As April was Stress Awareness Month, we’re putting a special focus on teacher wellbeing, including our recent blog on helping teachers establish a good work/life balance. But however good a work/life balance any teacher has, the nature of the job means that they are going to have to cope with certain levels of stress.
A survey by the Education Institute of Scotland found that 70% of teachers feel stressed in their job either frequently or all the time and 89% have needed to seek help to deal with their stress at work. At a time when COVID-related measures have taken their toll, and pressures from students, parents and workload are all high, it’s therefore essential that every avenue to reduce the stress on teachers is explored.
In this blog, we’ll explore five strategies teachers can adopt to control their stress levels, plus five ways in which schools, headteachers and leadership teams can give teachers stress-related support.
Controlling stress in teaching
Every teacher is different, as are their own characteristics, workloads and personal circumstances, and so they will all have different reactions to stress. Therefore, some means of self-administered stress reduction will work better than others for some teachers, and vice versa. But as a starting point, we recommend teachers try these five:
- Prioritise tasks: instead of trying to get everything done all the time and juggling too many balls, working out what’s most important and focusing on that can be hugely useful in stopping teachers feeling overwhelmed.
- Manage time: planning what to do and when can ensure teachers have breathing space in their day, and this works in two ways: planning out work so that it isn’t rushed, and setting aside time for personal activities and exercise.
- Forgive and move on: everyone makes mistakes, but dwelling on them is a sure-fire way to feel angry and frustrated. It’s important to leave the past in the past, and concentrate on more positive actions in the future instead.
- Express feelings in the open: bottling up problems can make stressful feelings worse, as well as making it harder for others to help. Talking to trusted friends and colleagues about problems can alleviate this, even if they’re just someone who is there to listen.
- Check habits and their influences: some of the things people do to relieve stress can do more harm than good, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, taking other stimulants and even comfort eating. Cutting down on bad habits can make the body feel healthy – and the mind should follow suit.
How schools can help teachers reduce stress
Schools and school leaders have a responsibility to take whatever means they can to reduce teacher stress and ensure that their work doesn’t have an impact on their health. The following five strategies are a good starting point for schools to maintain good pastoral care for teachers:
- Get teacher feedback: schools can’t take the right actions to support staff wellbeing if they don’t understand what the biggest problems are. Regular surveys and opportunities for feedback can help teachers express their concerns in confidence if necessary.
- Give them flexibility: if teachers are struggling with their workload, or to manage their time effectively, then exploring options for flexible working time or job-sharing may be the way forward.
- Schedule regular support: it can be hard to get people to open up about their problems, so it’s good practice to hold regular check-in sessions for every teacher where they can discuss their state of mind and bring in extra support for those who need it
- Allocate planning time: fitting in lesson planning along with teaching, paperwork, and myriad other duties can be difficult, but giving teachers designated planning time can relieve much of the time pressure that they face
- Promote wider wellness: just as schools promote healthy living to students, the same principles can be applied to teachers. Giving them the time and space to get a nutritious meal, get some exercise or even take a break and get some peace and quiet can make a huge difference to stress levels.