Education Forum: Mark Greenberg, Christa Turksma, and Tish Jennings

We continued the Garrison Institute Forum on Education with a dynamic conversation about cultivating awareness and resilience in education. Dr. Mark Greenberg moderated the conversation between child psychologist and Director of Training for CARE, Christa Turksma, with professor and CARE co-developer, Dr. Tish Jennings.

They reflected on the origins of CARE, which stands for Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education, sharing how it was born out of a desire to help caregivers, especially teachers, become more aware, compassionate, and present in the classroom.

Jennings has long been concerned about teacher stress, and as a student teacher supervisor, she kept noticing how the teacher’s emotional reactivity interfered with classroom management. This observation prompted her to get a doctorate in human development, with a focus on stress and coping. She eventually found herself running the education initiative at the Garrison Institute, where she began developing CARE to target the stressors teachers experience.

Turksma collaborated with Jennings to develop CARE, inspired by her work with teachers and concern for their wellbeing.

“The teacher is the most important person in the classroom. And if he or she is not doing well, nothing in that classroom runs well.”

Turksma went on to share that the goal of CARE, in her perspective, is to support teacher well-being, increase their ability to be present in the classroom, and help them create satisfying relationships with their students as well as their colleagues “We want to give teachers the tools to deal with all the demands on their plate in a way that is less stressful and doesn’t lead to burnout,” she explained.

CARE facilitates this by helping teachers build skills and capacities that are simple and easy to adopt, such as:

  • The practice of stepping back, gathering oneself, and taking a long, deep breath.
  • Setting a daily intention that can serve as a compass throughout the day. Reflecting on why you became a teacher, what values influenced that decision, and what your vision of yourself as a teacher is can be helpful fodder for setting a meaningful intention.
  • Developing emotional awareness. Teaching is an emotional job and it can be exhausting, so it is important to be aware of one’s anxiety, nervousness, and other emotional states. If we lack this awareness, we may transfer our emotions to students.
  • Cultivating self-compassion, as teachers often have abundant compassion for their students but not for themselves.

Greenberg noted that what makes CARE unique is that it is designed by teachers or former teachers, like Jennings and Turksma, who intimately understand the teaching experience. Out of this understanding has grown a program that now helps teachers across the U.S. and the world be interpersonally mindful and present in the classroom.

The impact of CARE has been measured, too. Research shows that CARE helps reduce the psychological distress and time urgency of teachers and improves their mindfulness, emotional regulation, and the feeling of productivity. Significantly, CARE has also been shown to improve classroom interactions and the sensitivity of teachers to the needs of their students. Amongst students, this has led to greater engagement, improved motivation, and greater confidence with reading. Greenberg reflected on these findings, sharing that:

“When teachers are well, they are going to teach better. And when they teach better, children are going to be more involved, the classroom is going to be a more loving place, children are going to be more attentive, and as a result, they are more likely to learn.”

In addition to serving teachers, CARE has developed a separate curriculum for principles and school administrators with the hopes of helping create holistically caring and healthy schools.

The Forum conversation ended with a time of Q&A, which led to a discussion about self-care during COVID-19. Jennings underscored that feeling stress right now is normal, so we should prioritize caring for ourselves, staying socially connecting, and appreciating the things in our lives that are going well. Turksma added that feeling fear and anxiety is also to be expected, but we must realize that when we feel that way, we can’t make as good of decisions or be as present as we need to for students or others. She suggests turning off the news for a while, focusing on anything that gives us joy, and cultivating gratitude.

Turksma and Jennings also addressed a question about unconscious biases. To begin unpacking our biases, Jennings recommended exploring Project Implicit. Turksma also shared that a vital part of care is becoming aware of our implicit biases and scripts.

“In CARE, we learn to cultivate a better understanding about the biases that might interfere with our connections with students, parents, and colleagues. Being aware of what kind of biases you might have gives you the ability to change it.”

Learn more about the CARE program and browse CASEL’s webinars, which explore how social and emotional learning can be helpful in responding to this moment.

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Mark Greenberg, Ph.D. retired in 2019 as the Bennett Endowed Chair in Prevention Research at Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development. He is the Founding Director of the Edna Bennett-Pierce Prevention Research Center, one of the Founders of CASEL, and one of the primary authors of the globally-renowned PATHS curriculum. He is a senior investigator on national and international research projects including Fast Track, PROSPER, and CARE.

Patricia (Tish) Jennings, M.Ed., Ph.D. is Professor of Education at the Curry School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia and is an internationally recognized leader in the fields of social and emotional learning and mindfulness in education. Her research places a specific emphasis on teacher stress and how it impacts the social and emotional context of the classroom. Jennings led the team that developed CARE, a mindfulness-based professional development that significantly improves teacher well-being, classroom interactions, and student engagement. She is the author of numerous articles, chapters, and books, including Mindfulness for Teachers and The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom.

Christa Turksma, Drs. was a kindergarten teacher and principal before becoming a child-clinical psychologist. She has worked on various research and intervention projects, and over the past 30+ years, has trained thousands of teachers across North America, Europe, and Australia in the PATHS curriculum. Christa is a co-developer of the CARE program and has adapted the program to fit the needs of administrators and principals. She currently serves as the Director of Training for CARE, coordinating all workshops and the certification of new facilitators.

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Your support matters. Our vision for a more just, compassionate world has never felt more urgent. While we cannot share physical space together, we remain committed to a shared practice of social and spiritual care. We are thankful for the opportunity to create a virtual sanctuary during this time of physical distancing. If you feel called to support our work, we welcome your tax-deductible contribution toward our efforts.

If you have any questions about this event or others, please contact us at events@garrisoninstitute.org.

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