Taking a 'beat' for teachers: JPEF Teacher Leadership Initiative creates space for reflection

JPEF's Teacher Leadership Initiative is helping teachers develop their leadership skills - and take a moment to reflect on their own well-being.


A global pandemic, a recession, virtual learning, political and social upheaval, and now, a violent siege on the U.S. Capitol.

How are teachers feeling in this moment?

On Saturday, about 25 leading teachers joined a learning session with the Jacksonville Public Education Fund to talk, reflect and learn strategies to help themselves and their students manage stress.

The virtual event was part of the Teacher Leadership Initiative, JPEF’s program to support teacher leadership in schools. The strategic initiative includes 48 fellows who were selected to participate out of about 180 Teachers of the Year.

“What we’re going to do today is dig down and figure out what we need to do as educators to be okay to go into our class on Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday as the hits keep on coming,” said Warren Buck, JPEF Director of Teacher Leadership. Earlier in the week, Warren and the team of teacher coaches and experts who work on TLI decided to scrap the planned agenda and instead focus on managing trauma and stress given the events in Washington, D.C. last week. 

Teachers heard from Callie Lackey, Executive Director of Hope Street, Inc, a consulting firm that teaches schools how to use trauma-informed practices in the classroom.

According to 2020 data from the Florida Department of Children and Families, almost a third (27 percent) of high school students in Duval County have significant trauma. But cognitive science has shown how simple strategies can help those students and all students who are facing stress in their lives – and the teachers who care for them.

We often talk about students’ “invisible backpacks” – the stress, hunger, trauma, violence that students deal with in their lives – but teachers have “invisible backpacks” too. 

Schools are under unprecedented stress during this school year, and teachers have been asked to do more than ever – online learning, teaching in masks, potential exposure to COVID-19, and very little chance to see family and friends who support them.

How are they doing? Here’s what some of the teachers expressed in the chat. 

  • “I am hanging on, but the string is wearing thin and fraying.”
  • “Beyond the events of this week, I feel this year like I am dancing as hard as I can, but teaching online this year is not producing the results I expect of me -- and that feels like a failure on my part.”
  • “Constantly having to remind myself that we’re living through a political crisis, an economic crisis, and a global pandemic all at the same time. That any of us (or our students) can maintain any semblance sort of function is literally miraculous.” 
  • “I keep telling myself that there are people who went through wars, missed schooling, and still were/are successful. I try to look for the positive, but at times, it is so difficult.”

Callie shared lots of information and strategies to help teachers take care of themselves and to bring to their classrooms.

For example: the engine check – from the Alert Program.TM This exercise asks students, how is your engine running? Then, it offers quick tricks to help students learn to self-regulate and to better prepare them to learn.



A blue engine means you’re feeling low energy or sad. For a quick fix, Callie led the teachers in a “freeze dance” where they imitate the movements of the teacher. She played Justin Timberlake’s “I Got That Feeling” and amazingly, several teachers turned on their cameras to dance. 

A red engine means you’re feeling anxious, irritated or angry. Your heart rate is up. You need to cool things down. A quick fix is the “magic mustache” – placing your finger under your nose, a pressure point for the calming parasympathetic nervous system, and feeling your breath.

A green engine means you’re good to go – ready to learn!

The teachers also talked about taking time for themselves. Callie encouraged them to take care of their bodies by getting adequate nutrition, hydration, exercise, sleep and connections with friends and family. She shared some of the recent science that shows how important these basic steps are to helping ourselves in stressful times.

Teachers chimed in to the chat to share their own tactics for self-care and to offer words of encouragement and support to each other.

“Yes! This is really feeling like a Fix My Life moment. I so desperately needed this,” said one teacher.

In the end, teachers had a few more ideas for how to re-charge their own batteries as they head into the second semester of school. A “beat.” A “breath.”

To borrow the words of Martin Luther King Jr, Callie shared one of her favorite quotes.

“You don’t have to take the whole staircase. You just have to take the first step.”

Learn more about JPEF's Teacher Leadership Initiative here.




of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.