Teacher Stress: How Principals Can Help

Teachers get stressed out. And stress can lead to burnout. Learn to recognize signs of stress in your teachers and what you can do to help them.

Teachers get stressed out. And stress can lead to burnout. Learn to recognize signs of stress in your teachers and what you can do to help them.
October 2018, Volume 42, Issue 2

Teachers get stressed out, which can lead to burnout. It doesn’t just affect the teacher; it also affects the students in your school and other teachers, too. As a principal, you can learn to recognize signs of stress in your teachers and take action to help them take a little bit of the load off.

Recognizing the Signs

Stress is something everyone goes through at some point in their lives. Teachers aren’t an exception to this rule. According to Mary Clement, professor of teacher education at Berry College in North Georgia, sources of school-related stress are:

  • feeling overcommitted at work with too many responsibilities;
  • teaching needy students without enough support;
  • having little time to relax;
  • teaching students who seem unmotivated to learn; and
  • feeling the constant pressure of being held accountable.

It’s as important for principals to understand why teachers feel stressed out as it is to recognize when they’re stressed out.

What does stress look like? For many, it’s more than just being flustered. It’s physical exhaustion. It’s loss of enthusiasm. It’s feeling overwhelmed.

Noticing when teachers are calling in sick more often than usual or spotting when morale is low are key indicators that teachers are dealing with high levels of stress.

Helping Teachers De-Stress

What can principals do to help? A lot, says Jan Richards, associate professor in the School of Education at National University in Ontario, Canada.

  • Let teachers know you value their time. Avoid scheduling staff meetings during a week that’s notoriously busy. Schedule as few meetings as possible in the first few months of the school year. Supply breakfast or lunch turning hectic times. Honor teachers’ break times.
  • Show teachers you respect them. Be visible and spend time in their classrooms. Get to know your teachers so you can use that information to select the right teachers for leadership positions or committees. Always treat your teachers with respect, especially in front of colleagues, parents, and students.
  • Support teachers. Have an open-door policy. Acknowledge that they’re under pressure and reassure them that you appreciate them. Ask how you can help.
  • Have a Fun Committee. Take time to celebrate teachers’ birthdays. Plan a buffet lunch to celebrate a recent accomplishment. Yes, this goes against the “there’s not enough time” problem, but a few parties sprinkled in has been shown to boost camaraderie.
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle. Provide a salad bar in the cafeteria. Hand out fruit during staff meetings.
  • Communicate. Some stress can be avoided if teachers have a clear understanding of their role in the school. And it’s a two-way street. Make sure they know they have a voice in your school and that you value their ideas and opinions.

Remember that stress affects more than just the person who’s dealing with it. In a school environment, it can have an impact on everyone, from other teachers to students. Paying attention to your teachers who might be a little stressed out is beneficial to them, to you, and to your school.

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