For the past six years, the Phillips Foundation has supported innovative, student-centered learning opportunities at Minneapolis Public Schools in North Minneapolis. It has been my honor to manage this part of Phillips’ grantmaking. During these years, I’ve met dozens of amazing, creative, dedicated educators who believe deeply in the vast potential of their students and inspire them to grow into their greatness.
And yet by pouring so much into young people, these educators are often left depleted.
Educator burnout is nothing new, but it has become a crisis in recent years. After nearly two years of distance learning, students are delayed academically and socially, resulting in additional challenges for classroom educators. The increase in certain kinds of youth crime and gun-related deaths is causing enduring trauma in local schools. And Minneapolis Public Schools’ ongoing enrollment declines have led to staff cuts and enrollment zone realignments, creating an environment of loss and uncertainty for educators.
I saw this firsthand last summer when the Phillips Foundation funded summer learning programs at five Northside schools. More than 40 educators led these Genius & Joy programs, which provided culturally grounded learning for 300 students. On Fridays during the program, we brought educators together for “Learning and Rejuvenation” days where we offered a variety of experiences that combined skill-building and self-care.
The self-care was provided by a Northside Black-owned wellness company called Zen Bin. Their skilled healers led us in restorative yoga, gave massages, and provided healing touch therapy. Zen Bin’s impact was profound. Educators came out of their massage or healing touch sessions with tears in their eyes. Many had never experienced this kind of self-care before.
This programming was so well-received that as we headed into the 2022-2023 academic year, I began to brainstorm with Zen Bin and a few Northside principals about how we could continue to bring healing services to their schools. In January, we got going at Cityview Community School, North High School, and Lucy Craft Laney Community School. Coordinators at each school schedule visits from Zen Bin based on the interest and availability of staff members. Sometimes Zen Bin leads morning yoga; sometimes they offer after-school massages.
Just as they did last summer, staff members have embraced this opportunity. You can hear how this resource is sustaining them in the video below.
The Phillips Foundation funded this project as an act of gratitude to our Northside educator partners, and as an experiment. How would schools respond? Would people show up? Would it make a positive difference for educators? Based on the conversations I’ve had with school staff members, I think our initial investment has been fruitful. The challenge now is to figure out how to sustain these kinds of needed self-care supports, and to weave them into the ongoing practices of schools. How can self-care become part of schoolwide and small team meetings? Can teachers bring practices like restorative yoga or guided meditation into the classroom to help students self-regulate and focus on learning? There’s lots to be explored, and hopefully partners in the school district and at other foundations who are willing to join us in that exploration.