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  • Geoff Gaukler, MA, LPC

Not a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Geoff Gaukler, MA, LPC

Mental Health Coordinator, Grand Forks Public Schools

The notion that something could actually be one-size-fits-all has puzzled me over the years. A hat, not likely. Shoes, of course not. Maybe the only one-size-fits-all item our family has purchased over the years that fits the description would be the Disneyworld ponchos we bought in haste as the rain poured down. Although here’s a little secret; I think they were just extremely overpriced XL garbage bags with a Disney logo.

What’s my point and how does it relate to school mental health and the National Center for Safe Supportive Schools? I’ve seen and read countless news stories over the past couple years about the toll the pandemic is having on our society. More specifically, I’ve heard multiple stories focusing on the youth mental health crisis and the emerging concerns of staff burnout and decreasing job satisfaction for teachers. Here’s where I don’t think we can take a one-size-fits-all approach. And I’m happy to say that our school district’s participation in the Safe Supportive Schools Learning Collaborative has been tailored by the group’s faculty. With 15 districts participating from all across the country, the NCS3 team has certainly provided a wealth of information and resources to our district teams that is consistent and grounded in research. However, I should add that assigning individual faculty leads for each district is a wonderful way to support our teams’ individual efforts. Dr. Sharon Hoover wrote in a previous NCS3 blog post, “Effective MTSS implementation requires careful consideration of the 'fit' with local values, beliefs, practices, and traditions”. Recognizing that she and the full NCS3 faculty are taking this individualized approach with the 15 participating districts is also a good reminder for us to take a similar approach when working with our district staff.

For example, our superintendent recently shared a national article with our school board titled, “Disrespected and Dissatisfied, 8 Takeaways From a New Survey of Teachers”. The author’s first takeaway falls under the heading, “Teachers are much less satisfied with their jobs than they used to be.” Here’s where I think we need to be careful. Let me explain. The author continues and notes that 56% of teachers are actually satisfied with their jobs. Certainly it is noteworthy that the percentage of teachers who are “very satisfied” with their jobs is at an all-time low according to this particular survey; however, I don’t think our response should take a one-size-fits-all approach.

For example, there are a number of initiatives I had hoped to help lead in our district over the past couple of years; however, I put some plans on hold and altered other plans to offer training to teachers who chose to opt in rather than moving forward with district-wide implementation. I met with some staff who suggested it was the most challenging year of their career, and still others told me that it was important for us to do more and expect more of our staff because of the immense student needs.

I would estimate that I helped lead twice as many training sessions this year that followed an opt-in approach as ones that were required for all staff. I believe it is important for our schools to take a balanced approach and not let the pendulum swing too far in either direction. We have to know when to “push” ourselves and our colleagues and we also need to recognize when it is important to slow down, give ourselves some grace, and offer support to our colleagues. After all, we recognize that our students need different levels of instruction and support; hence, we should apply a similar philosophy for ourselves and our partners in education.

I’ll do my best to illustrate these thoughts. I’m not a runner. I never have been and likely never will be. However, roughly a decade ago I offered to run a half marathon with my wife. We trained together and agreed to run the entire race together. I had two goals - finish all 13.1 miles and don’t walk. I made it to the finish line, but while the first 10 miles felt ok, by mile 11 I had hit the wall. And yes, I began to walk. To my surprise, my normally positive and uplifting wife decided I needed a good kick in the pants (figuratively of course). I immediately began to run and made it another half mile before I chose to slow my pace and walk again. She got after me again and this repeated itself a couple more times in the final mile or two. I was glad she took this approach even though I vowed to never run another half marathon. But there we were a year later ready to run the same race. Although there were two key differences this time around. One, I trained twice as hard because I was even more determined not to walk. And two, we decided we didn’t need to run the entire race together. By mile 3, she was shot out of a cannon and I didn’t see her again until I finished the race. When I asked her how things had gone, she shared with me an interesting story. One of a man and woman who she had run next to for a majority of the race. In this case, the man pleaded with his wife to continue; although she begged for a chance to slow down and catch her breath. This continued until the finish line was in sight. With only a couple hundred yards to go, my wife had to jump out of the way after the woman collapsed right in front of her. She required medical assistance at the scene, but to the best of our knowledge she ended up ok. I think this story begs a few questions:

•When and how hard do we “push” ourselves? •When and how hard do we “push” others? •When do we ask for help? •What kind of help can we provide for the adults we work with?

Our school district set aside a considerable amount of money this year to pay a counseling agency to provide short term emotional support for staff who were interested. And while we estimated more staff would take advantage of this service, those who did recognized a need and hopefully also a benefit.

I invite you to take a look at our Grand Forks Public Schools year-end mental health report to see what other approaches we took to support our students and staff this year. We did our best to offer supports in every size :)

And thank you to the NCS3 team for supporting our team and the others around the country. This work is more important than ever!!

Geoff Gaukler Mental Health Coordinator, Grand Forks Public Schools


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