We all acknowledge that children and adolescents spend a vast proportion of their time in the classroom. Teachers need to be on 'top form' in order to support their pupils reach their academic potential, and build appropriate social skills. From a psychological perspective these two go hand in hand. If children are not being encouraged, or supported to make and retain friendships they will face reduced self-esteem, and social isolation. This can lead to the development of mental health difficulties such as depression, and this in turn leads to a decrease in academic ability.
Teachers who are stressed will struggle to plan in collaborative working, or interactive activities to their lessons. It's these which enable children to really engage with, and ultimately understand the subject. Even if a stressed out teacher is able to plan interesting activities, how likely is it that they are going to be described enthusiastically, or that the teacher is going to engage with the children during the activity? Stress affects our ability to function. Teachers who are stressed will struggle to carry out their daily duties, and will be unable to support pupils within the classroom, or identify those who are struggling to understand the content.
A couple of days ago an article appeared on the tes website and Mary Bousted (2015) is quoted as saying "I hear of teachers crying on the kitchen floor because of stress". This article highlights the difficulties which teachers are facing, and places an emphasis on the 'pointless bureaucracy' such as over elaborate lesson plans, photographing work, and stamping books to say that verbal feedback has been given... She states that "These activities are pointless and unprofessional" and they "...do not, in any way, characterise effective teaching and learning". I am not sure I completely agree with to this.
I am the Vice Chair of Governors for a local primary school, which has on average over 65% of children receiving free school meals. Most start the school far below their expected developmental level, and through activities such as strategic lesson planning, and evidencing work the teachers are able to work collaboratively with peers, and the senior leadership team to ensure that all children are being supported and encouraged effectively. The school is able to use these activities, and others, very successfully to ensure that their children not only reach 'age appropriate' levels by the time they head off to secondary school, but they also manage to support many children to levels above expected (with 98% of all pupils making 2 levels of progress at KS2). They have very low levels of stress, although the teachers work extremely hard, and are often in the school from very early in the morning to quite late at night. The reason the teachers are able to work as well as they do, and support their children as effectively as they are is because they work as a team. No one teacher is more important than the other. All the teachers, including the head will help and support the school team. The TA's are effectively managed in the classrooms and provide focused, and targeted interventions for groups which are struggling. The governors play their part and offer support, but also act as a critical friend - quizzing the head teacher at every opportunity... They help to ensure that everything is focused on the success of the pupils.
Stress is not a clinically diagnosable mental health difficulty, but can lead to depression, and anxiety. It can also lead to physical health difficulties. Alone, or in combination with each other the effects of stress can be very detrimental on an individuals ability to function. Senior leaders within schools, the same as managers and leaders in other workplaces have a legal responsibility to ensure the welfare of their team. The bureaucracy can in these cases be very effective at enabling those responsible to understand where an individual needs support. The problem is not the bureaucracy itself, instead it is how the senior leadership team chooses to use it. Supported workers are motivated, productive, and effective in their roles. If there is a teacher who spends their lunchtime crying, then as with other workplaces - their line manager needs to be held accountable. By not supporting the staff, schools are failing their pupils.
Katie Woodland - A developmental, and holistic psychologist who specialises in educating and empowering individuals, business leaders & school teachers to remove mental health as a barrier to success.