Deflating Educator Stress

Imagine a child trying to blow up a balloon as big as possible.

If the child keeps blowing and blowing, what will happen? That’s right! The balloon will pop. 

Your stress level is like the pressure inside a balloon. 

Human bodies and minds can only handle a certain amount of pressure before they become overwhelmed and potentially burst. Like a balloon, if we don’t regulate and release some of the pressure that we experience daily, our individual and collective balloons will eventually pop. 

When people experience stress responses frequently, as educators do at this time of year, they don’t return to a normal (calm) state as easily; their baseline shifts, hovering much closer to a near-constant survival response. 

According to a report from the Pennsylvania State University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 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.

Have you noticed feeling more impulsive, overwhelmed, or reactive?

This is because the ability to access the prefrontal cortex gets diminished when stressed, which means that thinking clearly or being attentive to others becomes increasingly difficult.

Stress has short and long-term consequences worth considering:

  1. Stress can lead to burnout: Educators who experience chronic stress are at risk of burnout, a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that can lead to decreased performance, cynicism, and detachment from work.
  2. Stress can affect job satisfaction: When teachers are stressed, they may become less satisfied with their jobs and more likely to consider leaving the profession.
  3. Stress can impact student outcomes: Educators may become less effective in the classroom, which can ultimately impact student outcomes.
  4. Stress can have physical health consequences: Chronic stress can lead to a range of physical health problems, including headaches, muscle tension, high blood pressure, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  5. Stress can have mental health consequences: Chronic stress can also lead to mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
  6. Stress can be contagious: When educators are stressed, it can create a stressful environment for students and colleagues, which can in turn affect their well-being and performance.

We know that a certain amount of stress is unavoidable in the teaching profession. However, when we see high levels of teacher burnout across the board, we know that it is not an individual problem, but a collective challenge that educators experience as a byproduct of the current teaching conditions. 

In order to address this challenge, solutions must incorporate both individual and organizational interventions:

  • Individual interventions are designed to help educators develop tools and strategies to mitigate their stress, build resilience and reignite the joy of teaching. Adult SEL programs, like Growing Your HEART Skills, can help reduce educator burnout by carving time for educators to reflect on their current challenges, (re)connect with their purpose, and develop additional SEL tools. See below for more details. I am currently working with schools that want to integrate this adult SEL program into their professional development plans for the next school year. If you are interested in creating a community of practice in your school, district, or county, get in touch
  • Organizational interventions are focused on analyzing and changing those aspects of the school’s culture, structures, and routines that may be causing unnecessary stress, and that could be changed or eliminated in order to create healthier and more joyful working conditions for staff. This is a process that requires gathering input from educators, and intentionally integrating its results into the school’s SEL planning. We need to include mental health support, staff engagement, and well-being in the way we design schools and plan educational programs. In other words, the same thoughtful planning that goes to serve students well needs to be applied to the adults that work with children. If you would like support with this process, get in touch

In conclusion, addressing educator stress requires a comprehensive approach that incorporates both individual and organizational interventions. While educators can take steps to manage their own stress through exercise, self-care routines, and adult SEL programs, like Growing Your HEART Skills, individual strategies alone are not enough to address the root causes of stress in the teaching profession. Organizational strategies, such as providing resources for mental health support, improving working conditions, and promoting a positive school culture, can also help reduce stress and improve educator well-being. By working together to implement both individual and organizational strategies, we can create a healthier and more sustainable environment for educators, ultimately leading to better outcomes for both teachers and students.

Photo by Ali Kokab

Growing Your HEART Skills

Growing Your HEART Skills is a 7-module online course that will teach you the HEART in Mind Model and help you develop your social and emotional capacity so that you can reclaim your joy for education, become a better educator, and live your entire life with more compassion, empathy, and peace.

This adult SEL program includes:

You will find all the details about content and pricing here. For bulk discounts or to arrange a community of practice for your school, get in touch.

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