Students, parents, curricular and extracurricular activities, playground duties, administration and those Friday afternoon meetings are just some of the elements that contribute to teacher burnout and stress.
Associate Professor Susan Bruce from Northeast Ohio Medical University says that stress can be divided into three categories: positive, neutral and negative. While low levels of positive stress are vital for us to prevent boredom and frustration, long periods of negative stress can be very harmful and detrimental to our mind and body, ultimately leading to burnout (Bruce, 2009).
So, what is considered to be negative stress? Divorce, death of a loved one and challenging interactions with colleagues are all typical examples of highly negative stressful situations; although, it must be noted that individuals will have different responses to the same stressful event.
Resilience may be the answer, as it is the main protective factor against stress. Studies have recognised teacher resilience as one of the most important elements in determining teachers’ retention (Howard & Johnson, 2004; Hong, 2012).
According to Associate Professor Susan Beltman from the School of Education at Curtin University, resilience is defined as a person’s capacity to continue, adapt and thrive despite experiencing adversities such as unexpected changes, critical life events and job stress (Beltman et al., 2011).
It is well known that teaching is a highly stressful profession, where sudden changes and juggling tasks are basically everyday business. So how can teachers build resilience?
The four fundamental pillars
There are four fundamental pillars that have been identified in the research literature in promoting resilience.
1. Believe in what you do
Lisa is a great teacher. Her students love her and the behaviour in her classroom is calm and productive. This was not always the case with Lisa. As a beginning teacher, managing the classroom was one of the perils she faced. However, she strongly believed that she could do it and it was through this self-belief that Lisa gained the confidence to continuously improve her classroom management skills through mentorship, observations, and lesson feedback.
The cornerstone element of resilience is self-belief and educators who believe in themselves are less likely to leave the classroom (Hong, 2012; Howard & Johnson, 2012). Teachers who are confident when it comes to managing the classroom have shown higher probability to stay in the game longer, giving longevity to their careers and becoming experienced teachers who are less likely to burn out. Being confident generates fulfilment that further promotes confidence, creating a virtuous cycle for resilient teachers.
2. Do not take it personally
One morning Sarah’s mum turns up to school to inform the teacher that her daughter cannot come to school because of severe anxiety. There are two main ways teachers might respond to an event like this.
This teacher will believe that they are responsible for Sarah’s anxiety, taking the issue personally and feeling guilty for the mental health status of the student.
This teacher will empathise with the mother, will offer suggestions for support and depersonalise the event, having clear and strong boundaries for what they are responsible for.
In the scenario, it is clear how some teachers might take their students’ outcome too personally, feeling responsible even when it is not really the case. Resilient teachers are able to depersonalise unpleasant events (Howard & Johnson, 2012), which in turn creates strong and healthy boundaries.
3. Be proud
Robert has been a teacher for the past 10 years. He has created a unique way to improve learning outcomes with the students in his classroom. Robert developed this technique over a two-year period. During this time, he collected data to refine his practices and measure student outcomes. Robert was proud of his achievements and reported his findings to administration, and now his learning technique is implemented across the whole school.
Robert is an example of a resilient teacher, as he was able to take pride in his accomplishments. Whether they are big or small, every teacher should be proud and take ownership of their accomplishments, as this will foster their resilience.
4. You are not alone
Annette has been posted to a new school. She is aware of the importance of having a strong and supportive network. She has just joined the Year 3 team and she invites her colleagues for a meet and greet time at the local cafe. It is a beautiful experience due to the relaxed environment and the friendly nature of the meeting, and the first step to build healthy relationships with her new colleagues.
On the other hand, Allan has been at school for a while finding difficulties in bonding with his colleagues. His partner is incredibly supportive, but Allan feels he is dumping too much on her and this situation, coupled with the behaviour of his students, is taking its toll on him. After talking with his mentor, Allan decides to have some sessions with a psychologist to build his relationship skills and to talk with the administration team to find possible solutions to improve his work environment.
Building strong networks inside and outside of school is paramount for teachers’ resilience (Bruce, 2009). A positive environment at home, a healthy relationship with your partner/family and friends are recognised as key elements for building and maintaining resilience.
Being a teacher is not an easy feat and there is no magic wand to solve all the challenges that teachers will face day-to-day. But the good news is that the four pillars of resilience may be able to help you to respond to any adversities you may face.
Committing to implementing the four pillars will assist both beginning and established teachers in building a platform of resilience that will promote the longevity and success of their career.
Beltman, S., Mansfield, C., & Price, A. (2011). Thriving not just surviving: A review of research on teacher resilience. Educational Research Review, 6(3), 185-207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2011.09.001
Bruce, S. P. (2009). Recognizing stress and avoiding burnout. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 1(1), 57-64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2009.05.008
Dicke, T., Elling, J., Schmeck, A., & Leutner, D. (2015). Reducing reality shock: The effects of classroom management skills training on beginning teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 48, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2015.01.013
Hong, J. Y. (2012). Why do some beginning teachers leave the school, and others stay? Understanding teacher resilience through psychological lenses. Teachers and Teaching, 18(4), 417-440. https://doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2012.696044
Howard, S., & Johnson, B. (2004). Resilient teachers: Resisting stress and burnout. Social Psychology of Education, 7(4), 399-420. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-004-0975-0
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