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What are the best ways for teachers to handle stress at work?

30th April 2018

Schools are said to be facing bigger pressures now than they have experienced for the last 20 or 30 years. This pressure includes increased workload, the biggest budget cuts since the mid-1990s and the retention crisis and lowest teacher recruitment for more than a decade. This can lead you to feel stressed and burnt out.

What can you do to improve your well-being at work and manage stress so that it doesn’t impact on your health and home life?

Create a positive learning environment

Your classroom is your working space and you can help to control the atmosphere. In helping your students learn to manage stressful situations, this will consequently create a happier atmosphere in the classroom. 

Many teachers get great satisfaction in helping children to grow and develop outside the classroom as well as at school.

Deliberately choose language and activities to create a culture of positive problem-solving. Children need to experience problems so that they learn how to cope and deal with them emotionally. 

If you frequently intervene, the child doesn’t learn how to manage their emotions and can be intolerant to failure or things not going their way. Normalise struggling, then support and guide them to succeed. Teach them that failure is simply a chance to learn and do better. 

Reward schemes in the classroom can help to create a positive environment, as long as you make sure that all learners and ability levels are rewarded when they have done something particularly well. Try rewarding star pin badges for effort, hard work and when a student has been stuck by a problem only to then work through it and become ‘unstuck’.

Carefully planned reward systems can reinforce good behaviour, attendance and help pupils develop self-regulation. This in turn, will be immensely rewarding for you and create a much more cheerful and stress-free learning environment and workplace.

Learn about mindfulness and teach it to your students

It can be easy to rush through life without taking a moment to stop and think. This is particularly common for teachers as they rush to pack in all the things on the curriculum into one school day. Mindfulness is the ability to focus on your present experience using both self-awareness and becoming more aware of others. 

Mindfulness will help you notice signs of stress and anxiety in yourself and your students at an early stage so that you can prevent those feelings from escalating. 

Mindfulness will also encourage you to appreciate the positives. Not only that, but the feeling you will gain from connecting to your students emotionally will reduce your stress as you resonate with feelings of happiness they may have when they succeed at school or learn something new. 

You will also be able to stop and consider why a student is misbehaving and seek to help them, rather than simply become frustrated with them. 

In addition, by deliberately becoming more aware of your environment you may spot things about the classroom you can change for the better. For example if young children are running in the classroom and you are tired of telling them off, think about why they might be repeatedly running. Is it because the classroom furniture create aisles which tempts them to run down them? Rearrange the furniture to prevent this.

The benefits of mindfulness are bountiful - it promotes a sense of calm and more mutual respect. By learning about mindfulness and then incorporating mindfulness into the school day you will be teaching the children a valuable lesson and also benefiting from it yourself.

Set boundaries

Teacher workload is said to be at an all time high, which creates additional stress. It is vital that you don’t take on more than you can manage or you may become burnt out. Learn to delegate tasks to the classroom assistants to split your teacher workload more evenly.

There are many additional volunteer roles that teachers feel pressured to take on. If you can’t help out on this occasion, tell the person that you will in future. Everyone has different times in the lives where they are more able to help and other times where they have too much on.

Share any issues you may face with those who can help

Make sure that you don’t internalise work problems and share them with colleagues or friends and family. The therapeutic feeling of sharing a problem is valuable and they may be able to help you to find a solution. 

Take time out to enjoy yourself with hobbies, reading, exercise or travel to give yourself a chance to take a mental break from any issues.

Don't sweat the small stuff

There are never enough hours in the school day when your workload is sky-high. Create some more time simply by making a mental note not to worry about the small things. It may go against your nature, but leave things that the students won’t notice - the minute details of a presentation layout or symmetry of a wall display. Focus on the things that make a difference to the students’ education.