Teacher Wellness: Too Stressed for Stress Management?

Article excerpt

Healthier, happier teachers promote healthier, happier, and more effective learning environments. Yet, many teachers experience considerable stress. Studies have found that between one fifth and one fourth of teachers frequently experience a great deal of stress (Kyriacou, 1998). Stress in teaching appears to be universal across nations and cultures (Harney, 2008). School psychologists have the opportunity to provide powerful and effective support to enhance teachers' well being. As we strive to foster teacher wellness, we naturally impact student wellness, too. Hill and Robinson (2010), in their Communiqué article, "Enhancing Teacher Well-Being: Put on Your Oxygen Masks," prompted school psychologists to encourage teacher wellness through multiple initiatives at the organizational, classroom, and individual levels. We offer a model program for enhancing teacher wellness at the individual level that has been successfully implemented with teachers at elementary, middle, and high schools in rural central Virginia.

The program was developed and implemented by a school psychologist due to concern for how teacher stress was impacting school climate and classroom instruction. Since the program's initial implementation, there have been modifications to the program for each school building where the program has been provided.

When one school district was approached about providing after-school teacher wellness programs, one elementary principal was very receptive because the school was experiencing a great deal of stress: Not one or two, but several of the teachers had been diagnosed with cancer during that school year. A focus on teacher wellness was greatly needed, and plans for a walking group and weight watchers group were underway. Given the immediate need and the upper administration support, this was an ideal environment and time to propose ateacher stress management progr am. Afive-session stress management program was successfully implemented in this elementary school, as well as in the middle and high schools for the same community.

However, with so many inservice needs and academic commitments, a teacher stress management program may not always rise to the top of the priority list. When considering implementation of a teacher wellness program, some of the following points may be helpful for creating understanding of the need for such a program. Teachers experience many stressors during the education process that challenge the enhancement of healthy productive classrooms. Maslach (2002) suggests that teacher stress and burnout may be one of the most important areas for school psychologists to address because of their direct impact on students. Teacher stress and burnout can be barriers to learning for students and are relevant to school improvement planning and designing staff development.

HOW TO GET STARTED

Experience with implementing teacher stress management programs during the past 10 years has evolved into a step-by-step process for introducing and conducting the programs, depending on the needs of the school. It is helpful to begin with a meaningful discussion with school administrators to heighten their awareness of the need for teachers to manage stress and develop healthy mental health practices. School psychologists can collaborate with school administrators to help them consider aspects of the school climate that are not often addressed because of emphasis on more traditional instructional needs. The following questions maybe helpful in the context of a discussion with a school principal to clarify if there are teacher stress concerns impacting instructional goals and if a teacher wellness program is a priority.

* Is it important for teachers to be healthy and happy individuals?

* Do we believe that healthier teachers promote healthier and more productive classrooms?

* How is teacher absenteeism effecting classroom instruction?

* Are the teachers experiencing any stressors beyond the norm of an educational workplace? …