Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Effects of Loving Kindness Meditation on Student Teachers' Reported Levels of Stress and Empathy

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Effects of Loving Kindness Meditation on Student Teachers' Reported Levels of Stress and Empathy

Article excerpt

To be effective, teachers need to have empathic relationships with students based on respect, caring, and an overall understanding that relationships in schools are vital to a positive learning community (Cooper, 2003; Jennings & Greenberg, 2009; Ray, Lambie, & Curry, 2007). However, teacher stress may lead to negative consequences that undermine teachers' ability to sustain personal health and positive relationships with students. Thus teacher stress is of growing concern to researchers.

Teacher Stress

Stress is an ordinary part of everyday life. According to Selye (1978), stress is a condition that forces physical and/or psychological burden(s) on a person. Based on a definition of stress offered by Lazarus and Folkman (1984), stress occurs when the demands of an individual's environment extend beyond the resources the individual has immediately available for coping with the demands. Furthermore, some stressors influence physical and psychological health (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

Teachers often experience high levels of stress as they face the demands and expectations of students, parents, administrators, and society (Kyriacou, 2001; R. G. Lambert & McCarthy, 2006). Relationships may present stressors to teachers working with other teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, and school staff (Montgomery & Rupp, 2005). Students' behavior (Admiraal, Korthagen, & Wubbels, 2000; Geving, 2007), teachers' perceptions of school climate and workload (Collie, Shapka, & Perry, 2012), scarce resources combined with high demands (R. G. Lambert, McCarthy, O'Donnell, & Want, 2009), and challenging needs of diverse learners (Jones, Bouffard, & Weissbourd, 2013) are all potential stressors for educators. As stressors compile, many teachers may use adaptive coping strategies to reduce the effects of stress (i.e., exercise, nutrition, spiritual practices, social support, etc.; Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer, 2000).

Conversely, if teachers do not possess skills to positively adapt to stress, they may experience increased stress. Increased stress might lead to more negative outcomes, most notably, the experience of a pattern of emotional exhaustion progressing to burnout, decreased empathy toward others, feelings of fatigue, loss of compassion, becoming experientially avoidant (avoiding internal thoughts, feelings, and experiences), and reduced effectiveness, which can further exacerbate the stress teachers feel (Csaszar, 2012; Hinds, Jones, Gau, Forrester, & Biglan, 2015; Yu, Wang, Zhai, Dai, & Yang, 2015). Beyond these effects, stress can contribute to negative affect and lower self-control (Hamama, Ronen, Shachar, & Rosenbaum, 2013); for teachers, these effects of stress might contribute greatly to a negative classroom environment. Moreover, if stress becomes too overwhelming, teachers may experience lower job satisfaction and career commitment and may seek other employment opportunities (McCarthy, Lambert, & Reiser, 2014).

Empathy

Young (2013) noted that the word empathy is "related to the German word Einfuhlung, which means 'feeling oneself into' another person's experience. Empathy means you grasp the facts, feelings, and the significance of another person's story" (p. 58). An empathetic teacher attempts to understand, and has an inclination to comprehend, the lived experiences of his or her students. An empathic teacher accomplishes the tasks essential to complete the curricular activities required in the classroom but also has an appreciation for students as whole people. The empathic teacher is cognizant that learning is a contextual process; therefore students' lives and lived experiences are seen as relevant to learning, growth, and development. Boyer (2010) noted that caring and empathy are at the very core of teaching, as learning cannot progress without them. As Roeser, Skinner, Beers, and Jennings (2012) aptly contended, the dispositional qualities of a teacher, beyond empathy and compassion, include nonjudgement, problem solving with concern for the student, reasonable flexibility, and regulation of one's own emotions during difficult situations. …

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