My Look At Teacher Stress

Earlier this week, I saw a tweet from Kristi Keery-Bishop about Dean Shareski‘s latest blog post

I had a few minutes to go before I had to get out of bed and ready to start my morning routine, so I decided to read Dean’s post. Commenting on his post had me running a little late that morning, but it was well worth it. 

Since writing this comment, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to my teaching partner, Paula, about this post, I’ve had the chance to read more comments on it, and I’ve thought about Dean’s response to me to blog about my experience. This blog post then is for Dean, but also for the amazing educators and administrators that commented on what he wrote, and spoke about their stress. I really hope this makes a difference.

This is my 17th year of teaching, and one of my best ones yet! I’m not going to say that I never feel stressed. I do. There have been times this year that I’ve felt very stressed, and I might even go so far as to say angry and upset. But compared to other years, I think that I’ve found myself better at dealing with these emotions, and not letting them consume me. My learning from Stuart Shanker, Susan Hopkins, and The MEHRIT Centre have resulted in changes that ultimately led to a calmer “me.” My biggest learning from the Foundations 1 Course that I took through The MEHRIT Centre is that when adults are feeling dysregulated, this impacts on how the students in our care also feel. Kids read us well.

  • They know when we’re happy.
  • They know when we’re sad.
  • They also know when we’re angry and frustrated.

These feelings may have nothing to do with them, but our responses, and even some of our non-verbal cues, may change how students respond to us and how they respond to each other. Could some of these “big behaviour problems” that we tend to hear more about in education actually be caused, even inadvertently, but us? Hence, if we take time and find ways to better manage (or respond) to our stress, will this ultimately reduce the behaviour that we’re seeing in our students? 

I think that the answers to both of these questions are “yes,” and it’s for this reason that I’ve made the following changes and decisions in the past couple of years. 

  • I figured out what makes me feel calm. From reading to drinking coffee to finding a quiet space to connect with friends to getting outside, these are all things that help me self-regulate. I rely on these different options throughout the day when I need some “calm.”
  • I’ve become more attuned to my emotions. I remember a little earlier this year when I was having a really rough time. I went to the Staff Room during the second nutrition break, and I tried hard to calm down. I took deep breaths. I quietly read through some tweets from the morning. I even had a nice conversation with a friend, but I wasn’t feeling calm. I could physically feel my stress. So that’s when I got artistic with an orange. 🙂 As strange as this choice may seem, it worked, and I went back to class after lunch feeling so much better!

  • I make sure to laugh a lot! Laughter makes us feel better. I’m lucky to work with an amazing teaching partner that constantly makes me laugh and kids that always make us smile. We all share laughs during the day, and this extra joy makes a big difference!
  • I don’t let feelings fester. I used to tell my friends what I was thinking or feeling, but I was reluctant to converse openly with colleagues or administrators. It took a lot to get me to open up — especially face-to-face — and when I did, it tended be the equivalent of an emotional hurricane. I’ve improved! I often talk through my thoughts initially with my good friends or family members, but then I approach the person. I speak, but I also listen. And often, the chance to share — even if it doesn’t lead to a solution — is cathartic. It makes me feel better … and then, I am able to move on.
  • I focus on kids, not benchmarks. I know the benchmark goals for our school and for our Board, but I try to not get overwhelmed by data. Thankfully I also work with a great teaching partner that reminds me to look at kids first. Connect with them. Make it safe for them to take risks. Provide risk-taking opportunities that are challenging enough without being overwhelming. Encourage, but don’t push. Listen to what the kids have to say, and when they’re not being responsive, give them the break they need. Try again later, or try again in a different way. By keeping our focus on kids, we’re getting results without sacrificing relationships or the key components of play-based programming. We feel less stressed, and they do too. I think there’s something to be said for this. 
  • I take time for me. Yes, I’m a hard worker and I do work long hours, but the choices I make about how much time to invest in anything is my own. And when I need it, I invest less time. Maybe I share a few less photographs for the day, head out for dinner with a friend, make brunch plans, or even just take a few hours to read a good book. I still blog a lot of my professional blog, but this year, I’ve blogged a bit less. I try to have at least a couple of hours every day that I can relax, unwind, read, and do something that is not school-related. I need it … and I’m better for the kids, my colleagues, and our parents because I do! 
  • I’ve said, “no.” This was not an easy change for me to make, but it’s been an important one. I’ve turned down presentations and opted out of some committees because I knew that I needed the time for me. I took the Reading Part 1 Course this year, presented at BIT17, and continued to be the moderator for Portal Plus, but I was able to balance these things with teaching and life … having just enough positive stress without feeling weighed down by the stress. 
  • I’ve made myself get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. This was not an easy change for me to make. I will admit that there were a couple of days that I missed the 7 hour mark by an hour or two, but I’ve been pretty consistent. Sue Dunlop‘s sleep post really made an impact on me, and I will admit, that I’ve woken up feeling so much more well-rested, happy, and alert. This has to be good for kids!
  • I made the difficult decision to make a change. A couple of years ago, I decided to change schools, even though I was only at my last one for two years. For a variety of reasons, this was not an easy decision to make, but for my own well-being, it was one that I had to make. The reasons for this change are not ones that I want to share here, but I do think, that as hard as it may sometimes be, we need to listen to ourselves. We need to know when we have to move, to try something new, to take a break, or to give ourselves a little extra time because we deserve it, and ultimately, the kids will benefit!

I don’t know that what I do will work for others, but I hope that we can all find ways to feel calmer, happier, and healthier in education … because it makes a huge difference for us and for students! I would not want to be in any job where I’m counting down the days until the holidays, thinking about the number of years until retirement, or waiting for the bell to rush out to leave. I love what I do! I love going to school every day … and I’m walking into an incredible environment that feels like a happy place as soon as I open the door. We all need this happiness. We deserve it. And if we can’t find it where we’re at, hopefully we can find ways to make this situation better and more joyous. Self-Reg has done that for me. What about for you? I hope that others are also feeling a sense of calm in their lives and in their professions!

Aviva

6 thoughts on “My Look At Teacher Stress

  1. You are amazing. The thing that struck me was that all the things you talked about in terms of how our stresses impact our students made me think about how our stresses impact our kids, if we’re parents. In my case, I don’t have an amazing teaching partner, but I do have an amazing parenting and life partner, and sometimes, he’s the person who (gently) helps me see that my stressors are impacting my kids, often without me realizing it.

    Thanks so much for sharing this part of your journey, Aviva. I think many of us need to hear how co-/self-reg and self care can make a difference for us. I know I’m learning a lot about my own stressors in this year off, and what works to defuse them.

    • Thanks Lisa! I don’t think we can underestimate the value in a good partner, whether in the classroom or in our personal lives. We may not all have these teaching partners right in our rooms, but we need to find somebody that we can trust and that supports us. These people can make a huge difference for us when our Self-Reg strategies do not work.

      Thanks for sharing your own experiences this year! I’m glad you’re learning so much about yourself! And excellent parallel to the parent/child stress connection. I think you’re right on with your thinking. Kids read us so well, at school and at home.

      Aviva

  2. Thanks Aviva for sharing. Very thoughtful and important ideas. We certainly need to do better at learning how to take care of ourselves. I suppose when I think about the two areas of stress that I focused on in my post, they are both external that require some kind of response from each teacher. Your tips are critical and work no matter what the circumstances.
    That said, we still need each other and as a system function better when the ethic of care is valued by everyone. How much of your success in dealing with stress is related to leadership and/or support?

    • Thanks for your comment, Dean! You ask an excellent (and hard) question. I think that there are components of Self-Reg that work because we’ve figured out what helps us feel calm. For me, these ideas vary, and I pick and choose different ones depending on the circumstances and on how dysregulated I may feel. Sometimes I need more than one option. That said, there’s a lot of value in co-regulation. My teaching partner, amazing parents, supportive admin, wonderful kids, great friends, and a terrific family all make a difference for me. I think that we all need our people. I’m lucky to have these people within my building and outside. I know that this isn’t the case for everyone. Maybe the key is in finding those supportive people, so that we have those ones that we can lean on, that can provide a different perspective, and that can help us when the stress is too much to deal with alone. I think that for me, dealing with stress is a blended approach: I couldn’t do it without the leadership and support, but I’ve also figured out ways to help myself out without relying completely on others to help me feel calm. Curious to hear how others might answer your question.

      Aviva

      • In both cases, to me, it’s about intention. Many people might think they’re taking care of themselves but unlike the things you shared, there isn’t an intention. They’re busy doing life and haven’t perhaps made specific decisions to care for themselves. Same with leadership. I know lots of great leaders who say and do many good things but in terms of caring for their staff, they haven’t done the specific things that make a difference. In some cases, a simple acknowledgement of the difficulty a teacher is facing is an important thing that makes an impact.

        • Oh yes, Dean! Sometimes I think that this simple acknowledgement can be the greatest, most impactful things of all. During one of my most challenging years in teaching, it was a principal that did exactly that, who helped me get through the year and on a far more positive note. If not, I don’t think I would have made it through that year. We cannot underestimate the value in supportive words and actions, even if those words are, “I understand, and I thank you for what you’re doing.”

          I think that Self-Reg helped me realize that I need to really think about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what I need to do for me (and for kids). Stuart Shanker often uses the phrase, “Why this child, and why now?,” when considering behaviour that we might be seeing. This phrase runs through my head constantly in the classroom, and even makes its way into numerous conversations with my teaching partner. Over the past couple of years though, I’ve taken out “this child,” and used this very question to think about my own behaviour, thoughts, and feelings. It’s helped me be more intentional in how I respond to my own behaviour and the choices that I make. I wonder if it would also help others.

          Aviva

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