Helping Teachers Manage Stress
By Mary C. Clement
January 2017, Volume 40, Issue 5
Teacher stress is at an all-time high. As the principal, you may see the results of significant teacher stress in absenteeism, lower morale, and an attitude of “don’t ask me to do a single extra thing.” Stress leads to burnout and leaves you trying to fill positions as if there were a revolving door on the classroom. Before your teachers succumb to faculty fatigue and negative physical results from their work, consider some things that can be done in your school to help teachers manage stress and build resiliency.
1. Some things teachers must do for themselves. All employees need to develop healthy lifestyles that include proper nutrition, exercise, and “downtime.” For teachers who feel that there is never enough time, having a salad bar in the cafeteria and guarding teachers’ lunch and preparation times are essential. The simplest of supports include offering fruit at faculty meetings and designating time in the district’s gym for teacher use.
Administrators need to develop trusting relationships with employees so that they understand times of higher personal and family stress. Knowing about the younger generation of teachers, the Millennials, born between the mid-1980s and early 2000s, will also help administrators to support their teachers. Called the “Me Generation” by some researchers, Millennials seek, and may demand, job and life balance.
4. Communication is the key. A common lament of teachers is “If I had just known that, I wouldn’t have been so upset or worried.” Keep communication lines wide open and make the flow of information transparent. Don’t call a meeting when an email will work. Allow an appropriate amount of time for teachers to make changes to curriculum or classrooms.
Ask for, and use, teacher input, recognizing that today’s Millennial generation of teachers want to be heard. Not only do they want to express their views, but they feel they should be rewarded for suggesting changes and speaking their minds. When communicating with teachers, explain the rationale behind the communication, making the “why” clearly known. Today’s teachers want to ask questions and participate in discussions where there are safe, positive environments.
3. Build the highly-collegial workplace. Everyone has heard about fun workplaces where employees have juice bars, work from anywhere with their tablets, and enjoy casual Friday every day. While schools must be professional workplaces, some minor considerations may contribute to improved collegiality and lowered stress.
Mentoring new teachers for an extended period of time can promote camaraderie. Don’t let new hires feel that they are left alone to just sink or swim. The mentor feels rewarded when sharing expertise. Providing release time for a book group or a professional learning community builds collegiality for teachers in all age groups. Celebrate birthdays and successes! Say thank you in person, with a card or email, and do so often.
Creating a school with a positive climate is very important to all teachers, but especially to Millennials, who thrive on teamwork. Designated team planning times help to build culture. Creating teacher leadership opportunities shows support for teachers’ experience and expertise. A teacher leader can present a workshop on stress management and/or establish a working support group for teachers. Good colleagues help each other with stressful days!
4. Provide the supports needed to help teachers reach all students. The diversity within student populations is considerable, yet teachers are expected to differentiate in order to attain high achievement from every student. Teachers need support to meet the needs of their students.
Receiving support for classroom management is critical for many teachers. Having schoolwide discussions for the implementation of a management system and then making a system work is important. Teachers seek back-up from administrators, special education teachers, and school counselors with regard to improving the behavior of students. When a well-managed classroom is in place, the teacher can then attend to the best practices of instruction.
Teachers should be encouraged to participate in professional development for their specific grades and subjects. Can professional development money be used for individuals to join associations and attend conferences? Attending a national conference can be an exceptional stress-buster, and a rejuvenated teacher can teach others what was learned at the event. Using experienced teachers to observe and coach other teachers may reduce the cost of bringing in so-called experts for workshops. This serves as a way to reward teachers and also helps the school district to grow its own new professional developers and administrators.
Invite teachers to let you, the principal, know when a special event is taking place in the classroom. By knowing what the teachers are doing, you can further support their work with students.
When administrative support is added to the formula for building resiliency and combatting stress, it’s a win/win/win scenario. A less-stressed teacher can provide better instruction to students, can assist colleagues, and can also lessen the principal’s job.
Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College in north Georgia, teaching in the college’s educational leadership program.
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