Personal and student mental health a focus for FVSD PD Day

Educational assistants and teachers from across Fort Vermilion School Division had an opportunity to learn more about mindfulness and trauma-informed learning recently during a Professional Development day.

The full-day learning event took place Nov. 12 at High Level Public School. While students across the division enjoyed an additional day on their Remembrance Day long weekends, teachers and educational assistants were hard at work gaining important skills in learning how to help children deal with trauma and how to help themselves dealing with common health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress.

Natalie Morris, Supervisor of Connectivity for FVSD, said the division provides annual professional development for educational assistants and teachers throughout the jurisdiction.

“(We’re) making sure we can provide specialized professional development in terms of students who are struggling with severe behaviour,” she said. “We wanted to have all those types of development on the agenda. We also wanted to make the day about ‘Taking Care of You’ and the importance of our own health when working with our students.”

FVSD Superintendent Mike McMann said the two-part day explores techniques and activities that can be used to distress in a very stressful world.

“In the morning, we will be looking at the needs of the children we work with,” he said. “In the afternoon, it’s all about how we as a staff look after wellness for ourselves.”

Some of the personal health components involved meditative activities such as yoga and growing microgreens to enjoy through the winter. There was a Tolko tour involving some burned areas from the Chuckegg Creek fire and discussion on reforestation and the impact of the fire on local economies. There were also sessions on music and dance.

“It’s a lot of really fun things that are taking place this afternoon,” said Morris.

The planned activities may have had a fun-first aesthetic, but are designed to help the division in dealing with a serious issue faced by many businesses and organizations in the north – attracting and retaining talent. For FVSD, the challenge involves hiring teachers and staff who have sometimes come from thousands of kilometres away, leaving their families and friends behind to work in what can be a very cold and very lonely northern wilderness.

Morris said using local organizations and businesses to facilitate some of the personal health activities was vital, as it would provide opportunities for EAs and Teachers to continue pursuing activities of interest to them after their sessions were over.

“People can reach out in their own time and make connections if they want,” she said.

The event received funding support from the Northwest Regional Learning Consortium.

The NRLC provides support for events such as the FVSD PD Day including – if necessary – organizing registration for the events. This was not the case for the FVSD PD Day, however.

“Really, our role is to enhance and leverage the professional development that is being provided by the school division to be able to partner to provide the most engaging learning experience for teachers,” said Sandra Ciurysek, NRLC Executive Director.

The NRLC is part of the Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortium and offers financial and in-kind support to assist with professional development of teachers.

“It’s to the benefit of the school division to take advantage of our services and to be able to offer the most they can to their teachers at the most efficient cost to them,” said Ciurysek.

Without this assistance, some schools and school divisions would be unable to offer high quality professional development.

“Fort Vermilion School Division has always put on great events and offers great professional development to their teachers,” Ciurysek said. “They bring in world-class speakers. We like to be able to support that and support them in supporting their teachers.”