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Stronger on the Other Side

by Megan Hunter ASEBP | May 10 2018

Now that spring has FINALLY sprung, I’m getting really excited to get out and stand-up paddleboard (or SUP as it’s referred to) on the rivers here in Alberta—more on this later and I promise it’s important. Back in March, the ASEBP Health Promotion Services team supercharged our workplace wellness liaison skills by becoming Canadian Mental Health Association Certified Psychological Health and Safety (PH&S) Advisors. We learned about the 13 psychosocial factors that create psychologically safe workplaces and how to implement them in workplaces.

Having a national standard for PH&S establishes the importance of a psychologically safe work environment and schools, including their administrative and trades sites, are no exception. With the helpful 13 factors of PH&S at the forefront of my mind, one really resonated: organizational culture. Dr. Graham Lowe recently wrote a fantastic blog addressing the key components of developing extraordinary workplace culture. Since my work is dedicated to supporting workplace wellness, I was curious to know what impact a strong organizational culture can have on resiliency during challenging times and what can it look like in a school setting.

To help me answer this question, Kelsey Doolaar, a teacher with Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools, sat down to chat with me about how her school’s organizational culture helped to enhance resiliency during the High River Floods in 2013. Being an avid SUP-er herself (worth the wait, right?), we found a few lessons that can be learned about organizational culture through the analogy of paddling. 

When We Paddle in the Same Direction, We Go a Lot Further Together

Kelsey: What we learned after the flood is that the most important thing within our school district is the relationships we build with everyone, including our leadership team. After the flood, we felt incredibly supported by our leadership team and trusted that they had our backs. They really provided anything we needed, whether it be mental health support or other resources we required. We all worked together and our leadership team put their trust in us, especially during the tough times. My principal at the time used distributive leadership, for example, in which she delegated tasks and trusted her staff to get the jobs done. 

You Have the Best Balance When you Keep Moving

K: You’re never alone. Our whole team tried to keep this in mind. People who feel resilient know that there’s another side and that you’re going to get through it. We focused on hope to get us through the crisis, which is such an important factor. We had to view the floods as an opportunity for learning and growth to get to the next phase.   

Know your Safety Gear and Have a Rescue Plan in Place

K: It’s important to remind each other that our safety gear—our supports and health benefits—are there for us to use and that we shouldn’t shy away from them when we need them. We had access to an Employee and Family Assistance Program through ASEBP, we were given Mental Health Days and had access to community services for us and our students.

Each and every individual on our team really tried to help in their own way and it brought out the strength in everyone. It really brought us together as a staff. It showed us how resilient we could be and how when you work together, you can accomplish a lot. It was anything from applying for grants, writing letters to Chapters for extra books or going around to dollar stores and thrift stores to seek out needed supplies. It was amazing to see everyone come together, take a role and support each other.

You’re a Stronger Paddler on the Other Side of the Rapids

K: Now I see the flood as a very valuable experience. We were a really tight-knit team afterwards. When you’re sharing a classroom of 60 students with three teachers, watching each other teach and working together through it all really helped us become better teachers!

It also taught me that people show up when you need them. Various schools in our district pooled together their resources—books, paper, pencils—anything a proper classroom needed, it came to us. We felt supported knowing there were people helping us out around the province.

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What stood out in Kelsey’s recollection of her experience for me was how strong their relationships got. Kelsey and her staff grew during and after the experience. Caring colleagues are supportive and help one another do their best, making it much easier to navigate stormy weather when it hits. As Dr. Lowe says, it’s not about bouncing back, it’s about bouncing forward. And as Kelsey and I say, it’s about paddling through the rough patches together in order to tell the story on the other side.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Kelsey, and I know your story will surely resonate with all you workplace wellness champions too!

Megan Hunter

With more than 10 years promoting healthy living through recreation, fitness and play within Canada, the U.S. and Europe, Megan is one of ASEBP’s workplace wellness liaison superheroes! A unicorn among unicorns, our resident ray of sunshine leaves rainbows in her wake and knows that there is no unsuitable place to demonstrate appropriate handstand technique—only unsuitable attire.