Teachers are human too: counter-stress environments make a difference - Education Matters Magazine
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Teachers are human too: counter-stress environments make a difference

Written by Ben Sacco, The MacKillop Institute National Lead – Program Development & Implementation. 

Ben Sacco, National Lead – Program Development and Implementation, talks about stress and burnout and strategies for reducing the negative impacts to the mental health and wellbeing of teachers.

We have understood for a long time that anyone who embarks on a career in teaching is doing so because it is such a meaningful profession to be a part of.

Those who choose teaching as a career are motivated by a variety of factors. Individuals who seek to teach have a desire to undertake meaningful work that makes for a better, more equitable society.

The work of our educators is critical to the development of our children and young people. The shared moral purpose and pathway for attaining that meaning is evident daily in our schools and classrooms.

Whilst it is important to better understand the mental and physical health of children and young people in our schools, we must not overlook the health and wellbeing of our teachers.

In today’s climate, teachers are working extremely hard to support their students in all kinds of ways. Specifically, the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions have meant that schools have had to pivot to remote teaching and learning.

Teachers have had to be agile and respond to the mental health and wellbeing needs of their students which includes the emotions associated with sudden change; change in structure, routine, expectations of academic programs and support.

Two areas we explore below is stress in the lives of teachers and the risk of burnout.

Stress in the lives of our teachers

Schools are often subject to chronic stress. They face significant stressors from a range of sources such as: changes to funding, increased workload, remote learning and staff turnover. These stressors and pressures can become magnified when they start to affect whole groups of people. As a result, many schools can find themselves living in a state of chronic stress; no sooner is one problem resolved than another one crops up.

Counter-stress strategies may look like:
· Carving out time to take a break from the situation you find yourself in. Not everything can be solved in the moment.
· Talking with a trusted colleague, friend or family member about what is making you feel stressed and together finding a solution.
· Staying positive and open minded.
· Providing self-care opportunities such as: going for a walk, arts and crafts and listening to music.

What does burnout actually mean?

Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

It is characterised by the World Health Organisation by three dimensions:
1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
3. Reduced professional efficacy.

Reducing the risk of burnout may look like:
· Trying to recognise the signs of early onset and speaking to someone about how you are feeling.
· Learning more about the concept of burnout.
· Having ‘staff wellbeing’ as the top agenda item at meetings.
· Creating a suggestion box where staff can identify anonymously the things that are causing feelings of depletion or exhaustion for the school leadership to act upon.

The MacKillop Institute’s Reframing Learning and Teaching Environments (ReLATE) model provides schools with an opportunity to tackle the stress that exists in schools, creating the pre-conditions for improved teaching, learning and wellbeing.

“There has been a positive shift in our school culture and the way teachers view daily challenges. We are no longer saying how frustrating and difficult days can be. Instead, we are approaching challenging days with a positive mindset and ReLATE strategies are practical and applicable in everyday situations,” Teacher from a school implementing the ReLATE model.

Try this: With a colleague or individually, look at the suggested strategies and consider focussing on one over the next school term.

See if it helps and consider reaching out to Ben Sacco directly to share your story of impact.

Schools wanting to understand the ReLATE model are invited to attend a free online information session or contact The MacKillop Institute directly. Dates for upcoming sessions can be found at The MacKillop Institute website.