Teacher Stress and SEL

It isn’t really an issue that needs to be debated.  It’s a fact that teachers are a significant influence in the lives of children and play a huge role in shaping them in to adults.  Not only do they teach them to read, how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, history and science but they also shape socially and support their emotional development.  Fact #2, teaching is a stressful occupation!

From the State of American Schools Gallup report in 2014:  46% of teachers report high daily stress during the school year. That’s tied with nurses for the highest rate among all occupational groups.

More insight on teacher stress from a brief published in September 2016 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in collaboration with the Pennsylvania State University:

“Today, teaching is one of the most stressful occupations in the U.S. High levels of stress are affecting teacher health and well-being, causing teacher burnout, lack of engagement, job dissatisfaction, poor performance, and some of the highest turnover rates ever.

Stress not only has negative consequences for teachers, it also results in lower achievement for students and higher costs for schools. A New York City study showed higher teacher turnover led to lower fourth and fifth grade student achievement in both math and language arts. The cost of teacher turnover is estimated to be over $7 billion per year.”

Teacher stress comes from a variety of sources.  Lack of resources in some schools, high stakes testing, behavior issues of students, schools that have ever changing leadership, and a teacher’s lack of ability to deal with all of the other stressors.  Teachers stress has an assortment of impacts as well.   High stress levels causes illness, increases absenteeism, and teachers burn out and leave their jobs.  If you have high teacher turnover this can cause lower student academic achievement, instability for students and parents, and higher educational costs from having to train new staff regularly.

What can be done to support teachers and lower their stress levels? From the same brief from the RWJF, there are several suggested interventions that may require more research to understand their benefits for lowering teacher stress.  From an organizational standpoint, culture can be addressed.  Would creating more open communication, peer support, reducing workload and training help to decrease job stress, increase job satisfaction, and reduce turnover?  No research has been done in this area but is something that could be explored. There are three proven areas that focus on building social support and skills training for teachers and students: Teacher induction and mentoring programs, school workplace wellness programs and policies, and programs that focus on student behavior and social and emotional learning.  All three of these areas have shown benefits at some level.  That last area that is discussed in the brief is more individually focused.  Teachers who participate in mindfulness and stress management professional development are better equipped to handle the stresses of the classroom.

All of this makes sense to me, how about you? I’ve seen the benefits of training teachers to teach SEL to their students. In the process of training them, we discuss how they identify, manage their own emotions and solve problems. We encourage them to model for their students. Modeling social and emotional skills can be challenging for teachers. Given the everyday pressures in the classroom not to mention the stresses in their own personal lives. It’s easy to see that the area of teacher stress needs to be addressed.

The RWJF brief concludes by urging more research in the area of teacher stress.  If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to read the brief and explore this issue more at  www.rwjf.org/socialemotionallearning