EDGEWATER — After a year of bad news for teachers in Chicago Public Schools and across the nation, Principal Mary Beck wants her staff to know self-care is important now more than ever — and she plans to lead by example.
On Sunday, the Senn High School leader is running the Chicago Half Marathon/5K to not only prove to herself she can do it, but to encourage her students and staff to do something for themselves, too.
To help with that, Beck is collecting donations for the run which will go toward a new program to award staff members various prizes once a month, like gift cards for massages or for other businesses or services that could give teachers a chance to treat themselves.
A gift of $250 will get a donor's logo featured on Senn's website, and a $500 donation will get a logo on Beck's race shirt as well as the website. All proceeds will go toward the staff's wellness initiatives fund and be dispensed throughout the year.
"There's that phrase, 'If you don't feed the teachers, they'll eat the students,'" Beck laughed. "But I do think it's true; when teachers are unhappy, everybody feels it."
Between budget cuts, furlough days, bad press for CPS and national political drama, Beck said 2016 was a "distracting" and stressful year that kept many in the education profession physically and emotionally drained.
Even simple things like remembering to eat lunch had fallen by the wayside, she said.
"I felt like, 'OK I don't have to fire anyone, we're good,' but we forgot to nurture the people who were in the building," Beck said. "It wasn't enough just to say, 'You're not going to lose your job.' I want teachers to feel happy and appreciated, because if they do, then our kids flourish."
This year, the high school is focusing on its members being "SENNsational," a campaign aimed at exploring and defining for one's self what it means to thrive within the school community.
For Beck, that means carving out some time to run again, a habit she had before the days of being a full-time mom and principal.
Teachers at the school have discussed starting a running club, she said.
Regardless of what her staff does — be it picking up jogging, taking time for lunch or even just going on a short reflective walk around campus — Beck said she wants teachers and students to know that when they take care of themselves, they're better equipped to help take care of others.
"It is nice to say, 'I'm going to carve out this half-hour or hour to be healthy and I'm going to set a goal, and I'm going to reach that goal,'" the principal said. "It may not be perfect the first time you do it, but you need to try it, because if you don't try it, then you can never achieve the success of whatever it is you're trying to do."