In South Africa, educators have reported experiencing high levels of stress and an inability to cope with the rising demands of teaching in today’s classroom. Exacerbated by the pandemic, many teachers struggle with mental health issues and secondary trauma. A recent study in the Mail & Guardian on the role of educational institutions in promoting and protecting mental health across childhood, adolescence, and youth found that South African educators experience high stress levels at work and often do not feel equipped to deal with issues.
One of the goals of Trevor Noah Foundation is to equip teachers with leadership capacity, tools, and skills to deliver 21st Century education. However, if teachers are stressed, it negatively impacts the delivery of these skills. Psychosocial support for teachers is therefore crucial. As a response to this challenge, a partnership between My Online Therapist and Trevor Noah Foundation was born.
My Online Therapist
My Online Therapist is an online community of therapists and teachers that provides online therapy services and programmes for children, parents, and teachers. Their vision is to make psychosocial and wellness support accessible to South African educators through virtual platforms.
The reason for mental health programmes being administered digitally was due to the shortage of therapists who could be placed in schools and to avoid the stigma associated with teachers seeking mental health support.
The Wellness on WhatsApp Programme
The Wellness on WhatsApp Programme was first piloted at one of our Khulani schools in Eldorado Park in 2020. At the time, it comprised of videos to help educators self-regulate and deal with stress and possible trauma due to the pandemic. Teachers resonated with the content, and the videos’ success led to the programme’s expansion into three more Khulani schools in the following year.
One of the strengths of the course is that it is designed to be an informal, confidential consultation service for educators who need support. It offers a safe and private space for educators to connect with their psychosocial support needs and explore resources to address them.
The programme takes place in four steps:
Step 1: In-person workshop briefing educators on the programme’s content and process.
Step 2: WhatsApp messages and audio are sent to educators weekly for eight weeks.
Step 3: Have virtual access to a My Online Therapist counselor throughout the programme.
Step 4: Educators receive certificates of completion once they finish the course.
In addition, educators receive self-care kits containing sensory items to help them participate in the programme. The kits help to introduce new and healthy coping mechanisms to their daily lives and help them better manage their stress. At the end of the course, educators also undergo feedback sessions where they share how the programme has helped them
The Success of the Programme
The Wellness on WhatsApp programme has proven highly successful over the past three years. To date, it has run in nine Khulani schools in three different communities, and 300 teachers have access to it. Earlier this month, My Online Therapist further onboarded two new primary schools in the Braamfischerville community.
Furthermore, My Online Therapist was recently announced as one of the winners of the Momentum “Small Business, Big Success” campaign for 2022. The award offers them an opportunity to expand their organisation and reach more schools. As TNF, we are proud to be a part of the learnings and growth of our partners. When they win, we win.