Palliser hosts wellness summit for teachers

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Keynote speaker Karyn Garossino also led a breakout session on personal resilience.

In order for teachers to support students to be their best, the educators themselves need to be at their best, investing in their own well-being.

That was the rationale behind Palliser’s Health and Wellness Summit, a day of professional and personal development organized jointly by Palliser Central Office administration and the Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 19 PD committee.

Based on surveys of teachers conducted by both the division and the ATA, the day, May 1, featured a wide range of sessions on wellness, self-regulation, active classrooms and resilience. Introductions to First Nations, Metis and Inuit history and culture were also offered, and teachers chose for themselves the sessions most applicable to their needs.

The day began with keynote speaker Karyn Garossino, who competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics in ice dance and is a consultant with Performance Coaching, a firm that works with elite athletes, individuals and corporations.

She says research into resilience, stress management and performance under pressure has been proven and is measurable to one hundredth of a second in sports, but it’s applicable in all walks of life.

“When you’re down, when you’re facing doubt. . . how do you respond then?” she asked the crowd of about 450 teachers. “That’s the story of resilience.”

The daughter of a teacher, Garossino encouraged the audience to practice “active awareness.”

“Become aware of what’s going on inside of you. Ask yourself ‘Is this how I have to be?’ It’s a choice. . . Are you managing your reactivity.”

When tension rises, take a moment to focus on breathing, exhaling longer than inhaling. It triggers relaxation.

For Nadya Zacharczuk, a Grade 4 teacher at Calgary Islamic School Akram Jomaa Campus, Garossino’s message of awareness and visualization resonated with work she already does in her classroom, encouraging students to stretch and breathe as a mental break from academics.

Zacharczuk spoke highly of the sessions she attended to encourage physical activity at school.

Associate Superintendent Education Services Pat Rivard said he’s eager to see the feedback from teachers about the day. A survey of teaches is planned, but initial comments suggest the day was well received.

“Teachers spend their careers investing in students, and doing what’s right for kids,” he said. “It’s their turn to invest in themselves.”

Session were led by representatives of Alberta Health Services, Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan, Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium, Alberta Teachers’ Association consultants and Palliser staff.

Sessions included First Nations truth and reconciliation education, including a powerful blanket exercise, which tells the story of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people using blankets to represent land, and participants playing parts in a scripted history of Canada.