Can mindfulness help stressed teachers stay in the classroom?

An excerpt from Can mindfulness help stressed teachers stay in the classroom?

Teacher stress and student performance

The attention now being paid to teacher stress sprang from the growing focus on student stress and its influence on learning. The Center for Resilience, for instance, offers teachers a two-part training — first, building their own practice of mindfulness and self-care; then, a second round to help bring mindfulness to their classrooms, with breathing techniques, glitter jars (which students shake and silently watch settle), and other practices such as a body scan (a closed-eyes, focusing of attention on different regions of one’s body).


“Teachers are trying to manage classrooms just by saying, ‘Calm down and pay attention,’ but we need to give kids the tools to be able to do those things,” said Weiner, and teachers need to practice these skills before they can pass them on to students. “The analogy is that you can’t teach somebody to play piano if you don’t know how to play piano.”


Studies suggest that lower teacher stress improves student learning. In 2018, for example, University of Missouri researchers compared students’ behavior problems and their math and reading scores with the self-reported stress levels and coping abilities of their teachers. Students with low-stress teachers had the highest test scores and the best behavior. What’s more, in classes led by highly stressed teachers, both student behaviors and their math test scores got worse as teachers’ ability to cope with stress dropped (there were no significant changes in reading scores).


Of course, these results show correlation, not causation. Does teacher stress contribute to student academic and behavior struggles, or is it the other way around?


“I suspect the relationship is reciprocal. They build off each other,” said the study’s lead author, Keith Herman, who wrote the book Stress Management for Teachers (2015) with study co-author and fellow education professor Wendy Reinke.


Patricia Jennings, a University of Virginia professor of education, agrees, calling it the “burnout cascade.”


Emotionally exhausted teachers, she observed, were more likely to overreact to minor student stumbles, and these reactions spiked student stress in turn, leading to more discipline issues, and so on, spiraling downward.


“You can’t learn when you’re stressed,” said Jennings. With adrenalin and cortisol coursing through your veins, you can’t think deeply about a problem, or immerse yourself in a book, which is partly why schools have been adding “social-emotional learning” lessons to help students cultivate empathy, resolve conflicts, and manage their emotions. But, it’s hard to calm kids down with stressed-out teachers.


“I believe that teacher and student stress underlie a lot of our problems with learning,” said Jennings. “If we want to improve our test scores, then let’s all calm down.”


To that end, Jennings has spent more than a decade working with colleagues on a 30-hour mindfulness-based professional development program for teachers called CARE (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education). As part of the training, stretched across several weeks, teachers explore the cognitive and physical links to their emotions to better regulate them, and they role-play stressful classroom situations to practice mindful responses.

"Emotionally exhausted teachers…were more likely to overreact to minor student stumbles, and these reactions spiked student stress in turn"

- Patricia Jennings -
​Professor, University of Virginia


Stressful schools aren’t healthy for anyone. There’s nothing wrong with a little pressure, a little nervousness over an exam, or a teacher who wants students to succeed. We all feel pressure, but something else is going on.


The causes and convergence of teacher and student stress has been a growing concern over the past decade. Research has consistently shown that stress levels in newer educators especially is leading many of them to exit the profession within five years.

Teachers need adequate resources and support in their jobs in order to battle burnout and alleviate stress in the classroom.

“ If we do not support teachers, we risk the collateral damage of students.”

CARE proved effective in a 2017 clinical trial, in which 224 elementary school teachers interested in the training were randomly assigned to a participant group or to a control group that was waitlisted until the research was complete. Using a combination of teacher questionnaires and classroom observations, Jennings and her team found that CARE increased teachers’ control of their emotions and reduced their stress, while also improving their sleep and making them feel less hurried overall.


But schools don’t often put time or resources into fighting teacher stress until it grows into a serious problem and teachers are eyeing the exits, said Jennings.

Full Article:


Can mindfulness help stressed teachers stay in the classroom?


 BY Chris Berdik


Berdik, Chris. "Can mindfulness help stressed teachers stay in the classroom?" PBS. 28 Mar. 2019. Public Broadcasting Service. 02 Aug. 2019 <https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/can-mindfulness-help-stressed-teachers-stay-in-the-classroom>.


President

Rachel Wixey & Associates

[Rachel]

I chose this article because it demonstrates the accessibility of the practice for anyone, anytime, with first-hand testimonies of youth and adults describing the benefits. And, anytime I witness youth sitting in practice (video at bottom), it's powerful to me.

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