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Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D student at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree in...
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Developing A Stress-Reduction Plan—When Not So Stressed

While as a teacher right now you may be enjoying the beach, traveling, spending time with family, perhaps teaching a bit, or attending training in a more relaxed setting, the last thing on your mind right now is how to deal with the stress of the school year. But now might be the perfect time, when you have a clear mind, to learn about stress reduction methods you can apply for the coming academic year.

Teaching is considered one of the most stressful occupations (Hartigan, 2017; Mahmoudi & Ozkan, 2016). Teachers must grapple with parent and student difficulties, the demands of diverse learners, and other stressful situations on a daily basis (Hansen & Sullivan, 2003). Research suggests that high stress levels can negatively impact teacher performance (Mahmoudi and Ozkan, 2016). What’s missing in teacher preparation programs and professional development in-service trainings, in my opinion, is how to manage stress. In this blog, I’ve complied some suggestions—philosophies, attitudes, and practical strategies—to assist teachers, no matter their level or years of experience, with handling stress.

Mindfulness

In researching stress-reduction with teacher candidates, Hartigan (2017) found that mindfulness breathing techniques used throughout the school day, even practicing with their own students, helped ease tensions. Internet research will produce countless resources and articles on mindfulness, as interest in the topic has surged in recent years. Hartigan explains the technique teachers learned this way, “The pre-service teachers are instructed to breathe in for four counts, paying close attention to the air entering their bodies and then to breathe out for a count of eight. They are to focus on their breathing, taking deep cleansing breaths, breathing in and out slowly, and paying particular attention to how breathing feels in their nostrils, lungs, and bellies ... breathe in peace and healing ... and exhale allowing anything that needs to go flow effortlessly out.” I’ve shared a breathing activity by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, which is simple but effective. You can find it on YouTube.

Take Time for Yourself

In her Education World article, Christi Wilson, a teacher of gifted students, suggests taking a mental health day. Rather than save all your personal and sick days to cash out for retirement, teachers can take an occasional day off and rejuvenate and keep themselves at their best for students. If you can’t take a whole day, I suggest taking an afternoon off and planning something relaxing. It’s about pacing yourself, and I agree with Wilson, you’re no good to your students if you’re tired, sick, or stressed out.

Pinpoint the Source of Stress

Sandra Taylor, a development manager for the Teacher Support Network, says before you can manage stress, you need to get to the source. Write a list of the things that might be causing you stress, then divide that list into two columns: things you can control, and things you can’t. Next, focus on finding solutions for the things you have control over and tackle those things. Taylor’s advice makes sense since before you start meditating, doing yoga, leaving work early, you might want to take a few moments and reflect on what’s stressing you out. Perhaps it’s difficult student behaviors, bossy co-workers, personal issues, or physical challenges. Once you’ve targeted the source, you can address it more effectively or at least change your perception about it.

Changing Environments

Sometimes, the best solution to stress is to remove the stressors. This might mean exploring other options in terms of work environment. If you determine that the school’s administration is stressing you out, that you lack support in your position, then it could mean interviewing at other schools. Some teachers find more peace by changing school districts. Of course, these are major moves and involve many components such as coordinating plans with spouses, finding new homes, etc., so please don’t take this advice lightly. I’m in no way saying to quit your job tomorrow, I’m just saying over the course of your career, consider seeking out places where you feel supported and at your personal best.

Socialize

Personally, I have found one of the best stress relievers is to share, laugh, and discuss ideas, problems, and situations with colleagues, who are in the same “boat” as you. Going out for a drink or bite to eat can ease the strains of the workplace and remind you that you are not alone. You might consider having a mini “potluck” with fellow teachers every few weeks during your lunch time. Maybe someone brings in some coffee for the grade-level team and you sit a few minutes before the school day and chat. These moments can diffuse built up stress in my experience.

These are just some ideas to consider before heading back into the classroom. A reasonable plan might be to add one new strategy or technique for the school year. For instance, make it a goal to meditate. Then, see how this strategy works. Have your stress levels gone down? Finding what works for you to reduce stress is really a personal approach. The overriding principle is that high stress levels decrease your effectiveness as a teacher and taking care of yourself must and should be a priority.

 

Steve Haberlin is a graduate assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida and an educator with 10 years of experience.

 

References

Hartigan, B.F. (2017). Mindfulness in teacher education: A constructivist approach to stress reduction for teacher candidates and their students. Childhood Education, 93(2), 153-158. doi: 10.1080/00094056.2017.1300494

Hansen, J. I., & Sullivan, B. A. (2003). Assessment of workplace stress: Occupational stress, its consequences, and common causes of teacher stress. In J. E. Wall & G. R. Walz (Eds.), Measuring up: Assessment issues for teachers, counselors, and administrators (pp. 611-622). Greensboro, NC: CAPS Press.

Mahmoudi, F., & Ozkan, Y. (2016). Practicum stress and coping strategies of pre-service English language teachers. Procedia - Social & Behavioral Sciences, 232, 494-501.