Should We Really Hide All of Our Negative Emotions at School?

Editors Features February / Out of the Box February / February 14, 2019

Social-Emotional Support (SES)

Teachers need social-emotional support, too. FLGI surveys suggest that one of the biggest barriers to teachers migrating from traditional passive instruction to active learning strategies may tie to the need for social-emotional support. Many teachers are simply overwhelmed and teaching on an empty emotional tank. Their deepest social and emotional needs are unmet.

This section focuses on providing the social-emotional support we all need before we even can consider Flipped Learning. This project was developed to be the missing link in the unsuccessful efforts to move more teachers from passive to active learning.

In this section of the magazine, you can either read the transcripts or listen to the episodes of a podcast called Teachers’ Aid, with Jon Harper and Mandy Froehlich. Every topic takes on one of the biggest social-emotional challenges teachers face in search of real answers. We affectionately call this project the FLGI pyramid scheme: Maslow’s pyramid first, Bloom’s pyramid second. Enjoy the transcript below or listen to the entire show at the bottom of the transcript.


Teachers’ Aid


Mandy Froehlich:  Teaching can be a very stressful job. The increasing demands and the deadlines. Having to juggle so many issues at once. And yet, teachers are expected to always stay calm, cool, and collected. I don’t see how that’s even possible.

Jon Harper:  Mandy, I don’t even think that’s healthy. But for some reason, we feel as if we can’t show emotion when we’re at work or in front of our colleagues. This can’t be the way. Today Mandy and I are joined by Phyllis Fagell to talk about this problem. Phyllis, thanks so much for joining us today. So Phyllis, you’re a guidance counselor that works with teenagers most of the time. And I’m quite certain you talk to them about the importance of not suppressing their emotions and their feelings. And I’m certain teachers do the same. But if we know it’s so important, why do you think it is that teachers are hesitant to show how they are feeling?

Phyllis Fagell:  I think that there’s a stigma against being emotional at work. I think probably if you spoke to those same teachers about how they interact with their relatives, or their peers, or their partners, they probably would have a very different answer. And I think that if you were to ask people about a time when they either cried at work or got upset at work, they probably could remember in detail every single time it happened because it tends to be a moment that’s filled with embarrassment, filled with shame, and filled with this sense that you’ve somehow lost control and failed, which is clearly not the best way to approach emotional wellbeing and emotional health.

Jon Harper:  No, and it’s tough. I’m with you because we’re with kids every day. They’re going through so much. And we have to reassure them when they have these moments. And yet, we feel as if we have to be perfect all the time. It’s a tough contradiction.

Phyllis Fagell:  It is. And for kids, and teens in particular, they are operating at a 10 on a scale of one to 10 in terms of the intensity of their emotions. I’m not sure how often they would be able to suppress them even if they wanted to. But from the time you’re out of school and by the time you’re an adult and a working professional, you really have honed the ability to just compartmentalize and set that aside. For better and for worse.

Mandy Froehlich:  And sometimes I wonder if teachers … And you’ve kinda covered this already. But they think it’s a sign of weakness if they display any kind of vulnerability in front of their students and their colleagues, and I think kind of especially their administration. What do you think about that?

Phyllis Fagell:   I think that it’s sort of counterintuitive. But it actually is not good for an organization either. When everyone is keeping those emotions inside, I will tell students you can’t legislate feelings, you can legislate behavior. And I feel the same way about adults expressing emotions at work. If they legitimately are upset, if they legitimately are angry. As opposed to being conflict-averse, I think that they should address it in a really direct but respectful way so that they’re communicating what the underlying emotion is but not making it an attack on an individual or something that creates more of a personal confrontation as opposed to really dealing with the underlying issue.

Phyllis Fagell:  So if you are upset, that you think some initiative is putting too much on your plate, and you just keep it to yourself, and you let it fester, and you maybe don’t do as good of a job, or you complain behind that person’s back or the administrator’s back who set that expectation in the first place, in the short run, it might seem like everything is going swimmingly. But in the long run, that will eventually bubble over and backfire on everybody. The teacher probably will feel overwhelmed, the administrator might feel like the teachers didn’t disclose things they could’ve disclosed at the beginning to prevent problems.

Mandy Froehlich:  Yeah, absolutely. I can see that because then also you’re getting the help that you need quicker, whether that’s individual help or maybe there’s even a change that needs to happen in the initiative. But I think that that’s a really good point. And it’s hard to show vulnerability because sometimes like you said, we feel weak when we do that. And then we’re afraid other people are going to look at us as weak. But it really is sometimes showing vulnerability is when we get the best information from people.

Phyllis Fagell:  Exactly. And those emotions are telling you something as well. So if you’re feeling really frustrated, if you’re feeling really disappointed, those emotions are suggesting that something is wrong with whatever the plan is or whatever that interpersonal relationship is. And you don’t have a chance at healing that relationship or solving that problem if you just kind of funnel it away and ignore that it exists. And it’s very possible to express negative emotions in a positive way. You can be angry and professional. You can be upset and professional. You just have to treat people respectfully as you’re communicating how you feel and not directing those emotions in a negative way at people.

Mandy Froehlich:   Right. And that’s not something that we often say to people though. And we don’t tell them even how to move forward with frustration and be professional at the same time. And so I think people fall back into just being upset and not knowing how to deal with it instead of being very solutions oriented. Well, if you come to me with the issue, and better yet if you have a solution, we can talk about that and we can work through it and see how we can figure it out. But we don’t really train people or coach people on that.

Phyllis Fagell:   I think that’s right. And it has to start at the top. So if the administrator, or the principal, or the head of the school is masking their own insecurities or concealing their own emotions, and transmitting the message that acting tough or not having deep feelings is the way that you should operate within that setting, then the people who are working for that leader are not going to feel comfortable expressing emotions either. And they’re going to suppress them. And they’re just going to tolerate whatever that discomfort is. And that doesn’t do anything for anybody within that building. It just puts it under the surface and eventually, it’s going to bubble over.

Jon Harper:  Okay. Now I’m gonna play devil’s advocate on this. Because I definitely hear what you two are saying. But I’m a teacher. And either I’m angry at the administration, or I’m just really stressed about something, or I’m worried that if my principal or assistant principal hears that I have this going on in my life, that is just driving me crazy, that they’re either gonna think, “You know what? They can’t handle the job,” or whatnot. I mean, how … Phyllis, how do I start off? What’s the first step? How do I … I mean, I’m nervous about going to my administration with this. What do I do?

Phyllis Fagell:  I think that’s a reasonable fear to have. And I think you need to know your audience. And the reality is that not everyone is going to be receptive to an emotional approach. And so I do think it’s worth taking the time to figure out how you’ll most effectively communicate those emotions. So the emotions are going to be the same regardless of how you share them. And there are always going to be times when you can’t control them. There might be somebody who bursts into tears and who feels embarrassed by that. But assuming that you do have the ability to slow down, to get a handle on those emotions, you can be strategic about how you’re sharing them. And I think part of that is really being clear about why you feel that way in the first place. And again, being solution oriented. And being willing to be a little bit vulnerable and exposed. And hopefully, the leader, if they’re effective, will pick up on whatever signals you’re giving off in terms of your discomfort or your awkwardness and make it less uncomfortable for you in that moment.

Phyllis Fagell:  But I do think that people have to have some savvy and be ready to retool as needed. So if you are disclosing to somebody that you’re having a personal issue and you’re not getting the response that you expected or you’re picking up a signal that it could end up hurting you professionally, you might be better off getting support elsewhere. From EAP, or human resources, or an outside therapist. So I’m not saying that people should go to work and start unloading all of their emotional problems. But if it’s work related in particular or if it has to do with interpersonal conflict, I do think it’s worth bringing that to the surface in a respectful way so that there’s an opportunity to solve it. Whereas if you’re always stoic, and you’re always pretending nothing is wrong, ultimately your relationships are going to suffer at work. And you’re going to be less productive as a team.

Jon Harper:  That’s a great point.

Mandy Froehlich:  Okay, that is awesome advice. And what additional advice would you have for teachers when it comes to approaching or helping a colleague who they notice is going through a tough time and keeping to themselves? So it’s no longer me that’s having the issue. It’s my colleague. How do I help them?

Phyllis Fagell:  Again, I think you need to be really sensitive about how you approach someone at work. Because for some people, they like to set their problems aside especially if it’s personal and compartmentalized during the day so they can focus on their work. Whereas other people will really appreciate that someone is reaching out to them and offering support. So I would tread gently. And you can express that it seems that they might be upset, or that something might be bothering them, and that you’re happy to talk about it. If you think someone is upset with you in particular, I think it’s really brave to say, “I can tell I upset you,” or, “I can tell that we’re at odds right now, and I’d really like to try to resolve it. When you feel like you can talk about it, that’s something I would like to attempt to do together.” But for some people, disclosing at work would be really uncomfortable, and they end up feeling overexposed. So I do think you need to be careful not to push people too hard. There are people who also might be tempted to then talk to other people at work or to gossip. So I think that people need to keep in mind that you’re within a bigger organization and some people would prefer to handle some private pain privately as opposed to something that’s more related to a work issue itself.

Jon Harper:  Well, you gave us a lot to think about today, Phyllis. Really. Because I know this is something that is on the minds of a lot of teachers. And a lot of us have held things in before and a lot of teachers do hold things in. But I think you’ve given some good advice. And I want to thank you so much for coming on Teachers’ Aid.




Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.

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