Can mindfulness reduce stress and make us better teachers?

A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that teachers throughout the nation are under increasing stress, which compromises their health, sleep, quality of life, and teaching performance.

According to the study, there are four main sources of teacher stress:

  • School Organizations that lack strong principal leadership, a healthy school climate and a collegial, supportive environment.
  • Job Demands that are escalating with high-stakes testing, student behavioral problems, and difficult parents.
  • Work Resources that limit a teacher’s sense of autonomy and decision-making power.
  • Teacher Social and Emotional Competence to manage stress and nurture a healthy classroom.

Interventions to help reduce teacher stress fall into three broad categories:

  1. Organizational Interventions – An approach that focuses on changing the organization’s culture to prevent stress from occurring.
  2. Organization-Individual Interface Interventions – An approach that includes building workplace relationships and support.
  3. Individual Interventions – An approach that teaches individuals practices to manage stress.

Several programs and policies are proven to help teachers reduce stress, improve well-being and student outcomes, the report says, and even save schools money. These include:

  • Mentoring and induction programs for beginning teachers can improve teacher satisfaction and retention, as well as student academic achievement. (Organization-Individual Interface)
  • Workplace wellness programs have resulted in reduced health risk, health care costs, and absenteeism among teachers. (Organization-Individual Interface)
  • Social emotional learning (SEL) programs that improve behavior and promote SEL among students also help reduce teacher stress and create more positive engagement with students. (Organization- Individual Interface)
  • Mindfulness/stress management programs can help teachers develop coping and awareness skills to reduce anxiety, depression, and improved health. (Individual)

“Still, much more needs to be done to reduce the current teacher crisis, particularly on an organizational level,” the study concludes “Basic research is needed on additional ways to reduce teacher stress and support teacher health and wellness, in order to prevent the negative consequences that impact teachers, students, parents, communities, and school systems.”

NPR has followed up on this study with an article focusing on the potential role of mindfulness in easing teacher stress and improving performance.

Patricia Jennings, author of Mindfulness For Teachers, says the teachers who received mindfulness training “showed reduced psychological distress and time urgency — which is this feeling like you don’t have enough time.”

According to NPR, “These teachers were better able to cope with classroom challenges and manage their feelings, which made it easier for them to manage their students’ big feelings. And that, says Jennings, helps students learn.”

Read the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study summary:

Teacher Stress and Health

Conclusion The escalating teacher crisis is affecting students’ educational outcomes, impacting teachers’ health, and costing U.S. schools billions of dollars each year. The authors suggest improving school organization, job demands, support and autonomy, and personal emotional resources for teachers.

Read the NPR follow-up on mindfulness:

Teachers Are Stressed, And That Should Stress Us All

We all experience stress at work, no matter the job. But for teachers, the work seems to be getting harder and the stress harder to shake. A new report out this month pulls together some stark numbers on this: Forty-six percent of teachers say they feel high daily stress.