of, that is a small example, but just… I think of often is when there is a tragedy at school, a student passes away for any reason, or now that we know, COVID cases are very high and many school communities have been hit where there are… The school or my seven-year-old daughter goes, multiple parents have passed away from COVID. When those things happen, do educators have the opportunity to do have some bereavement to themselves and take a day, oftentimes, these are their own students or the families they were close to, is anyone letting them grieve? And there are actually districts that have put some sort of staff of bereavement or brief policy in place that allows in that space because they’re going to have to go back to the classroom and look at the empty seat or address the fact that multiple parents may have passed away of their students, and they are doing their best and they need to address that, but is anyone allowing them to grieve before they go, and it may be a model for everybody else? That’s a small thing that could have a big impact if that system is in place is a policy that encourages that process that we we all need to go through. 

Tom

You’re really pointing out something that people often forget that teachers have emotions, essentially, that teaching is a profession that takes a tremendous amount of emotion, and that often it can be very negative from secondary stress or just because it can be a very thankless job, so it’s nice to hear that recognition.

Mariah

Yeah, and one of the reasons that Thriving Schools exist is because we at Kaiser, we have over 12 million members, and we realized some time ago that 20% or one in five our members is in a school environment all day… Many of those are educators, some of those, of course, are young members that are elementary age all the way through high school, etcetera. When we realize there’s no other place where 20% of our members are all day long, and a lot of these are teachers… We need to make sure that environment that is so critical is as healthy as it can be for everybody.

Patrick

Yeah, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the anonymous message board called an anonymous teacher speaks. Is this familiar to you? 

Mariah

No. 

Patrick

It’s remarkable. I got started early on in the pandemic, but it is a Padlet board where anyone who is an educator is invited to anonymously submit a little card with what they’re going through right now. I’m looking at it right now, and I just wanna read you some of the things that they say, I’m just the titles on it says, it’s just too much, another says Empty empathy. Another one says, The teachers aren’t all right. In-person learning since October, one person says, I lost my boyfriend to COVID. district lies, not prepared, I’m not a hero. And it goes on and on and on for an endless scroll of people crying out anonymously for help, and some are sad, some are angry, some are resigned, some are hopeful. I don’t wanna discount the optimism on the board either, but it is… I spend maybe two or three hours one day just reading all of these things, and you really get a sense of just what people are going through, and there’s blame, there’s a lot of people take responsibility, there’s a lot of guilt, but it really does give you a sense of the struggle that this pandemic has brought on, and not just the pandemic, but also a lot of the civil unrest that we saw this year as a result of police killings, a lot of that shows up on the board as well.

Mariah

Yeah, that’s interesting. And also just to acknowledge things were not all right necessarily before the pandemic with all educators, and this is just exacerbated now what is already out there, and I think given what you just mentioned, this pandemic has only revealed all of the cracks in the systems and we thought was a foundation, both the racism that is built into the school system, it is laid bare, the way that it’s laid bare, the racism in the communities we live in. So a lot of the work we were doing started before they actually pretty much all of it started before the pandemic, and we were very concerned about educator Mental Health in 2015, and we’ve created a lot of things for them, and I know, fortunately, they’re incredibly relevant, but sadly, they’re even more relevant because we’ve only seen mental health concerns increase for everybody, as you’re saying at the top of our time together. It’s very concerning, and actually the statistics that we use, some of them are pre-pandemic and they’re still shocking, and they’re probably going to worsen or at least stay the same. One of the numbers that go into this focus on educators and teachers, but all educators, as I mentioned, it isn’t just people that are teaching in the classroom is that 45% of teachers left the profession within their first five years, like think about that. Those are people that have the passion and got the degree and went through the training and made it to the classroom and something about that classroom or what they were faced with made them change professions. It’s a tragedy. 

Tom

We often hear that figure about people who leave in the first 5 years but I think that actually veteran teachers are sort of forgotten. There’s a lot of burn out towards the end of the career, and even if it doesn’t be leaving the career, it can mean disengaging from the classroom, that’s something that I hope burnout is something that affects teachers at all stages of their career. 

Patrick

I’m wondering too, before the pandemic, we have the opportunity to go to a lot of conferences where both administrators and teachers were in attendance, and some of these were conferences that dealt with multi-tiered systems of support or cognitive behavioral techniques or similar topics. And it was kind of remarkable to see the amount of people who were administrators who say, This is all great, this information is fantastic, but there’s no way that I’m gonna be able to close the gap between the theory and the enthusiasm that I see here, and some of the teachers in my district who are beyond… I don’t wanna say beyond saving, but sort of beyond being enthusiastic or giving it another shot, they’re just… They’re at the end of their ropes, so I know that’s a struggle that many, many districts deal with, at many, many schools deal with… What does the research or your experience say about how we close that gap between these great resources and like you said, the most important part, which is the execution of these ideas in practice.

Mariah

One of the things that we’ve really seen be valuable is going back to basics and 101, which of course educators can respect and showing the science behind what students go through, what maybe you went through or are going through, and how that affects your brain and how you’re responding, because when you see that, your rational brain turns off under stress, that it helps understand that sometimes my rational brain is turning off when I’m stressed, and this is probably often times happening with children whose brains are still under development, and they go into the fight-flight-freeze mode. When there is what might be viewed isn’t an older system in place, and people want more traditional forms of punishment when you actually show the science and the facts behind why that isn’t what’s actually happening, what you see in the face of things is not what’s happening underneath, what’s happening in your students bodies and in your own body. It’s really hard to go back to the system you use before when you understand the science behind it, so we’ve seen that be pretty powerful.

Patrick

So we talked already about the resilience and school environments RISE resources that you make available. You also do a lot of work with Discovery Education. Can you tell us about that?

Mariah

Yeah, we’re really excited to have created some modules with Discovery Education, that’s the education arm of the Discovery Channel, and they already have relationships with, I think about 60% districts in the country, so they have a wonderful wide reach and they’re well-respected. And we have launched two of four modules, we have two more coming in the next month or so, and these are again, free, available to all, you do not need to have a Discovery Education partnership in your district. Anyone can create an account and go in and access… These are e-learning modules, they’re aimed at the adults that support kids, so of course teachers, but as I mentioned, school leadership, nutrition services staff, aides, everybody can go in and access these and learn about this work we’re doing, and what they cover is the basics of trauma-informed responses and trauma-informed care, which I know you in this podcast are well well aware of, and really that’s understanding the science of ACEs and adverse childhood experiences, how to respond in a way that benefits everybody. So the first module is specifically trauma-informed care, and immediately includes a lot of educator well-being content, and the first one that’s available and for free to everybody. The second one, we immediately moved over to cultural humility and equity because these are inextricably linked. Sometimes racist systems that we live in affect how students are treated, how responses happen, we all bring our own implicit bias to things, so the second module immediately goes to working towards equity as you do trauma-informed work, those two are available now to everybody, and we have two more coming that get fairly science-y into the practice of actually executing this in your school, in your day-to-day classroom, Zoom room, school building. Those two are on trauma-informed care and the educational environment, and then transforming into a resilient school. They’ll be available by March. So those are all available. The first two are now, it’s at readysetrisemodules.com that you could either just Google Discovery Education and Kaiser Permanente day. I’m sure you can link to those in the show notes, but they’re very excited, they’re interactive, their stored videos, and we are seeing some schools and districts use them and encourage their staff to do them as part of their professional learning opportunities and professional development, because they’re doing at their own pace.

Patrick

Yeah, we’ll definitely link to those in the show notes that people can get access to them easily. We end our program each time with the same question, which is a bit more light-hearted, I hope, but we are hopefully in the planing days of the coronavirus pandemic, maybe waning months. Fingers crossed. The case rates in California are looking really good. It doesn’t mean, stop being vigilant, but if there’s at least a liter of hope on the horizon, so what’s the first thing that you’re going to do when we get this sort of all clear? For sure?

Mariah

Oh man. Well, two things jumped right to mind, the first immediate thing is just have friends over for a big, wonderful dinner. I love to cook for people. I have been cooking for my family every day, but it’s not quite the same as planning a wonderful meal, appetizers and a wonderful dessert and just have friends over and linger and enjoy that, so I look forward to doing that again ’cause I really get joy from that. And secondly, book travel to go see… To go see family. I married someone when I was saying the Peace Corps from the Caribbean, and we’ve not been able to go back. It’s the longest stretch we’ve been without seeing family there, so… Yeah, pretty cliche, but a lot of people are looking forward to seeing friends and traveling. Myself included.

Tom

That’s been the most common answer, I think.

Patrick

Yeah, absolutely, yeah. And that’s all… We’re all hungry for it. Seeing loved-ones. Well, Maria, thank you so much for joining us, this has really been insightful conversation, and thanks for your time and maybe we can do it again.

Mariah

Great, well, thank you for having me, it’s been a pleasure.

Tom

Yes, thanks very much.