Toxic positivity — a phenomenon that was acute during the COVID-19 pandemic — is when people focus on the good and reject the bad in a way that is unrealistic and borders on gaslighting, according to a recent article by Nimah Gobir for Mindshift.

When it comes to educators, they typically fall into — or are forced into — the teacher-as-martyr stereotype. And studies have found that Black and brown teachers carry an extra burden because they are dealing with their own grief and stress, while showing up to support students of color who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Toxic positivity can also harm students.

School leaders and other educators can develop strategies to ensure their staff are recognizing and navigating challenges in a way that promotes health and authentic healing for all. Centering your staff’s emotions is a critical step that many schools miss in their focus on productivity and positivity, says consultant and educator Elena Aguilar. She says emotions are educators’ “greatest untapped resource” because they provide information about growth areas and important boundaries.

When your team members can unpack their emotions, they can be better informed and therefore better able to figure out what actions they want to take next. However, when strong emotions are at play, it can be easy for someone to be reactive.

To develop next steps that are aligned with their values, Aguilar recommends leaders and educators ask themselves, “What action can I take in the moment that is one that I’m going to feel really good about tonight, in 10 years, when I retire?”

School leaders also have an important role in helping educators. They can make it a priority to check in with them during everyday interactions like walking down the hall. Instead of asking “How are you doing?” school leaders should make an effort to connect by asking deeper and more specific questions. For example, a school leader might say, “I know you had a rough week last week. What has been coming up for you?”

Opening the door to this kind of communication goes a long way toward feeling heard and healing.