Simple Strategies for Reducing Stress – A guide for Educators by @digicoled

Article inspired from contributions to UKEdChat Session 404

As with many professions, being an educator can provide high moments and low moments. Being a teacher offers such great moments, but it would be foolish to think that it is not a stressful position.

There are many components that make teaching stressful, such as teaching for tests and hoping the pupils will perform well, marking and giving meaningful feedback quickly. Also, there are ‘Pinch points’ in the year where lots seem to come at once! Even when confronted with a group of students, when you get one of those classes where none of them cares or see the point no matter how hard you try to convince them otherwise. Ultimately, teaching is a massively important role in society, so there’s a lot riding on the profession which equates to a lot of pressure/stress. It’s just fortunate that most of the time the wins outweigh the rest.

The pressures of keeping on top of and maintaining the never-ending paper trail of evidence and progress, both academically and pastorally also are cited as a main cause of stress among teachers along with being restricted by a framework that does not have children’s best interests at heart. Being part of a system that can sometimes go against what some teachers believe to be the best for a child’s learning in terms of life/happiness/goals and purpose.

Recognising the most commonly witnessed characteristics of a stressed-out colleague can often be recognised, but ignored. Witnessing withdrawal from social situations, sickness, and uncharacteristic behaviours, along with venting, moaning, sadness, lack of creativity, lack of motivation can all be signs that everything is not going well for an individual. These are all signs we can look out for with colleagues, but also being aware of a lowered judgement and poor decision making, as well as showing feelings of helplessness and being unsupported, short or bad-tempered, or poor concentration needs to be factored in.

A lot of the stresses identified above can be related to the culture of the school environment, so the role that school managers and leaders have in supporting staff to help reduce stress is critical. Praising and commending the hard work and dedication of staff can go a long way – sometimes it just feels great to be recognised for that extra mile! But also putting into place a policy regarding stress and wellbeing, and applying it can help everyone understand opportunities to take positive steps in supporting each other. Offering quiet spaces for staff to go a sit and take some time out, or offering days off timetable so that staff don’t get behind with their marking can help. Ultimately, creating an open and collaborative approach to staff wellbeing that promotes dialogue about meaningful stress management and mental health, building an ethos of wellbeing that presents a positive example of mental health to the pupils we teach. Other approaches can include eliminating/reducing the expectation of time teachers spend on time doing things which don’t help students learn; adapting marking policies, centralised systems for isolation/detentions etc. Or, developing a collaborative department where slides, resources and SoWs are all centralised. A supportive department where you are viewed as part of a team and you pick each other up whether you are a HoD, NQT or TA. Biscuits are also a must.

Get support from someone who is not responsible for appraising/managing, someone impartial who can help with the root cause e.g. if it’s workload, get a colleague who is incredibly organised to coach/discuss/help around the issue. The wellbeing of staff is an area that needs to be invested in properly both in terms of money and leaders seeing it as a way forward for the profession. A greater understanding of true wellbeing, stress and our relationship with our anxious thinking is needed at every lev of every school. Opening a dialogue about mental health in order to create a culture where it’s alright to be feeling the stress of the job should be a priority. It’s easy to forget we’re just human and not Robocop. Reduce the stigma around not coping. No ‘man up’ talk. More focus on well-being to prevent stress rather than trying to deal with it when it happens. A reduction in time-consuming tasks that have no impact on learning. Let staff know there is someone who they can talk to who will not judge them and ensure that the workload balance is fair and manageable! Basically, we all want appreciation, realistic deadlines, planning the year and sticking to it (not throwing in last minute events), and less paperwork. Moreover, it’s modelling the fact that stress is a part of life for our pupils, and the way to deal with it is a vital part of managing mental wellbeing- we are the most stable influences for a lot of our pupils- they deserve a solid example.

Of course, staff are not the only ones who get stressed in the social school climate, and teachers are well placed to look for the subtle clues and changes in behaviour in individuals signalling that they are stressed. As teachers are in such a privileged position, it is important to listen and watch (in a non-creepy way). There’s a huge difference between ‘I’m stressed because of exams’ and ‘I’m not coping’. For the latter, it’s important to make yourself and your school resources available, providing them with the options to get help. A culture of respectful curiosity and compassion should be an important priority. Role model emotional intelligence and equip learners with understanding and tools to help them cope eg: NLP, mindfulness, CBT, creative learning pedagogy. Furthermore, assurance that their feelings and emotions are commonplace, as well as creating open environments where ‘stress’ is an embraced conversation topic. Pupils need to build an awareness of own ‘triggers’ that contribute to feelings around stress and anxiety, and then an exploration of modelling techniques that provide sensory and mental opportunities to act & control stressors. Listen to them where and when possible. We can’t solve everything but sometimes they just need to feel heard.

Additionally, supporting colleagues who are not coping with stress is also vital. School and colleagues can all provide an arena to openly discuss stress, ways of coping, strategies etc but also to create a sense of professional belonging- teaching is stressful, it’s a battle we should be in together, and regardless of stage, no one should be isolated by it. Show an understanding of what they are going through, being able to relate, help them prioritise so they don’t feel overwhelmed, remind them of the positives, boost their confidence, talk about the summer hols that are approaching! Escape from your own bubble, and take time to recognise that they’re struggling. Listen, and make time. Don’t make it awkward by just paying lip service. By listening in a non-judgmental way, encourage them to seek help without fear of reprisal and sharing benefit of own experiences and resources that could help. Important not to take over as this disempowers. No guilt or shame. Honesty is good for all involved.

People are experts at brushing it off, and saying that they’re “fine” when actually all they want to do is SCREAM! A good friend, or colleague, will recognise this, and address the brush off sensitively.

Some simple strategies to help reduce stress for teaching colleagues could include leaving your classroom for a break, coming to terms with the fact that you will most probably always be behind schedule with the marking, using non-contact times as productively as possible to get through the workload, hanging out with colleagues who display a positive attitude. A great stress reliever may allow you to use breaks and lunchtimes to walk around the school site and chat with the students, finding things out, and having normal conversations about all sorts. Ultimately, do what makes you happy, look after yourself, use your time out of school for yourself to avoid burnout, rest, eat well, exercise, socialise, have fun, do something you enjoy just for yourself.

Remember, for many teachers, stress is par for the course (not all mind) and that it is the moments in teaching that hit in such a positive way that it makes it worthwhile. Never lose sight that you are changing lives!! The job is as stressful as you want to make it.

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About @digicoled 285 Articles
Colin Hill - Founder, researcher and editor of ukedchat. Also a bit of a tech geek! Project management, design thinking, and metacognition.

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