Help Teachers Feel Less Stressed

By Jan Richards
Communicator
April 2014, Volume 37, Issue 8

Teaching is a highly stressful occupation. My research on teacher stress (a survey of 1,200 K-12 teachers) indicates that the top five reported sources of teachers’ school-related stress are:

  • Feeling overcommitted at work with too many duties and responsibilities;
  • Teaching needy students without enough support;
  • Little time to relax;
  • Teaching students who do not seem motivated to learn; and
  • Feeling the constant pressure of being held accountable.

Distressed teachers do not suffer in isolation. Their attitudes spill over into the heart and soul of the school campus, into its emotional atmosphere and sense of community.

I wondered what role a principal might play in lowering levels of teacher stress. I asked practicing teachers a follow-up question: What can your principal do to make you feel less stressed? Their answers focus on three areas of concern: time, respect, and support.

Allot Time. The need for time was the response most given in connection to what a principal can do to lower teacher stress levels. Teachers pointed out the importance of honoring their break time as well as the critical need to reduce the length and number of meetings to what is essential.

Here are suggestions for demonstrating that you value teachers’ time:

  • Avoid scheduling staff meetings during a week that teachers are preparing for conferences;
  • Schedule as few meetings as possible during the first quarter;
  • Ensure that a particular week is not burdened with meetings, holidays, observations, and planning time;
  • Protect teachers from interruptions;
  • Consider supplying breakfast or lunch during a particularly hectic time; and
  • Honor teachers’ break time.

Show Respect. Teachers indicated that your respectful words and actions help to manage stress. This show of respect is evident when teachers are included in decision-making. For example, teachers would like to help plan schedules, especially for special occasions.

Respondents also commented on the need for informal, open discussions that include the majority of the staff on what is good for the students, the teachers, and the school. One teacher noted: “We know what works and what doesn’t, but no one ever consults us. In the end, the teachers and the students are the ones who suffer. Involve us—we know what we’re doing.”

To demonstrate respect for teachers, principals should also:

  • Be visible and spend time in classrooms;
  • Know your teachers’ personalities and use that information when forming committees and selecting leadership roles;
  • Always treat teachers with respect, especially in front of colleagues, parents, and students.

Offer Support. Teachers had plenty to say about the importance of feeling cared for, praised, and encouraged. Knowing they have worked hard to engage all students, your teachers become disheartened when negative news reports paint their job performance as lacking.

Teachers feel supported by a principal whose door is always open, and who is available, visible, and interactive with teachers and students. Simply acknowledging the reality of pressure and stress and reassuring teachers that they are appreciated is helpful. One principal made it a habit of coming into the classroom just to lend a hand, asking “How can I help you in the next 15 minutes?” The students saw the principal as involved and someone important who cared about their academic progress.

Like the maestro of an orchestra who works to create blended sounds of beauty and harmony, a principal is in a position of creating a positive and productive school community where all players feel valued. Paying attention to your teachers’ concerns about time, respect, and support is a powerful way to attain that goal.

Adapted from “Help Teachers Feel Less Stressed,” Principal, September/October 2011.

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