Staff Spotlight: Deja Spalding & Sarah Johnson

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)


In this month’s Staff Spotlight, Deja Spalding and Sarah Johnson talk about their shared passion for supporting the well-being of students and staff. Deja serves as our Associate Director of Student Services and Sarah serves as our Social Worker for KIPP Indy Unite Elementary Lower School.

Thanks to Deja and Sarah’s leadership, Unite Elementary now has a Teacher’s Corner and Adult SEL program. Read the full feature below to learn how these initiatives are supporting the well-being of staff so that they can be their best selves for students.


Tell us about yourself. What’s your role at KIPP Indy?

Deja:  My name is Deja Spalding and I am the Associate Director of Student Services at KIPP Indy Unite Elementary. I am also one of the Site Leaders for Second Step and Adult SEL.

Sarah: My name is Sarah Johnson and I am the school Social Worker for K-2. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.


What motivates you to do this work?

Deja: I love kids and enjoy being a part of their story. I have so many memories of amazing teachers and staff members that brought me to where I am today. It is super important to me that our babies see someone that looks like them and is able to listen, guide, and empower them. I am extremely blessed every day that I am able to be a part of all of their lives.

Sarah: This is my fourth school year connected to KIPP Indy. I am passionate about connecting with students, families, and teachers and supporting them in any way I can! I am motivated by the wonderful team I get to work with; supporting and celebrating our students holistically is vital to their success inside and outside the classroom.


This year, you created a teacher corner. Can you share how this space came to be? What is included in the space? Why is it important that teachers have access to these resources?

Sarah: Deja and I have been dreaming for years of creative ways to support students and teachers mentally and emotionally. We know that in order for students to be successful academically, gains have to be made emotionally and mentally to support them in their learning. The same is true for teachers; in order for teachers to be the best they can be for their students; it’s important that they’re taking care of themselves. The Teacher Corner is a tool that staff have access to during the school day to take care of themselves mentally and emotionally in the ways that they need to. This can look differently for each person; but what’s important is that staff are taking steps each day to do something for themselves. We both see this as a resource that staff utilize and value in terms of taking care of their overall wellbeing.


Tell us about the Adult SEL program. Why did you and your team decide to invest in this resource for teachers? What impact has it had on teachers so far this year?

Deja: Last year, I piloted student SEL surveys with 5th Graders and the question I got the most in the results was “what about the teachers? What about our well-being?” With the amazing help of Ms. Gaither, we were able to attend professional development related to social-emotional learning and speak to our leaders about the importance of self-care for not just our students but our staff. Our amazing principals agreed that this was something that was important to prioritize and we launched it during onboarding. So far, we have used this resource to set weekly whole staff SEL goals (ie. What are some ways you can develop a greater trust within your team?) to help all of us stay grounded and remember ways they can utilize adult SEL on a daily basis.


It’s critical that we take care of ourselves first so that we can best support our students, families, and team. What’s your favorite self-care practice?  

Deja: My Favorite self-care practice is working out. I love waking up at 5am to work out and take care of myself!

Sarah: Spending time with my family and also prioritizing alone time is critical to my well-being! I love carving out a few minutes to myself each day – whether it’s drinking coffee, journaling, reading a book.