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May 1, 2003
Vol. 60
No. 8

A Wellness Program for Faculty

One independent, K–12 school, grappling with teacher retention, set out to improve teachers' physical and mental health.

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Concerns about quality of life are among the many reasons that teachers leave the profession. A large body of research links teacher stress with burnout and identifies salary, declining social status, and ever-expanding responsibilities as stress inducers (Kyriacou, 1987; Needle, Griffin, & Svendsen, 1981; Okebukola & Jegede, 1992). Kyriacou, a leading authority on teacher stress, notes that maintaining a high level of alertness and vigilance to meet a variety of demands also takes its toll (1989). Stress not only affects teacher retention but also contributes to such ailments as ulcers, coronary heart disease, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, and nervous exhaustion.
According to research, on-site wellness programs have the potential to attract qualified employees and to positively affect productivity and efficiency (Sullivan, 2002). Participation in employee health promotion programs reduces absenteeism related to such health issues as stress, obesity, and cardiovascular disease (Aldana & Pronk, 2001). Besides the health benefits, wellness programs can have a positive effect on teamwork, morale, and teacher effectiveness.
For all of these reasons, Miami Country Day, a large, independent school serving grades K–12, sought to develop a wellness program. The goal was to create an innovative program for faculty and staff to improve their quality of life at the professional and personal levels, to communicate the school's genuine interest in their well-being, and to strengthen school morale. Fortunately, Miami Country Day has the resources—including weight-training and fitness rooms and health professionals—to facilitate a wellness program. Although the wellness program is only in its third year, the initial results have been encouraging.

Starting a Wellness Program

Wellness programs vary, but they typically promote such proactive behaviors as stress management, exercise, conflict management, and work/life balance. The National Wellness Institute's model for wellness (2002) has six dimensions: intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and vocational. This model fits nicely with the Miami Country Day School's mission statement, which identifies six dimensions for educating our students: physical, spiritual, emotional, social, intellectual, and aesthetic.
Although most people associate wellness or health with physical activities, the six-dimension model allowed us to develop a more diversified program. For example, we offer Weight Watchers and fitness activities for the physical dimension and yoga for the spiritual dimension of the program. During our annual wellness day, we offer physical activities (such as wall climbing); social activities (such as a smoothie bar); and more traditional learning activities (such as stress management classes).
  • Set up a reading section in the faculty lounge that included newsletters and magazines featuring wellness topics.
  • Worked with the school's food service to provide free fresh fruit daily in the faculty lounge.
  • Supplied a water cooler and hung signs highlighting the health benefits of consuming water and fruit each day.
  • Started an on-campus Weight Watchers program for which the school and participants shared the cost.

Annual Wellness Events

So far, the wellness committee has planned three annual wellness days for the entire staff. The first annual wellness day, representative of the ones to follow, began with a healthy breakfast, a brief talk about wellness and the school's mission, and a video, The Joy of Stress, which features humorist and stress expert Loretta LaRoche. Staff spent the remainder of the morning participating in a variety of activities of their choice, including art therapy, wall climbing, yoga, a stress management workshop, and an introduction to weight training in the school's fitness room. They also had the opportunity to attend a session with an acupuncturist and get a health screening for cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. Several massage therapists provided brief massages. Representatives from a fitness center, an aerobics studio, and Weight Watchers signed participants up for trial memberships.
The afternoon focused on team building. The staff was divided into teams and a company specializing in team building and fitness led the groups through a series of activities requiring problem solving and cooperation. The wellness committee selected team members in advance so that each team included teachers from different divisions, thereby helping the teachers, who rarely interact across divisions, get to know one another. Activities such as the spider web, a challenge in which the entire group must move together through a web-like structure, required teamwork and problem solving. The afternoon created new friendships and evoked a sense of camaraderie. The day concluded with a raffle (for reserved parking spaces and massages) and a social hour.

Ongoing Efforts

The wellness committee uses surveys and evaluations to guide its planning of ongoing wellness activities. On the basis of survey input, we continued the Weight Watchers program. A yoga instructor started teaching a class on campus after school. The committee arranged for the staff to use the school's weight training room and to meet with a personal trainer to set up individual fitness programs.
The committee also bought a massage chair, complete with headphones and calming music, for the faculty lounge and created a “Being Well-Read” program which distributes short articles to staff members each month on a variety of wellness and personal improvement topics. Working with food services, we began offering healthy food choices, including carrot snack packs, fresh fruit, and salads at the snack bar.
  • Administrators' encouragement and support of the program.
  • Diverse and dedicated committee members to build and maintain the program.
  • Faculty buy-in. To gain faculty support, the committee should offer diverse programs and survey faculty members at least twice a year so that it can tailor programming to their needs.
We have noticed a positive culture change in the philosophy of staff members toward their individual health. We have seen these changes in informal communications with committee members and the administration and in the increased participation in our programs.
  • Not all employees will embrace the program. Some staff members believe that we are pushing our philosophies onto them, and others have complained that the money spent on wellness could be better used to increase stipends and salaries.
  • Generational issues are another consideration. Programming must be geared toward diverse age groups.

Encouraging Results

Although it is still too soon to tell whether we are retaining more teachers, where we were able to accurately assess improvement data, we have seen positive results. For example, our Weight Watchers program has been stable over a three-year period. Within a few months of beginning the program, staff members began to notice that some of their colleagues were losing weight. Participants in the program expressed deep gratitude that the school helped fund the program, convened meetings on campus, and encouraged participation. In the program's first year, 15 participants collectively lost more than 270 pounds.
Our yoga program has also continued and expanded this year from one to two days a week. In our recruitment efforts, we have seen that prospective teachers seem excited about our wellness program. We plan to begin an analysis of retention and attendance data at the end of this school year. We recommend that anyone establishing a wellness program for the first time get baseline data on retention and attendance prior to beginning the program.
Students have also benefited from the insights that teachers have gained from their own focus on wellness. For example, after an inservice workshop on humor, several teachers used some of the improvisational techniques they learned to help foster humor and creativity in their classrooms. After inservice programs on stress management, teachers demonstrated breathing and relaxation techniques to their students before administering tests. We hope that teachers will continue to model what they have learned, both behaviorally and intellectually.
We are currently in the process of translating what has been primarily a staff wellness program into a schoolwide program that includes students. The first student wellness fair took place in December of last year. We included interactive workshops on bicycle safety, nutrition, yoga, and body image. It is our goal to continue to conduct wellness fairs for our students each December. These fairs will focus on education for total wellness and improvement in self-esteem. We will use student surveys from the end of our most recent wellness fair to plan future wellness fairs. We believe that the success of our wellness efforts has already made a positive impact on the lives and health of the staff and has improved the school's culture.

Aldana, S. G., & Pronk, N. P. (2001). Health promotion programs, modifiable health risks, and employee absenteeism. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 43(1), 36–46.

Kyriacou, C. (1987). Teacher stress and burnout: An international review. Educational Leadership, 29, 146–152.

Kyriacou, C. (1989). The nature and prevalence of teacher stress. In M. Cole & S. Walker (Eds.), Teaching and stress (pp. 27–34). Philadelphia: Open University Press.

National Wellness Institute. (2002). A definition of wellness[Online]. Available: www.nationalwellness.org/nwi_Home/NWI.asp?id=23&Year;=2002&Tier;=3

Needle, R. H., Griffin, T., & Svendsen, R. (1981). Occupational stress: Coping and health problems of teachers. Journal of School Health, 59, 175–181.

Okebukola, P. A., & Jegede, O. J. (1992). Survey of factors that stress science teachers and an examination of coping strategies. Science Education, 75, 99–120.

Sullivan, S. (2002). Wellness programs [Online]. Available: http://www.e-hresources.com/Articles/Nov2.htm

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