Teachers are faced with an increasingly complex environment in which they need significant support to foster the classroom climates their students benefit from (Gardner et al, 2022). School staff are managing more emotionally challenging situations, perhaps disruptive students and stressed-out parents post pandemic, which is causing poor teacher mental health and inevitably teacher burnout. As Health and Physical Education professionals we educate students about the importance of maintaining positive mental health and accessing support when needed, but how often do we listen to our own teachings?
Research results reflect the success of stress-reduction interventions, which focus on emotion regulation, to be effective in reducing teacher stress (Carroll et al. 2022). Emotion regulation is a learned skill, conceptualised as an individual’s ability to detect and identify emotional states in themselves or others, then employ strategies that up-regulate, sustain, or down-regulate these emotions to achieve a desired outcome (Brackett et al., cited in Carroll et al., 2022). There is strong empirical evidence demonstrating that deficits in emotion regulation are associated with the development and maintenance of mental health problems (including anxiety, depression, and many other disorders); and that enhancing effective emotion regulation skills is a promising way of fostering or restoring mental health (Berking & Whitley, cited in Carroll et al., 2022).
As teachers we develop students' personal and social capability as they learn to understand themselves and others, and manage their relationships, lives, work and learning more effectively. This capability involves students in a range of practices including recognising and regulating emotions, developing empathy for and understanding of others, establishing positive and respectful relationships, making responsible decisions, working effectively in teams and handling challenging situations constructively. (ACARA 2012)
In a teaching context, which involves constant management of interpersonal relationships, teachers who possess greater emotion regulation capabilities are predicted to experience less stress and burnout (Gross; Montgomery & Rupp cited in Carroll et al., 2022). ‘Reflective circles’ is a pilot program in Victorian schools where four to six teachers gather twice a term, to process their experiences, reflect on their reactions to challenging incidents, and consider how the situation might have been perceived by the other person involved. Of the forty educators who took part in this program, all reported positive changes to their own mental health, and an increased ability to cope in the classroom (www.theage.com.au). The value of the reflective circles generates significant mutual support, awareness of other perspectives and strategies and building confidence and capacity to seek change (Gardner et al, 2022).
Without a magic wand to be able to fix the many pressures of teaching, reflective circles might be a small start to providing a formalised space to engage and strategize a way forward while improving feelings around teaching and potentially create an environment where teachers want to stay in the profession.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (2012) The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education. https://www.acara.edu.au/
Carroll, A., Forrest, K., Sanders-O’Connor, E. et al. Teacher stress and burnout in Australia: examining the role of intrapersonal and environmental factors. Soc Psychol Educ25, 441–469 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-022-09686-7
Gardner, F., Southall, A.E., & Baxter, L. (2022) Effectively supporting teachers: a peer supervision model using reflective circles, Teachers and Teaching, 28:3, 369-383, DOI: 10.1080/13540602.2022.2062727