Teaching and learning can be fun and energising. However, many teachers and students nowadays feel pressurised, stressed and de-motivated. Teachers all over the world seem to be faced with increasingly unrealistic expectations, scarce resources, widely diverse student needs as well as the continuing challenge not to be replaced by new technologies. Surveys suggest that students also have increased levels of anxiety and stress around school and future prospects.
How can we reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety in our classrooms?
We need to begin by recognising and acknowledging them. Suppressing and denying feelings of stress will often lead to physical and emotional burnout. Stressed teachers are not effective. It is important to focus on conscious coping strategies for managing our own well-being so that we can best support our students.
Strategies to promote teacher well-being include:
- Eating properly, getting enough sleep and regular exercise.
- Spending time on activities which you love doing. Find time for your interests and passions.
- Becoming aware of people and tasks which energise you and those which drain you. Make sure you are creating time in your day/week for those which give you energy and positive feelings.
- Talking through issues with supportive colleagues, who do not need to provide solutions but who can listen non-judgementally. Avoid moaning sessions with negative colleagues, which do not make anyone feel any better.
- Practising positive self-talk and catching your own unhelpful thoughts. Be kind to yourself and don’t expect perfection.
- Trying to stay in the moment and enjoy it.
- Noticing what is working and doing more of that, rather than paying attention only to problems
What about reducing stress for students?
When we start to do these things more consciously we can begin to share the ideas with students. Many of them do not possess good coping strategies for times of stress and anxiety. They need to learn how to get into positive states for learning. For example, music can be used as a positive trigger or anchor to bring classes into a calm mood for learning. It is worth spending some time helping students to identify other positive triggers for their own moods and encouraging them to use them to get into the right frame of mind for learning.
It can be useful to teach students how thoughts can affect feelings and behaviour. For example, optimistic thoughts can influence a student’s success. An optimistic student who gets 5/10 thinks ‘That’s good, I know half of this, I need now to look at what I got wrong and see who can help me get it right. A pessimistic student who gets the same mark, thinks ‘Oh no, I’m so stupid, I might as well give up now’. These thoughts will affect their feelings and their behaviour in the approach to the next test.
This topic is broken down in full below, with tips and tricks to help you manage your stress levels and wellbeing (and a look at how this can be transferred to help students in the classroom):
Marie Delaney is a teacher trainer, educational psychotherapist, and director of The Learning Harbour, educational consultancy, in Cork, Ireland. She worked for many years with students of all ages who have SEN, in particular in the area of behavioural difficulties. She has worked with Ministries of Education and trained teachers in several countries on inclusion policy, curriculum, and inclusive pedagogy. Her main interests are bringing therapeutic approaches into teaching and learning, supporting teachers in their dealings with challenging pupils and promoting inclusive education principles for all. Marie is the author of Special Educational Needs (Oxford University Press, 2016).