Combating teacher’s stress in a classroom

Students-postitMy general rule for stress relief is to orchestrate classrooms that rely more on the students than the teacher to lead the learning and contribute. Short-term, quick fix solutions will only work so many times with a class. I would recommend developing long term strategies that relate to overall classroom environment and relationships. When discussing stress with my colleagues, I start by suggesting moves to slow down and dedicate more time to see what the students can bring to the table in classroom activities. Here in New Zealand, our future focused national curriculum states 5 key competencies for young people to be focused on. These are aimed at reducing the demand on the teacher to ‘deliver’ education and at building habits amongst the students to manage and take the lead over their own learning. Here they are summarised that every learner should:

  1. set and monitor personal goals, manage time frames, arrange activities;
  2. interact, share ideas, and negotiate with a range of people;
  3. call on a range of communities for information;
  4. analyse and consider a variety of possible approaches;
  5. create texts to record and communicate ideas, using language and symbols.

Given these prompts, teachers must consider a pedagogical approach that will allow students to practice and develop these competencies. In most cases, designing the sort of environment that encourages this behaviour will reduce demand for teacher attention and thus reduce stress in general. Personal thinking space leads the better outcomes and happier teachers I have been doing a lot of work recently with Design Thinking. Beyond being an excellent framework for projects, it has an important and obvious first step that few classrooms utilise: personal thinking time. During my teaching career, many high school teachers have complained about the stress caused by students who just don’t engage or the supposed inability of students to discuss topics meaningfully. In both cases, the lack of time given to allow each student to think, process and prepare thoughts for the class inhibits successful contribution. Here’s my post on Design Thinking.

Typical scenario: A teacher asks the class to form groups of 4 and discuss topic X. After 5 minutes, the teacher expresses disappointment in the results of the discussions. When activities launch immediately into group or class discussion, more confident individuals dominate or if little is known about the topic, they disengage and wait for input from the teacher due to having had no real time to think about what they might contribute.

 Three to five minutes of silent thinking time for every student on a topic to consider their own existing knowledge or questions they have, before embarking on a discussion or project means each individual will bring more to the activity. Then comparing thoughts and lists of ideas they’ve had time to compile leads to more engagement from every student and less need for prompting from the teacher. It took me many years to realise this but I now enjoy working with classes of active students who display more confidence to contribute. Rather than worrying about small quick-fix tools and activities to reduce stress, teachers need to have a long-term view and look at developing a learning environment that encourages confidence in students to take charge of the learning and rely less on teacher input. This way, teachers will discover they can focus more on facilitating conversations and dynamics in the room and less on the fear of content delivery failure.

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edubloggers.

Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

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