Virtual conversation between health care providers and educators during the impact of COVID: “Wellness and Wellbeing For Families & Teachers In A Time Of Transition”

Under the direction of Dr. Nahid Angha, Founder of the Sufi Women Organization, a humanitarian, non-political organization, SWO held its semi-annual speaker presentation program, Women’s Wisdom: Women in Action. Through this program, SWO honors leaders, activists, and humanitarians who have provided exemplary services which bring people together to learn, build community, cultivate ways of living and working that are oriented toward dignity, health and service.

On May 4, 2021, SWO hosted a virtual conversation between five health care providers and educators for a discussion focused on the “Wellness & Wellbeing for Families & Teachers in a Time of Transition.” It was an evening of an inspiring conversation between the panelists, as both mental health professionals and educators shared their experiences of the last school year. The panelists offered their reflections, thoughts, practices, ideas, and resources for families and teachers as they prepare students and themselves for the close of this school year and the beginning of the year ahead. The evening was also intended to have application for anyone navigating family life and the stress and uncertainty experienced during the pandemic.

The evening’s panel discussion was moderated and facilitated by Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a member of the Sufi Women Organization. She serves on the SWO Council and on the editorial team for Sufism: An Inquiry. Elizabeth is also an educator, assessment specialist, organizational consultant, and director of a Bay Area nonprofit.

Event Panelists:


Chrissy Nichols, founder and CEO of The Chrissy Concept, LLC, is a life coach and educator who focuses her work on serving teachers. After spending 20 years in classrooms all over the world, Chrissy felt burnt out, used up, and wanted to leave education. Using the tools that coaching taught her, she is now both a teacher and a life coach for teachers. The three main reasons that teachers seek her work are to create more time and energy, feel better about their health and bodies, and create better relationships in and outside the classroom.

Carin Rhodes graduated from the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and received her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Carin has been an educator for 25 years. Her experience includes teaching 3rd, 4th and 5th grades, and leading numerous education programs. She is currently the Library and Digital Media Specialist at Bel Aire School in Tiburon where she has been teaching for 20 years, and the mother of two teenage boys.

Jenae Casalnuovo is an educator originally from Marin County. She teaches at an elementary school in San Rafael, CA. She obtained her Multiple Subject teaching credential, Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, and Master of Science in Education from Dominican University of California. Jenae is passionate about environmental justice, human rights, and the cultivation of hope and agency in students.

Christina Fass manages the Marin County Office of Education’s Early Intervention Program, which provides services to families and students with special needs. Christina is an educational psychologist, with a specialty in school neuropsychology, and has been a part of the MCOE special education team for over 15 years.

Katherine Preston is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and has been practicing for over 30 years. She is currently the mental health specialist for a private school in San Francisco where she convenes several weekly parenting groups to support families through the pandemic. She maintains a private practice in San Francisco and has held many clinical leadership positions overseeing and providing training and supervision for therapeutic services throughout the Bay Area, as well as taught graduate level human development courses.









Some of the highlights during the discussion:

Chrissy Nichols emphasized that “The planet desperately needs teachers!” Her experience as both a teacher and a coach has helped her to value the profession and teaches with deep insight into what it takes to sustain oneself as a teacher at any level of education.  “Empathy is the antidote to impatience,” she offered, “If we can have that empathy to really listen to any of those impatient voices in ourselves, that goes a long way to say I need a hug right now, I need a squeeze.”  Chrissy addressed many ways she watched herself, and many of the educators with whom she works, struggle to identify and articulate their own needs in ways that allow them to remain present for students, families, colleagues, and their own children and partners.

Reflecting on her experience as a classroom teacher over the course of the past year, Jenae Casalnuovo discussed her observation that some of the “Ways in which teachers have been finding success in reaching students in the past are not necessarily applicable or possible anymore.”  She said that this dynamic has often made it feel like teacher and parents have been “trying to re-write the script as we go along.  When it feels like student needs are at an all time high, it definitely feels like more pressures on teachers to reach that goal to be there for all their students’ needs.”  She expressed resonance with Chrissy’s comments regarding modeling and being in touch with one’s own needs.

Christina Fass began by saying that “It takes a village, and being okay with asking for help, being less than perfect, maybe being B-,” are essential to maintaining the health of everyone in that village.  She said, “It’s okay as long you’re present and participating in this thing called Life!”  Across her reflections and comments, Christina emphasized that this mindset of acceptance, prioritization and compassion is needed no matter if you are a teacher, a parent, a student, or a caregiver of any kind. When asked about specific tools she would recommend, Christina shared that “The tools I found helpful for parents, staff, students, and myself are the Marin County Health & Human Services have a wealth of services at no cost.

 Carin Rhodes offered that when looking back across the past year as an educator and a mother, “I think out of everything, what I’ve learned from all of this is listening, because I know our parent group and they are under a lot of stress and it’s taken out on teachers and the kids are feeling that stress too. The main thing is really opening up your heart and your mind and really Listening.”  Carin echoed the other panelists in their focus on tuning into one’s own state and sharing with students, as well as with other family members and children, that this does not feel like an easy time to navigate.

Katherine Preston shared some of her experience working directly with parents, as well as with teachers and students across the year.  She reflected, “This is life we’re living; this is not us trying to get through something, this is our actual lives.  I think it’s important for us to, as much as possible, be a calm reassuring presence for own selves and for our children.”  While language around “learning loss,” and concerns over falling behind have been at the forefront of news, Katherine offered her feeling that “The whole world is going through the same thing…we’re all starting over and have had this incredible year of learning.”  She advised affirming creative ways students are engaging.

Elizabeth ended the evening thanking the panelists for such a beautiful conversation, everyone for being here on the call, Dr. Angha for her leadership and guidance, and SWO for welcoming everyone into new kinds of community and shared understanding.


Save the Date for Tuesday, Aug. 31!  We look forward to seeing you at our next SWO event, a continuation of our series on Wellbeing & Wellness in a Time of Transition. Look for details coming soon!










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