Continuing the Well-Being Journey: You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have


Ellen Perconti is the Superintendent of Goldendale School District in Washington State. For an introduction to Goldendale, see the first post in this series here.


“You can’t give what you don’t have.” I’ve heard this quote multiple times in many different contexts. And, over time, I’ve come to realize how true it is. As we’ve engaged in trauma-informed practices, restorative practices, social-emotional learning, de-escalation training – it becomes more and more apparent that teachers who have not paid attention to their own trauma, restored their relationships, and developed their SEL skills struggle to develop these skills with children.

This is a whole new world, at least for me, in education leadership. It seems logical that, as adults, we need to be able to regulate ourselves before we can co-regulate with students. But in all my preparation for leading an organization, these skills were ignored. I’m learning that continued emphasis on the well-being of educators is critical in building a healthy system with strong connections.

Like with any change process, the first step is to commonly define terms. The Learner First’s Well-Being First Workshop focuses on two key areas: Self-Understanding and Connection. Many of the educators who attended this workshop in August came thinking that the focus would be their own physical health. And, while physical health is an important aspect of well-being and embedded within self-understanding and connection, it wasn’t the focus. The focus was who we really are as individuals and how we contribute to other people’s lives.

Personally, as I engaged in the process and evaluated my own well-being, I was pushed to consider more deeply aspects of my personal journey that I had not previously considered. Asking what success will look like for me, what makes me tick, and what excites me in my learning has helped me to reframe my thinking and focus.

During the Workshop, I heard educators state that they had never thought about who they are, what they want, or what is possible at the level of depth that The Learner First’s Learning Progressions provide. As we strive to deepen educational outcomes and help students answer the question of how they will contribute, supporting staff first in grappling with these questions is critical.

Every few weeks, I pull out my notes from the Well-Being First Workshop and reflect on my own growth. As I do this, I often send out an email to the others who participated, asking how they are using the tools and learning. Recently, one teacher responded about a student she has focused on, saying, “He has the best smile and such a big heart! He has many friends. His growth has been amazing in following directions. He used to bolt from the classroom, now he will use his words and ask for a break.” As I read this description, I see how the educator views this child – not as a problem to be solved, but as happy, big-hearted, friendly, and capable of incredible growth.

In order to view students through this lens of who they are, what they are capable of, and how they can make a difference, I will continue to work on supporting staff in their well-being journeys. And, honestly, I will continue to work on my own progression, too – because you can’t give what you don’t have!