Contagious Conversations: Reducing Stress in Schools


In March 2020, schools across the United States addressed the growing COVID-19 pandemic by pivoting to virtual learning, with students, parents and teachers working together to navigate the transition. With schools now fully re-opened, the academic, social and mental health impacts of the shift to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic are being felt in classrooms. In the latest episode of our Contagious Conversations podcast, host Claire Stinson was joined by Heather Martel-Balfour, a school behavior interventionist and social worker, to discuss the mental health challenges faced by students and teachers in today’s educational environment and how teachers cope with the stress of their jobs.

This year, the CDC Foundation supported two activities–one with the National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA) and the other a mental wellness initiative called How Right Now (HRN)–to gain insight into the mental health of parents, teachers and school staff and what resources are available to them. The National PTA project began in 2021 and included a series of six surveys and focus group discussions to gain insights into parent's mindsets about the impact of the pandemic on their children. These discussions later evolved to include topics such as school violence and the school's role in providing mental health supports and resources.
How Right Now is a communications campaign designed to promote and strengthen the emotional well-being and resilience of those disproportionately impacted by mental health challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The HRN  study aimed to identify the most urgent mental health challenges teachers and school staff faceand gather more information on what mental health support is needed and what teachers and school staff see as trusted sources for mental health support.

Findings from a June 2023 report published in a press release by the National PTA showed that parents continue to be comfortable with in-person schooling, with worries about their children contracting COVID-19 decreasing since August 2021. The survey also revealed that parents wanted to be a part of school efforts to support their child’s mental health, and that 90 percent of parents surveyed expressed support for mental health resources in schools.

Results from the How Right Now survey showed that, among teachers and school staff, burnout, increased expectations and a struggle to maintain work/life balance are the most prominent mental health challenges. The materials developed as part of this effort will be released later this fall.

Having spent 15 years in the education field, Martel-Balfour offers insight into many of these mental health challenges, detailing from her personal experience what teachers and school staff face and how they deal with the stress of a school environment. We encourage everyone to tune in to this episode of Contagious Conversations to learn more about the mental health challenges facing teachers and students and the importance of addressing these needs and providing resources to our nation’s educators.

Katelynn Singleton is a CDC Foundation intern
Katelynn Singleton is a former communications intern for the CDC Foundation.