Valuing Rest and Healing for Black Students and Teachers Matters!

Original post by Monique Nunnally, Atlanta Teacher

We are under assault everyday with a new trauma in front of us, but the world expects us to keep moving as usual. From blatant police murders of black bodies, to a Global Pandemic that has taken millions of lives globally in less than a year, we are constantly pushed to just keep on grinding. I mean the POTUS would not even denounce white supremacy on the global stage but we supposed to just be good and keep on pressing on. Sadly, this has been coined as “Grind Culture” where no matter your trauma, pain or emotional well-being, society pushes you to continue to keep grinding no matter what. We see evidence of this as the President of the United States (POTUS #45), recently took severely ill with Covid-19 and shared that he had no plans to hand over power and rest during his “recovery/quarantine”. Yet yesterday morning, we had mixed reports of his condition and health. Like why couldn’t he just rest? More importantly, do we as a society see weakness in pausing for rest and healing? 

So this is my dilemma/question for our elected officials, school leaders, other influential decision makers and even parents, why don’t we care more for the emotional and mental well-being of our kids to provide space for rest and healing? I mean the assault on adults has been catastrophic with over 13 million jobs lost ( of which most will never return or don’t pay a living wage), 200,000 deaths from Covid-19 nationally, the rate of food insecurity doubled for households with children, one in five families were behind on rent in July,surge in more domestic violence and abuse  and the litany of trauma just keeps on coming. Let me add, if you are black or a minority/marginalized racial group or LGBTQ+ or a woman or a combination of all of these then times all this trauma by 5. 

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Now let’s look at all of this hot mess from the lens of a child. Schools track record supporting the mental and emotional well-being of kids before the pandemic was SUS. The counselor-to-student ratio nationally is 482:1 and in Georgia 490:1 and social workers are normally a shared resource for multiple schools or are part-time serving thousands. After working this week with therapists to host a Virtual workshop on healing for my students, it was no surprise that one of the therapists even shared that she left school counseling because she truly had no time to work “with kids” only “for” them as she managed clerical and administrative tasks like scheduling. Then the next question is who is talking to our kids about everything that is going on in the world and helping them process their emotions if it’s not a counselor? If we are lucky an amazing, yet overworked teacher or an intentional parent or mentor but still we need more help.  Now that our kids and emerging young adults are grappling with issues that adults can barely wrap our minds around like rent, hunger, job loss, missing key milestone events and even, illness and  death ( more now without any health insurance to get care and coping tools), what are we doing for them? Are we sending them the same “Grind Culture” message to keep it moving and business as usual? 

Sadly, the answer is yes as Georgia’s Board of Education voted against Superintendent Wood’s recommendation to not have the Georgia Milestone Assessment Test for high school students not count toward their final grade in the midst of a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, In an 8-4 decision, the state board chose “accountability” over healing and restoration for kids. This is a lot to digest in this moment but in the words of Georgia’s State School Board Member Mike Royal, “ I am not ready to give up on this year…”., demonstrating that our leaders don’t think so. But this sentiment is what is hurting our students more, that somehow we are giving up if we don’t value a standardized test instead of valuing the mental and emotional well-being of children more. This “accountability” culture and “Grind” culture is toxic and has set us up to fail our kids when we can’t create space for them to simply heal in this unprecedented moment in history. 

So what can we do to change?  

As schools prepare to reopen for hybrid or in-person instruction, yes it is vital for us to make sure everyone is tested, wearing a mask and sanitizing but we also must create space for authentic ways to truly check on our students’ emotional well-being. We also must prioritize and value our children’s emotional well-being in this season above all else. What does this look like? Having school leaders engage with partners like Chris 180ChopArt and PlayWorks that fosters embedded mental wellness support for children into the school schedule. Right now, teachers are charged with this work in morning meetings or worse for a quick warm-up/pulse check. But we really have to commit now to doing more and committing more time to this work at every level of school. Also, it requires us to divest from Grind Culture and stop overworking kids, especially in this season of trauma, so more out doors time or personal conversations and less screen time. Ask your child do they feel comfortable sharing how they feel with you or other adults. Most I have spoken with, in middle and high school, say they do not. Let’s talk about why.  Something, I do with my little one also is I do sensory boxes to create space for us to unwind and focus on being present with an activity with all of our senses and practices. This is super helpful with smaller kids. No matter the age, this work is not easy, but we have to go deeper and do this work well. 

Lastly, it will require us to please write to the state of Georgia’s School Board for the next 30 days and submit our heartfelt public comment that we VALUE OUR KIDS WELL BEING MORE THAN A ACCOUNTABILITY WITH A MEANINGLESS HIGH STAKES TEST. OH YEAH, AND TWEET THE POTUS TO REST AND GET WELL. HOPEFULLY, WE ALL WILL FIND HEALING IN THE PROCESS. 

Please CLICK HERE for Public Comment to the Georgia Board of Education TODAY!


Monique Nunnally has been in education since 2015. Her greatest joy is working with kids. She believes in the Teach for America’s mantra, ” One Day all children will have access to a quality education”.


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