We all know that stress is a fact of life for those working in education. In 2017 3,750 teachers were on long-term sick leave because of pressure of work, anxiety and mental illness, and of course those absences will also have a knock on effect on other staff. Knowing about the problem is one thing, the big issue is working out what to do about it.
Teachers aren’t alone in suffering workplace stress, and it’s not unusual for businesses to employ masseurs or run lunchtime yoga sessions, and many have dedicated mental health champions. These options aren’t necessarily practical for schools which are already running on a tight budget but it is possible to create a culture and develop habits that help reduce stress and encourage a supportive working environment for you and your colleagues. Here’s how:
Work smarter not harder: That doesn’t mean dropping standards or cutting corners but it does mean making sure that you are working together, sharing resources and experiences. You could, for example, create an archive of lesson plans and share notes about what went well and what could be improved. You could also add an agenda point to staff meetings to give the opportunity to share best practice on approaches to discipline or student engagement.
Plan, plan and plan: When you are feeling under stress planning is often the first thing to go out of the window. And lack of planning means that time management suffers which leads to a greater sense of pressure. Use planners to write down all that needs to be done and then come up with a realistic time table of how to deliver it. There is nothing more stressful than unrealistic targets so prioritising tasks can help break work down into more manageable chunks.
Look after the work life balance: You can’t reduce your workload but you can be mindful of making sure you balance home and work commitments. Of course lesson planning, marking and assessments are important but so is a healthy approach to work, a burnt out teacher is no good for students however comprehensive their lesson plan. Make an effort to leave school at a reasonable time, even if it’s just committing to an earlier finish on a Friday. And that means for everyone – if you are a senior member of staff then it’s even more important to lead by example if a healthy balance is to be encouraged.
It’s OK to not be OK: Although there is now a lot more understanding and acceptance around mental health issues, some people are still concerned about the stigma associated with stress. But evidence shows that connecting with people, whether its friends, family or colleagues to share your worries or just have a general chat helps reduce stress and feelings of anxiety. When everyone is busy it can be tempting to keep your head down and just keep going, so it can be easy to neglect those opportunities to connect with those around you.
Get into the habit of taking time to stop and chat to colleagues – maybe introduce a regular Friday date to meet for a shared lunch or just make sure you get out of your classroom and into the staff room to catch up.
It’s also important to encourage others to talk to you if you suspect they are feeling under pressure. Creating an environment where it’s OK to say you are struggling is healthier for everyone.
Take a moment: It may not be practical to head off to a yoga class at lunchtime but meditation is a great way of taking some time out of a busy day to re-charge. There are lots of meditation apps available or just spend a few moments focusing on your breathing. As well as helping to reduce feelings of anxiety in the short term regular meditation has also been shown to improve responses to stress in the longer term too.