As teachers are asked to take on more and more, both in terms of tasks and to do lists and also in the social emotional support of our students. Our own mental health is being put on the back burner. Today’s guest says it’s time to move teacher wellbeing to the forefront and help teachers be the best, happiest versions of themselves so they can be the best, happiest teachers they can be for their kids.
Welcome to Side Hustle Teachers where we believe that being a teacher doesn’t mean you have to be broke or burnt out. Our mission is to help teachers like you build successful businesses so you can find financial freedom, pursue your passions, and discover the many options that exist for you beyond the classroom walls. Well, hello. It is Stacey and you are here with Side Hustle Teachers. I’m so excited that you’re here today because my guest anatomic of happy teacher revolution is talking about something that is so, so, so important to every single teacher, not just listening to this podcast, but on the planet. So if you know of a fellow teacher that could benefit from Dana’s message, I ask that you please share this episode with them because, um, there’s so much to it and teacher wellbeing and mental health is such an overlooked subject that we need to start getting the word out. Now I’m going to keep this intro super short because today’s episode is already longer than usual because Dan and I just kept talking because there’s so much to say. Um, I’m sure she’ll be back on the podcast again as a guest another time. But let me just tell you a little bit about the happy teacher revolution before we get started.
So I stumbled upon Danna’s site by accident. And I was struck by the message of what she is sharing with teachers about taking care of yourself and you know, not pouring from an empty cup. And we get into a great analogy that she has for this a little bit further into the episode, but her entire company is built around the idea of supporting teacher mental health. And as someone who has struggled with mental health – I suffer from anxiety myself – I completely appreciate and understand the point of view that she’s coming from. And we even talk about the fact that teachers just by nature of our character and our just personalities tend to adopt some of these, um, issues just by nature of our job, even if it’s not necessarily a genetic trait or something that we would have struggled with normally.
But you know, there’s something called confess, compassion fatigue that is brought up later in the episode as well that, that a lot of teachers struggle with because we care so much. So I’m not going to take up any more time talking. I’m going to let Deanna explain what she does and all the good that she’s working to provide to our teachers. So let’s jump in with Danna Thomas of happy teacher revolution. Danna, thanks so much for being here today.
I’m so excited. Thank you so much for having me.
Yeah, me too. I was so glad we could connect before. And then, you know, after we talked I just knew that I had to have you on the show. So before we jump in why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about who you are and what you do and your sort of journey to get there.
Sure. My name is Danna Thomas, pronounced like Dan a banana. Um, I, I think I really gravitate to the pneumonic devices because I have a background in early childhood education. So that’s why I like the rhyming words. But I’m also the founder of happy teacher revolution. We’re a Baltimore born international movement with the mission to organize and conduct support groups for educators in the field of mental health and wellness to increase teacher happiness, retention and professional sustainability. And my journey with happy teacher revolution started before I was a teacher when I was still a student because when I was in high school and college, I suffered from crippling anxiety and depression and panic attacks. And I represented the one in five Americans who grapples with a mental illness and one in five college students who’s contemplated suicide. And the statistic that the onset of mental illness most frequently occurs between ages of 17 and 24 and that’s when I was affected and honestly, my teachers, my educators were my emotional first responders.
They recognize the subtle changes in behaviors, warning signs and provided me with medical information to seek treatment and to get help and honestly provided differentiation and accommodation for me. When I was in crisis and truly saved my life. Like I wouldn’t be here talking to you today if it weren’t for my educators. And so they’re the reason I became a teacher myself and I served as a Baltimore city public school teacher for seven years and I started out as a, as a national spokesperson for NAMI, Maryland, the National Alliance of Mental Illness as well as the music for mental health campaign because that was part of my healing journey. It was speaking out about mental health awareness, mental health advocacy. And because I was so outspoken about a topic that is typically wrapped in stigma and shame and secrecy, which is even stronger in certain cultures and communities and genders and professions like teaching.
And so, you know, I was so public about my own journey that I had friends and colleagues, um, come out to me about things that they were with, that they had never really shared with someone before and the stress and anxiety as it relates to the profession. And I was a teacher down the hall, the teacher next to me in PD or across the lunch table or sitting beside me in my grad school classes at Hopkins. Um, so, you know, I really, I truly realized that, that teachers crave the opportunity to come together to feel less alone. I wanted to normalize self care as professional development. I wanted to celebrate teachers who set and maintain boundaries instead of celebrating the teachers who come to work with the flu and stay until nine o’clock at night. Uh, you know, I wanted to honestly revolutionize how we support each other, how we support teachers as a best practice to support the kids in our classroom.
Yeah. And I, I really, you know, I discovered your website. Um, I’m not really sure how, but, but I, I stumbled upon it and I really, a lot of those things that you’re saying really resonate with me because, you know, I myself have anxiety and I know that, you know, certain aspects of teaching definitely bring it out. Like we were just talking about lunch duty and you know, and I actually discovered this year that when I mentioned that to my bosses, they were actually very responsive. They were very understanding and, and took that into account. But the first thing you have to do is you have to acknowledge that this is something that you’re dealing with and then you have to let people in. So, you know, that’s so interesting about your journey though. Is that the first step is that you really just opened up and said, this is something that’s going on with me. And what were you looking for when you started talking about this? Um, publicly? Were you like, was it for yourself or was it to help others or was it a combination of both?
I think it was both. Absolutely. I mean I started, honestly, NAMI was really a transformed transformational for me because, you know, it was this moment where going to their fundraiser walk, um, in may is mental health awareness month. And so that was like the first time I publicly like went to a space and, and stood alongside and amongst people who understand who get it or have a family member that um, they love who, who is suffering from anxiety or depression. And you know, I uh, I will never forget that moment I’ve of showing up and being like sort of like proud of what I’ve been through to be able to come out of it to help others like to know what that darkness feels like but, but then to find the light and to, and to use sort of like what I’ve been through as a strength rather than thinking of myself as a victim of this awful thing.
I had no choice over. So like in my, in my vision with happy teacher revolution or honestly with all mental health advocacy work, it’s like when we see the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness on a Wheaties box or when we see professional athletes wearing pink sneakers for breast cancer awareness and for it to something to be talked about and not to be ashamed of in law. Um, just suffered from stage four, uh, breast cancer and she’s doing great. But like that was such a, uh, a really hard journey for her and for our family. And you know, it’s something that, but we’re not ashamed of like cancer sucks. We wore like our pink tee shirts for her and like we were like all about it and I just don’t know why mental illness has this stigma where like it needs to be something that we talk about that we share.
And so that lime green reminisce, do you ever see a lime green ribbon that represents mental health advocacy and lime green and green has been a huge part of happy teacher revolution and sort of like visually what we represent is that teacher mental health matters, green Apple, that is that official color of mental health awareness. And I think, you know, for me it was, it was really empowering also to just be able to name it to, for it to be something that like I went through and not that I’m ashamed of it, but to be like, Hey, this is something that I experienced. I did not choose for there to be a chemical imbalance in my brain. Um, but I did choose to get help. I did choose to speak up and I realized like it does, especially, you know, when I first started happy teacher revolution in the 2014, 2015 school year, like it was not talked about.
It still isn’t talked about like to the level that it should be. But um, but you know, it was something that like would clear a room. Like people would literally say, this sounds depressing cause we are talking about depression, but it’s like, you know, if, if there is one person who then realizes like, Oh, maybe I need to make an appointment to see a therapist or a counselor. Like if there’s one person who starts making a change in their own life and to get help and to seek treatment, then it’s totally worth it. Like I don’t care if it clears a room, if somebody ends up getting help. Yeah. And I, you know, I think teachers just naturally as such a caring profession, like we, we really just pour so much of ourselves into our classrooms and our students and what we do every day.
Do you think that opens us up even more to a predisposition to, to feeling these things? Depression or anxiety or both? Um, you know, and in general.
Yeah. So, um, everything that I’m about to say, I just want to make sure that everyone knows I’m not a doctor. I’m not a licensed mental health professional. I’m not licensed clinician. My lawyer’s going to be happy that I say this if you’re listening. Um, so, so I’m not a licensed mental health professional, but I can give some statistics or data around some of those things that you mentioned. So according to the center for disease control, the CDC teachers are 15% more likely than other professions to commit suicide. Um, and so, you know, this is something that I believe that in a caregiver type capacity, not just teachers, but I think social workers, school psychologists, nurses, doctors, animal care professionals, anybody who is in a relationship, intense profession, working who was really like flexing their empathy muscle all of the time.
And it’s really, you know, potentially working with individuals who’ve experienced trauma firsthand. So talking about vicarious trauma or a secondhand trauma, um, working with individuals who experience trauma regular basis or who have experienced trauma, those caregivers can take on those effects. Even though they did not experience it firsthand. So that’s something to think about as well. And there’s caregiver burnout, moral distress, compassion fatigue, all of these things. I think, you know, teachers like we do, we’re, we are caregivers. We are the individuals who are so willing to do things for others. So willing to sacrifice so much. And so it, it has to be a constant reminder to ourselves to take care of ourselves first. I often use the oxygen mask analogy on an airplane that like when in the event of a change in pressure from district officials, administration, colleagues, community parents, kids like an oxygen mask, major drop down from the ceiling and you have to put it on yourself first before assisting children and those around you.
And I, I’ve used that analogy so much and honestly it was just a couple of days ago and I was uh, working on my book that I realized that it needs to be less of this oxygen mask analogy of like in times of emergency it might drop down. It needs to be more like a scuba diver. Like it needs to be this oxygen mask that you have on you all of the time to help you breathe because it can’t just be in the times of emergency. Cause if you, if you just wait until the times of emergency for the self care, it’s like it, it needs to be long term. It used to be happening all the time. It needs to be a habitual regular practice that even when it’s not emergency situation, you’re still taking care of yourself because that way you can, your cup can be a little more filled in the event that there is something that goes on.
Yeah. I mean you can’t pour from an empty cup. Right. So, you know, you do, it is so important to take care of yourself. But how do you find, cause I know a lot of the teachers that I know will, they’ll stay late, they’ll do extra things, they’ll go above and beyond. Heaven knows, we all spend gobs of money in our classroom that are all, you know, in that puts more of a financial stress on our family because we’re not spending it on ourselves. We’re spending it for our profession, which sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud. So how do you get teachers to take on more of a proactive role in that sort of self care?
Yeah. So it, it’s really tough because our entire education has been built on the backs of teachers who are predominantly women who are honestly self-sacrificing. They’re having a hard time saying no, they’re doing everything they can for the kids, for the kids, for the kids. So until we start pushing back and saying no, then it’s going to keep going on like that. Then the, then the higher ups in the higher ups and the higher ups are still going to think that it’s totally okay. But if a principal comes to their boss and says, Hey listen, my teachers, they’ve really started to put these boundaries and implementation and practicing their own self care is professional development or we aren’t going to need to rethink and reframe how we structure this school day or what we’re asking of them outside of contractual work hours are X, Y, and Z. But it’s like until we collectively organize, and it’s not just this one off because if it, cause it can be really hard to be this, especially that first person you’re building that’s starting to set the boundaries and say no and not spend money. And not show up and do the extra things.
Like then you have this target on your back and [inaudible] and it’s like, it feels like, Oh my gosh, I’m all alone in this. And here’s the thing is teachers, we do it to each other. Like it’s not just our boss like we do to each other. Like I used to stay at work until 9:00 PM and I would close out the building like after the cleaning folks and custodial fruit left. You know what I mean? Like I was there so late and so I switched schools. I started, you know, and when I, when I changed schools in Baltimore city in the district, like I started changing some of my behaviors and patterns and I left after the bell rang. Like I would not, I would 30 minutes max. But like I, I left. And then it started being a thing that other teachers would say to me like, Oh well you know, Ms. Thomas, she’ll be out of here right after the kids leave.
And it wasn’t my, it was never my principal cause I was turning things in like my, there was nothing. My principal, I was doing the grading, I was being really effective and efficient during my planning time or coming in like in the morning where people are less likely to talk to me because they were doing their own thing. Did I say it after I’ll get, people would come to my room and chit chat and I would stay late, but I felt like I wasn’t really getting that much done. And so, and then during my planning time I started setting from our boundary. So during my planning time I used to have my door open, come in whenever, chit chit chat, dah, dah, dah. And then I started saying, I would love to make an appointment with you if you would like to meet with me during my planning time.
But if we didn’t have an appointment, like, sorry, I’m unavailable and I would lock myself in my closet and my classroom, I kid you not, we turn the lights off, I’d lock myself in the closet so I could get it done. I’m not going to swear so I could get it done. So you know, and that, and, and it made people mad when I started doing that when I wasn’t totally available. Like, yes, there was pushback. When you take care of yourself, there will be pushback. It will make people very unhappy. But who cares because you need to make yourself happy in the same people that are getting bent out of shape because you’re setting boundaries are the same people who took advantage of your lack of boundaries to begin with.
So I’m just going to end with that mic drop. Okay. So, okay. So on, I, I admit I have been in that position as well and it’s scared the heck out of me to set those boundaries. But a couple of years ago when you know, my daughter started getting older and started getting involved in more activities and I launched side hustle teachers and you know, I was actually starting to take on things outside that were just for me and not for my classroom. I, you know, I emailed the assistant superintendent and said I’m sorry I can’t be on this committee this year because I need to cut back on my commitments and you know what he said? “Thanks for letting me know.” And that’s about it, you know.
So I think a lot of times we put this pressure on ourselves and like you said, other teachers as well do the same thing but that we’ve all bought into this teacher as martyr sort of scenario that we don’t have to, you know, we can say I’m done. You know, I leave every day at three 20 cause I have to pick up my daughter and nobody gives me any hard time about that because they know I have to go pick up my daughter. But if I were leaving at three 20 just to leave at three 20 there would be people who’d be raising their eyebrows and saying, Hmm, must be nice to leave early without having to stay and do all sorts of planning. So you do have to set those boundaries and you have to be willing to take on at least a couple of raised eyebrows are people who quite frankly are jealous.
And it’s like, and honestly, you know, maybe those same people who are like talking smack or raising their eyebrows or whatever, it’s like maybe they’re the ones who need to see you doing this the more than anybody because they need to start doing it themselves. Do you know what I mean? Like, yeah, I think that’s part of it too, is like how are we modeling to other colleagues and to our students with social emotional learning and self care looks like? Because that’s how we learn is from watching. And that’s how teachers best learn also is from professional development of other teachers. So imagine having educators in your building who are setting and maintaining those boundaries and taking care of themselves. How they’re modeling that to other teachers. And like, chances are, I mean, I would bet that that teacher who goes and leaves, like when the bell rings to go take care of themselves and come back to work the next day probably comes back a little more refreshed, a little happier, maybe a little more patience in working with the unexpected, unpredictable situations that school buildings bring every single day with those fun.
You know what I mean? Like every day I go into work thinking like nothing’s gonna surprise me today. This thing will happen. And if I didn’t get a whole night’s rest, if I didn’t have a nutritious breakfast, if I didn’t do my, you know, my, what I needed to do for, to take care of Danna, I wasn’t going to be the best version of Ms. Thomas for my kids or for my colleagues. Yeah. Merits, you know what I mean? Like, nobody wants, you know, uh, unhappy, stressed out, like curmudgeony teacher, you know, nobody wants to learn from somebody like that. Nobody wants to work with somebody like that. Nobody wants to drop their kid off to a classroom with a teacher like that. You know what I mean? So, um, so I think that is really, this boils down to, it’s like how do we support teacher happiness and professional sustainability?
And if you’re not happy and if this job makes you miserable and if you it maybe then, then maybe it’s not right anymore. You know what I mean? Like we should feel allowed, like to leave too. We should feel bad. Like we have permission to transition out of the classroom if it’s not right for us. But I believe there are so many incredible teachers who are leaving, um, because they’re not feeling supported and they’re not feeling, um, this type of like comradery and this social emotional learning, this like relationship skills, the getting along together skills with colleagues. And I think that’s, that’s where we’re really missing the Mark.
Yeah. It’s so hard to feel like a complete person when you’re a teacher because you feel like you’re just a teacher like you are. It’s not just a career, it’s who you are and you are on duty. Especially nowadays with the internet. This was not like this when we were growing up where it, you know, I couldn’t email teachers in the middle of the night, whereas I get emails at 11, 12 o’clock at night saying I need help with this. I couldn’t do this. Or saying, you know, I’m not going to be there tomorrow. Can you send me work? Um, it’s already tomorrow cause I’m reading your email until eight o’clock tomorrow morning. So you know, this sort of 24 hour place that we’re in. And then on top of that, we still have this built in teacher martyr mindset where we have to do everything because if we don’t do it then nobody will do it and the kids will suffer and you know, it’s really tough. So how do you help people sort of take that first step?
So I think, you know, we’ve been talking a lot about boundaries, but I think like that’s really huge. It’s like in a professional workplace, right? There’s like a 24 hour policy and response to an email, so it’s like if, if that’s the, if that’s the policy then that’s the policy for student emails. That’s the policy for parent emails. That’s the policy for whatever. It’s like maybe in your response line, in your signature line it’s like please be advised that I will respond to your email within 24 hours, but the response will not be immediate. You know what I mean? Because it’s like, I think what ends up happening is like this new generation of children who’s coming through and they go into college and graduating. It’s like in the workplace, it’s there, right? There’s books all over the place about like how to be, you know, how to have employees who have this like immediate response type of thing.
Like because that’s a huge problem in the workplace now because that’s what kids think that it could just be automatic. They turn in an assignment and they’re like, when is it a graded yet? And it’s like you just gave it to me. Like what do you mean? And so I think like it’s up to us to not give in to that to like keep maintain and be like, you’re going to have to learn in the real world that when you send an email, like it’s not going to be an automatic response. But when you have a job, when you have a boss or when you do this, like it’s not going to be immediate. And, and that people, when people send you an email like, because you won’t be able to do it immediately. And so it’s sort of like, I think that’s what’s really huge.
It’s like for me, I deleted my work email off my phone. I would do all my work emails like at work. But then when I left it was like I’ll, I’ll get to it the next day. And like that. And I think in a lot of ways, like people end up respecting you more when you have these boundaries cause then they’ll start following them and then it’s like for you, you know what I mean? And so I think that’s one thing. I think for me, I had a a wellness accountability partner. So I had a friend who would like, if I wasn’t leaving, like she would always walk by my door on the way out. She was like, Thomas, let’s go like time to go. So like having somebody to hold you accountable and for you to do the same with them can be really helpful. And they would check my bag to see, make sure I wasn’t worried about the work home.
Like, like you know, like a security check, like reverse security. Now you’re going to have to put that back, you know, like airport. What I mean. Um, so, and that was something, another thing I would do, um, having some kind of like physical way to code switch. So like when a doctor for example hangs up their white coat at the end of the day, they’re sort of like switching from like, okay, I’m hanging up my, my white coat and now I’m like going to be a person now. Like I would have my like teacher lanyard that I would hang up, I would lock my door, I would hang it up and like I was, that was my like transitioning from Ms. Thomas to Danna and like I would come home and I would meet at least shower because kindergarten is pick their nose and not a lot. And there’s a lot of germs.
I would immediately shower and change clothes. So it have to be like, okay, like now it’s like me time. And I think that’s what is just really important is thinking about like rest is professional development, self care is professional development. All of these things that you do to take care of yourself is actually taking care of the students in your classroom. Like you are serving your students when you serve yourself. And so I think it also is a mindset shift. Um, and knowing that like spending time with family, spending time doing things that fill you up, making a date with a friend. Um, I would often set wellness appointments immediately after work so that I had to leave. Um, so I would have like my chiropractor appointment or if I was seeing an acupuncturist or if it was like a yoga appointment or I would put an appointment on my phone to like go read a book.
And so then people were like, Oh, can you stay after Wednesday? I’m like, ah, man, I have an appointment. They don’t have to know if the appointment is you made an appointment yourself. So I think that could be helpful too.
Yeah. And how do you feel about mental health days?
Oh, they are absolutely necessary and essential. Um, I think in core times when I didn’t take a mental health day and I went to work anyway, like I would need to take two days later. Like it would, it would compound like, it, it would blow up in my face if I didn’t take a mental health day when I need it to.
Yeah. And I think that’s something, you know, teachers get a lot of sick days generally speaking, depending on, you know, I know different systems are different, but teachers do get a fair amount of sick days because, let’s be honest, we get sick a lot because we’re around Jeremy children and you know, so that’s only fair, but that’s, you know, our, our physical wellbeing is only one part of our health. You know, there is a legitimate concern when it comes to teacher mental health. Like that statistic you said about 15% more likely to commit suicide is, that’s staggering to me that, you know, teachers who are considered to be such, you know, generally we’re seen to be very upbeat, happy people that we generally enjoy our jobs, but that there’s obviously something, a miss there that we’re not taking care of issues before they become big problems.
Absolutely. And I think, um, you know, it’s, it’s really a shame when, if an educator needs a mental health day for it not to be taken seriously as if they had had the flu or if as if they had, you know, strep throat or something like that because I think that just speaks to our overall culture of not viewing mental illness as a real illness. For me, I, I, it’s something that I just recently have been like sort of like willing to open up about, um, but my last year in the classroom and my seventh year, um, I, my mental health was seriously affected. Um, and it was sort of that longterm effect of burnout and compassion fatigue specifically. And that inability to refuel and regenerate. And, um, I ended up going on FMLA intermittently for my mental illness for anxiety. Um, my, my psychiatrist described it as like conditional depression or anxiety.
So it was like very much based on the workplace. Like I was like on the weekends or like when I was working on happy teacher revolution, like an evenings or whatever, like I was the fullest version of myself. I was so happy, so much joy. Like I loved what I was doing. I love working with other teachers. I loved talking about teacher mental health. And then I would drive to work the next morning and I would sit in my car, I would be crying the whole way there and I would just be stalling in the staff parking lot. Like try not to go in. And then it was like everything I could do to walk in the building that day. And then who knows what would happen. I mean, and that school year, my class size doubled the amount of um, like high needs, special education students and my class size doubled.
They took an adult out of my room. Um, my paraprofessional was hit by a car. All of these things happen. And so I, so I, I went to my psychiatrist, I applied for intermittent FMLA. Um, and so it was sort of like as needed, if you need to use your sick days for mental health, um, like this is the protocol and the, the way to go about it. And, and then I got a target on my back, which is not legal that my principal then, you know, he would write me up for all kinds of things. He told me that I was mentally sick and should seriously consider resigning. And I said that’s up to my doctor to decide. It was a whole mess. But in the end, like it was just a shame that like I was using the sick days that I had actually earned.
Like they’re my sick days if I needed to use them for mental, for mental health and um, and it’s, there still was pushed back and I tell you, I left the system with 40 plus sick days, never use like I had used more sick days in my last year of teaching than all seven years combined because I wasn’t taking those mental health days when I needed to for those first six years and then adjust it. You know, it like the graph, I’m like this like and compounded. And so I think that’s what’s really important to think about yourself professionally. Sustainability if like take the days when you need to because you might be like seven years later using all of them and I and I and there’s still 40 days that are left unused. So use your sick days is not a badge of honor. Nobody gave me a certificate when I left and they’re like, congratulations, I’m not using 40 days.
I didn’t get a Tiara, I didn’t get anything. I didn’t get a Pat on the back. I didn’t get, you know. So I think that’s what’s only important. It’s like if you have sick days you use them.
Yeah. When you started thinking about, you know, even when people incentivize being one of those hard workers, one of those teachers who goes to school, even though they have the flu, which by the way do not be that person because one of those teachers actually gave me pneumonia a couple of years ago because she went to school when she stood up saying home. So don’t be that person anyway for the, for the health of your Velo teachers. But you know, it’s incentivized and it’s almost to a point where we’ve created a culture for ourselves as teachers where it’s expected.
Yeah, absolutely. And so what I really want to do ultimately with happy teacher evolution is provide an opportunity for teachers to pour back into themselves, pour back into the community for these community led support groups around mental health and wellness.
And for it to be something where teachers are actually earning extra income for holding me spaces for themselves and for each other because how awesome would that be? You know what I mean? To be able to have a side hustle as an educator where you are pouring into yourself and community. So it’s not just self care but community care for one another. Um, in a way that is like restoring, um, this, this space and the community and like social emotional learning of ourselves and for one another because unfortunately our teachers are on the cover of time magazine for selling their blood plasma because they’re not earning a living wage. And so to me it’s like insulting like a hundred, like $100. Like, are you serious? Like just a hundred dollars, because it’s like our teachers need an opportunity for extra income they need in, they need income to support their wellness.
Um, and so like that’s what I, I want happy teacher revolution to ultimately is like this lifestyle organization that is compensating teachers the way that they deserve to be compensated, to be entrepreneurs, to be leaders. And so that way if they have extra money to pour back in themselves to get a massage or a facial or go on a cool vacation with their family or go to an acupuncturist regularly or get that gym membership or see a nutritionist or whatever the case may be, then I hope that that makes them stay in the classroom for longer. You know, I hope that that’s something that like incentivizes them to take care of themselves so that they can still be that leader in their classroom and still work with kids because there’s so many great pupil leaving the classroom to go do other things or to go into these higher administrative positions. And it means that they’re not with kids anymore and we need great teachers with the kiddos. You know, like that’s what we need. And so, um, so that’s really what I’m trying to do with happy teacher revolution is to provide like these leadership opportunities for awesome teachers to help each other, but more importantly to help themselves.
Yeah. And that’s why I was so happy to stumble upon your website because that’s one of the things, and I think I told you the first time we talked, you know, a month or so ago that when I first started my, my first business, it was because I wanted out, I was done. I was burnt out. I was so cynical and I had lost all faith in the teaching profession and I was done. And it was through finding something else completely unrelated to education that I could give myself to and spend my time on and feel appreciated for and make some money at. But I was able to find that joy of teaching again. And you know, that’s why I’m going into my eighth year after I started my business. Now that I have no intention of leaving the classroom anytime soon. Would I like to retire a little bit before 37 and a half years? Probably. Because that’s a really freaking long time. But you know, I’m not planning on leaving the classroom anytime soon because I found an outlet for myself that allows me to be me in another way, you know? And that has made all the difference for me and that’s where side hustle teachers came from. And when we talked the last time, I really felt like we had the same sort of ideas on that. So I would love to know a little bit about how did you take this idea of [inaudible] supporting teachers mental health and turn it into a functioning business?
Yeah, that’s a great question. Because at first, I mean, that wasn’t my intention at all. Like I wanted this to just be sort of like AA, but for teachers except you could drink afterwards. Like, that’s what I was like, I want something that’s like, Hey, but like I’m allowed to have a glass of wine. But you know, and it’s not like you, it costs money to learn how to start a AA meeting or to go to an AA meeting. It’s sort of like this free community space. And that’s something I felt and I still do feel very passionate about and it’s very important to me is that happy teacher revolution meetings are always free to attend. I never want to teach you to have to pay to go to a meeting or to access the space. Like access is very, very important to me.
And so at first I was like, okay, I’m going to start these support group meetings. Like, let me just put the documents online. It be totally free. People can just download, just do their thing, then start them and go for it. Um, and then one meeting that I was holding at my school, I was in another meeting with them, still tater that was not respecting boundaries and time and limits. And that meeting was went like an hour and a half over or something crazy like that. You know what I mean? Like have you ever been most meetings? I sometimes IEP meetings will go like super long. So anyway, I’m in somebody else’s session. I thought, Oh well they have all this stuff. You know, it’s like they, you know, my, my teacher and my participants, like I’ve been to these meetings before, they can just go and do it themselves.
And everyone’s sat in that circle and they’re like, well we haven’t been trained to do this. We don’t know how to do this for me, I’m thinking it’s simple enough. Anybody you know, just start. But they said, we haven’t been trained. So I said, okay, well I’ll come up with a training map. And I, and ultimately I think it ended up being extremely valuable to have a training, a certification process because there are a lot of things that could potentially come up and happy teacher evolution meeting. And there’s a lot of things, potentially when you’re introducing this space and a community to administrators, there might be some fear or pushback if you’re in a toxic work environment. Um, any number of things. And so, well maybe it’s like I learned as I went along, like, okay, well maybe it is. It really is in fact valuable to have a certification process and a training.
And so that’s how it started was it was an online training. Um, and I, I charged people to join a zoom call, uh, once a month over the course of six months because that’s what was doable for me cause I was teaching full time, you know, it was, it was a side hustle. And so, um, and so I charged people to join that very first cohort and we had 13 different States represented in that first cohort. And, um, and because of the, the just amazingness of modern technology and the worldwide web, it was like, all right, well, I’m going to talk on this, on this video screen and I’ll teach you how to do it. And so since then, we’ve graduated five, we’re enrolling for our fifth cohort now and we’re in 23 different States and we’re global. And so then this past, so after being in the classroom for seven years, I have to tell you, like I was burnt out.
Like I was experiencing burnout as I was writing about it and thinking about it. And I realized that I cared about this project so much, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. And ultimately like I realized I could help so many more students by helping their teachers. So I left after seven years and made the leap. And that was really terrifying to go into this full time because it’s not like there were any guarantees. I mean there’s still aren’t, it’s not like I signed a contract for myself or anything. You know, I just, I walked away from an amazing tenured position and great health care and benefits and all the things. Cause I just, I wanted to invest in myself and invest in this and I want to, and by invest, I mean not only financially, like I had been putting money saving.
So that’s really important too, is like financial wellness for teachers. I’m thinking about, you know, the, um, that emergency fund of the go F yourself fund. How I like to think about it. If you need a tunnel, uh, uh, uh, spouse to go after yourself, a boss to go after yourself or as a situation to go at themselves, like you need to have that emergency fund for yourself. Um, so I think there’s a lot of teachers who are suffering and very toxic situations because they don’t have that, like that emergency fund or that like financial stability to go and maybe change schools or maybe change districts if there is a pay difference there or, or if they need to go be independent and do their own thing if they’re in a bad relationship. So anyway, um, after seven years I left and I ended up joining the Johns Hopkins social innovation lab.
So that was really huge because Hopkins was an accelerator program supporting um, different social impact ventures and happy teacher revolution was one of them. So we ended up being the winners of the Hopkins social innovation lab, which is really exciting. So we got some money from Hopkins. Yay. It was amazing. Um, but yeah, I think, you know, it was something that I just, I had to have the confidence to that was the, that’s the first step and it still is, right? It’s like leaving in myself, believing in what my ideas have value and worth and charging those and charging what I believe like it is worth and having that value in yourself. And I think there’s so many teachers doing incredible things, entrepreneurial things, um, that are so innovative and so creative that like you need some monetize that and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in monetizing that to like, there’s nothing like be kind of, sort of come from this mindset of beg, borrow, steal.
And like the thing is it’s like, you know, like know your worth and charge that much because it is valuable and you do have value in your thoughts and ideas do have value. Cause I think that’s what’s really so depressing about the system is that like we are, we, it’s like we’ve created this, this, the freedom and creativity of teachers has, is, is stagnant because we’re like given this curriculum and this script to read from like we’re robots and it’s like no. Like we are amazing, innovative, creative people. And I think that there’s a huge potential to foster that entrepreneurship and teachers.
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve talked a lot to my groups about the fact that teachers make fantastic entrepreneurs because of the skills that we just innately PR process and not the least of which is the fact that we are lifelong learners. That even if we don’t have a skill currently, we can learn it because that’s who we are and we’re awesome. So, you know, I know a lot of people get scared when they think about B S you know the word becoming an entrepreneur and it sounds scary and big, but you can take baby steps into it. You don’t have to, you know, go and quit your job and start a business on this. You know, you can just take baby steps, tell a friend, Hey, I made this hat, I crocheted it. Do you want to buy it? Like it can be that simple and that small to start out with. But yeah, but it’s, it’s so important too.
Do you see the value in what you’re doing and not just your skills as a teacher, but your skills outside the classroom, your interpersonal skills, your organizational skills. I mean, God knows teachers are super crazy organized to keep track of all those kids and everything they’re doing. And you know, notes about this one can’t be released to this parent only on Thursday’s on months. That start with T. I mean, it’s like all of these weird things that we have to keep in our heads and to then say, I can’t do that because I’m just a teacher. It’s something that really, it breaks my heart to hear that.
Yeah. Because teachers are like the most incredible, fun party animal, like amazing, awkward, goofy people who like are the original influencers. You know what I mean? Like, Oh gee influencers. Um, and I think about, you know, like just all the incredible teachers in my life and how much of a difference they made in my life. And it’s like they don’t have any followers. They don’t, they’re not like Insta famous, you know what I mean? Like ms bothersome. I don’t think even has an Instagram. I mean like, so I think the other part too, you know, it’s just very much like along the lines you were saying, it’s like if you’re an educator, you’re listening to this right now and you’re an educator and you have an idea. I think the next and the next thing to know as far as pat yourself on the back for having the intuition and awareness and creativity to come up with that idea.
But the next step would be sort of like your market research customer discovery or stakeholder discovery interviews. And what I mean by that is like sitting down with people and asking them a series of questions to see if like there, if you have correctly identified some tension points and also if there are things that come up, um, that you might not have considered or thought about that can add value or maybe spark another, um, component of your idea. And so what I mean by that is, um, for example, I’m a huge, uh, podcasts freak and which is why I am so excited to be on this podcast because I’ve had, there’s so much learning that I, that happens like just through listening. One of my very favorite ones is called How I Built This. It’s about entrepreneurs change makers and thought leaders who have created an idea and created something amazing.
And one of which is the founder of Away, which is a suit suitcase company. So they came up with this concept of a suitcase and I sat down with people who travel and ask them questions. I’m like, so what are some things that you know happen when you’re traveling? What are some things that are frustrating when you’re travelling X, Y, andZ ? And one of the things that came up in these interviews, which this idea that you, when you’re traveling, you can never charge your phone. Like my phone is always dying. I’m, I’m always like writing on foot. Oh my fun. You know, when I’m, when I’m taking trips. And who would think that that would even impact somebody who’s designing a suitcase? Well guess what? They design a suitcase that can charge your phone because I heard so many different peoples. And so it’s like, there’s different things to think about when it comes to design.
And this is also called this concept as human centered design. So like how do we design solutions with the humans in mind? And so for happy teacher evolution with that met for me was sitting down with teachers and principals and district leaders and new teachers and veteran teachers, teachers who left, teachers who are about to start, you know, all of these different educators to think about like how can I create the time and space for teachers to heal, deal and be real about the social, emotional and intellectual demands they face on the job. And like one of the things that I learned through this process is that professional development, sex, there’s been so much, so awful. So like soul Zeki, no differentiation, no accommodation like there. And I also learned that professional development in the U S is a two point $8 billion industry or more that we’re spending between 8,000 to $12,000 per teacher on PD.
But less than 29% of teachers actually find it useful. So I’m like, Oh my gosh. Well what a great market opportunity to create PD that doesn’t suck. And PD that supports teachers in taking care of themselves. You know? And so I think, you know, my first piece of advice, if there are entrepreneurs listening or hopeful entrepreneurs listening is that if you have an idea or if you don’t even have an idea yet, just to sit down and start asking these questions and doing some really intentional, thoughtful listening of who have people who are your potential users or customers or individuals who could benefit from your potential product.
Yup, absolutely. And there’s, you know, I always recommend people, um, if they are starting with an idea and they’re not sure where to take it, is they read Pat Flynn’s book, will it fly?
We love that one.
And you know, that’s why I actually started the Business Prep Program because there were so many teachers in my group that were like, well I think I want to do this, but were just scared to take that first step because they’re lacking that clarity of exactly what they want to do and the confidence to move forward with the idea.
So there are resources out there for people who are looking to take that first step and are feeling a little bit lost, you know, so, and one of them is like eight 99 on Amazon. So, so, okay. So Dana, how can, how does your program work? Like once it’s somebody is trained and they’re running a group, how does that work in a school or community?
Yeah, sure. So once individuals have completed the certification and become a revolutionary, that’s who we call the folks who initiate and lead happy teacher revolution meetings and called revolutionary. So once individuals have completed the certification process and which can either happen online or in person. Um, so we offer our online training, which is enrolling now we’re having our first class October 23rd, 2019. Um, but we enroll there multiple times during the school year and we also do the in person professional development.
So, um, if there are individual schools or a cluster of schools or, um, a school district or a charter school network or a teacher prep program, um, we’ll have an in person professional development. So over the course of two days we’ll condense that six months of online training into two days in person. And so once individuals have completed that certification process and they can then lead happy teacher revolution meetings in their own communities. So this can be a part of a team meeting, it can be a staff meeting, this can be a PLC, this can be um, and new teacher mentorship group or community. It can be, we’ve worked with uh, groups of teachers who are on like professional improvement plans or who you know, might be considering leaving, um, for those cohorts to come together. We have used happy teacher evolution, a number of different capacities depending on the unique school community need.
And that’s something that like I very much recognize is that like I’m not an expert in every single person’s community or school or like where they’re working. Like, and I think what, what I really have found value in is encouraging and equipping leaders within a community to lead these spaces to use the tool of happy teacher revolution and adapt it and use it to however they think they can best be used for where they are. Um, and so that’s something that’s really important to me is that this is a, a tool that is adaptable based on the community and the needs of that specific community. So once you’ve been trained and you are then able to hold happy teacher revolution meetings, we offer online support as you move forward with this journey, with this movement. So what I mean by that is that we have a happy teacher revolution app available through mighty networks.
I’m on iOS and Android and we have a web based plat platform, but basically it’s like a social network for teachers to connect around self care and wellness, to share articles and resources and videos and mindfulness tips and guided meditations and mini courses on trauma informed and social emotional learning and culturally responsive teaching. And like all of those things as it relates to self care. And wellness because I wanted a space that like wasn’t Facebook because Facebook sucks. I’ll say it. Okay. Think I’ll just like read. I don’t know why I just read comment sections on some things and I’ll just like go down the rabbit hole. Yeah, I know. And so anyway, so it’s like a social network platform. It’s not Facebook that’s for teachers who are involved in happy teacher revolution. And so through that space we can not only communicate with each other but like come up with ideas and use resources to spruce up the meetings.
Um, and keep it interesting and also use, you know, current and ongoing research that’s coming out about the brain, about adverse childhood experiences, about, you know, the crisis that we are honestly in an education with a number of teachers leaving. Um, the number that, the rate of turnover that’s happening. And you know, just last year, 2018 more teachers left than any year on record according to the us department of labor statistics. Um, there’s a report that just came out as passed week that 50% of teachers currently surveyed are thinking about leaving. And that is scary. I want to be able to talk about that. And it’s just like crazy because you know, have 22% of teachers are considering leaving because of the pay. Um, and because of the low salary, but right behind that number 19% are considering, maybe because of burnout, because of stress, because of overwhelm.
This is something that’s we need to keep talking about and think about like systemically how we can start making real change. And I’m, I’m hoping to do that through happy teacher evolution. Yeah. And I love that because it’s true. There are so many people you get at who point, you know, I found for myself, I found a way to get through it and to, you know, basically reinvigorate my teaching career by finding something else that I could do. But there are so many people that just keep pushing through that burnout until they can’t push through anymore. And then they have no choice but to leave because they literally have exhausted themselves. Yeah. And, you know, and some of them are teachers that are great with kids and you know, they, they build wonderful relationships and could do so much good, but they just can’t do it anymore.
So I love that. And I love the fact that you’re talking about working with prep programs, teacher prep programs and new teachers as well, because that’s where it starts. Like, I remember my first year of teaching, like everyone telling me, well, just be prepared to not have a life for the next two years because you know, you have to learn all this stuff about your classroom and you’ll be spending all day and night planning and prepping and all doing all this stuff. And I was like, okay, I guess that’s just the way it is. So if we can help new teachers, even before they become teachers, set those boundaries and more realistic expectations that that can be a game changer as well. Yep, absolutely. And to just talk about like, Hey, what are some things you do to take care of yourself now? Okay. Name those things, whatever they are for you and keep doing them because it’s gonna be, you know, and like, and I’m case in point, like I studied music in college and I play the saxophone and music to me is an outlet.
Music is self care. Having that creative expression is really important to me. And when I tell you my first year of teaching, I did not pick up my saxophone once. Not once that I pick up my instrument, it collected dust and it was like I had compartmentalize Danna and I compartmentalize Ms. Thomas. I was like only living in the Ms. Thomas space. Right. Um, and you know, I just wish like if I could go back to my first year teacher yourself, like I would tell her, pick up your saxophone, leave that building. It’s gross. There’s this bestest in the tiles, lead in the water. What are you doing? Go to your bank, take care of yourself. Be a person. Because I think I would have, I would have been better off. And I just think it’s just a shame that we’d like normalize. Like, Oh, your first year it’s going to be terrible.
You’re gonna cry every day. That’s normal. It’s like what? Like the craziest part is too is like in teaching, like what other job does it feel like it gets harder as time goes on to, you know, get there. Like first year is really rough because the first year doing anything is rough. Yeah. For you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re just learning curve where you’re just like you’re failing. You don’t know anything. Like it eventually gets better. But it’s crazy. The teaching is that, it’s like some of the teachers I’ve talked to who’ve been, who’ve been doing this for 10 20 plus years, they’re like, what other job? Like what other job feels like? It gets harder, more stuff getting put on as you put more years and you know, it’s like that’s, that’s where there’s an issue is that our veteran teachers feel like it’s, it’s harder than it’s ever been because honestly had it is because we, we use teachers as the default for everything.
We’re the default for everything and we’re also the default to blame for everything. So, you know, you know, there’s also a piece of it that we have to be able to disconnect from outsiders views of whatever teaching is supposed to be or what teachers are or you know, we get the summers off.
Let’s all take a moment and laugh about that. Yeah.
So you have to be able to disconnect and, and you know, if a politician comes out and says crappy stuff about teachers, which they do all the time because we’re wonderful punching bags because we don’t punch back, you have to be able to just say, well, you know, it’s his right. He has this free country. He is available and allowed to be an idiot if he wants to be. So, you know, taking a step back from those outside influences as well and really knowing and having the confidence in yourself can be a big help as well.
- [inaudible] because it’s like, it’s this moment of like I realized I was putting too much [inaudible] ah, credit too much faith into what other people had to say and think about my profession. And it’s like, you don’t even know Betsy come to my classroom and trade shoes for a day. Can you hang with 39 kindergartners miss to boss?
And I just, you know, it’s something that um, that even when I to this day, like I gave the keynote, um, pretty recently and you know, there’s a bunch of like survey feedback, anonymous survey feedback. Um, I’ve individuals who attended the keynote and and of course of all the positive wonderful things that people say like I, I hone in on like the one and two negative. And somebody had reported on this survey that my story about teaching in Baltimore was overdramatized and I just told them like day in the life, I’m like, well, came to work. I had 39 kids, there was mouse feces everywhere. Had to wipe that off. There were roaches and the microwave where I was microwaving my lunch and then I was doing, you know, I was, I was just like saying like this was the situation that I was in as an educator when happy teacher revolution in the concept of this was born.
The idea of it’s like very positive, optimistic, like smiley type of um, movement to support happiness of teachers was actually started in a place of darkness and desperation, like pure desperation. And so, you know, I think that something is like people are gonna talk smack it because everyone who’s like been in school feels like they know what it’s like to be a teacher. It’s like just cause you’re a student does not know, like I just remember grad school how I felt like it was mostly the curious thing, the whole world to just sit and like consume information instead of like feeling like I was putting on a show. Like I would say to my students, like my kindergarten, I was like, especially when they weren’t paying attention or just like they would just, I would be like, it’s me, Ms. Thomas coming to me alive 180 days a year.
Like paying attention to me. I’m trying to teach you how to read, you know what I mean? So like I think it’s just, you know, don’t pay attention to the haters. Don’t pay attention. They don’t know. Yeah. That’s kind of like, you know, you just have to keep on keeping on because, um, and, and, and, and I think I found the support with my other educators. Like I found my community. I realize like I might not have support from my administrators. I might not have support from community or from society or anything like that, you know, but at least we have each other as educators, like at least we have each other. Um, so I think that’s, that’s what’s really important is community.
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, there is such a need for community among teachers that, that we don’t get to have very often because these days all our meeting time is taken up with, you know, IEP [inaudible] or you know, preplanned meetings and we don’t get to just be in a room and talk about being a teacher anymore. You know, that’s something that’s definitely missing from schools these days.
I completely agree. And I like, that’s why I see the value in something like happy teacher revolution is this idea that like, let’s bring together teachers to develop those relationships amongst each other. First of all, like, let’s give the time and space to actually do that because like you said, like it’s not happening anymore. And second of all, like, let’s give a space, a time and space to actually do that. That’s not happy hour. It’s like not at the bar because there’s some shady stuff that those dad potentially, you know, you can have all this alcohol and then it’s like, you know, like, I think that that can isolate a lot of people who like, don’t want to go and do that. Um, or if they don’t feel comfortable in that space or you know, like maybe they have childhood trauma from an alcoholic parent or something like that.
Like maybe, you know, like what if we gave like a space for teachers to do that with each other. Um, that was in a way that was like productive. Um, not only for like self-reflecting but like getting to know the people that you’re working with and like, you know, and there’s been times in happy teacher evolution where, and this is from some of our other like communities from around the country where are my revolutionaries will come to me and they’ll be like, well, we’re, we’re having a meeting and one of, um, one of the attendees like started sharing about this like traumatic thing that she was currently going through, that her child had gone missing and was reported missing an end. Like, you know, and how often has it been, but like nobody, nobody in her working space like had realized that she was going through this or that this was going on.
And so then it’s like when somebody, she, when it’s vulnerable and like share something like that that’s going on with them as a person, like the next day in the hallway, if their kids aren’t in a perfectly straight line, like you might be less inclined to like roll your eyes or be like, Oh, she needs to get her stuff together. Like, if you sort of know like the backstory of this person and like what they’re currently thinking about or going through. Um, so I just feel like that’s what we need and like, and like a workplace. So it’s this idea of like, how can we get along with each other and build relationships with each other. Cause then the kids will pick up on if like, if we’re not getting along. Like they just will and then they’ll try and like play against each other or they’ll, they like, they are so perceptive and it’s like, how do we teach kids not to bully each other in a building if there’s grownups bullying other grownups? Like we need to get along.
Yes, absolutely. Now I feel like we can talk about this all day, but I want people to be able to find you and explore what you do. So how can people locate you if they want to, you know, stalk you or whatever.
Oh yeah. Please stalk me. My address is seriously our, our website is happy teacher revolution.com. Um, that’s, yeah, happy. T E a C H E R revolution R E V O L U T I O n.com. Follow us on Instagram or at happy teacher revolution and Facebook’s at happy teacher revolution. A Twitter is too many characters. So we’re at happy teacher HTR so yeah, reach out, connect, uh, DM me. I would love to connect with any and everybody on the podcast. Um, you’re interested and learning how to join happy teacher revolution. Please reach out and we’re enrolling for our online cohort or if you think you were a school or community or district, like a professional development session. We are always enrolling for that too. So I’m just really excited to be able to share more of my journey and, and to, to chat with you. And this has been really, really fun. So I’m really grateful to be able to connect with you today.
Yeah, I was so glad that we could make this happen for season two. So thank you so much Danna for being on the show and I look forward to talking to you soon. Yay.
Thank you so much.