A significant part of the process of building resilience and fulfilment as a teacher comes from having effective resilience and fulfilment-building mechanisms. Some commentators may call them coping strategies, resilience techniques or endurance methods and the list of terms does not stop there; there are many names we can give the concept and although the choice of language can have different connotations and intentions they all allude to the same thing – what do teachers do that helps them deal with the stressful demands of their role? Stress can emerge in all spheres of life and so wellbeing depends on the knowledge and skill of having tools that work for the given individual in managing stress.
Within the paradigm of teachers and education, stress is most commonly cited as one of the most prominent reasons behind teachers leaving jobs and the profession altogether, a trigger of dissatisfaction, low self-worth and unfulfillment as well as a root cause for physical, mental, emotional and behavioural problems. Teacher stress therefore is something that cannot be ignored and lies at the heart of discussions on teacher wellbeing. Because of the nature of self-efficacy, personality, past experiences and persona when discussing human responses to external phenomena such as stress, to aim for a stress-free utopia to exist in education for teachers would be both extremely naïve and unrealistic and therefore a complete waste of time.
What is reasonable to accept from the outset is that stress will exist in teaching due to numerous reasons that differ from teacher to teacher, school to school, leadership team to leadership team and county to county. I refrain from using the term that it is the nature of the job but in the same breath acknowledge the presence of stress in other professions. I cannot name a single profession in which stress does not exist and if you can think of one, please do let me know. Once this premise is accepted, we can focus on impactful decisions and lines of enquiry and thinking that may go something like this if you’re a teacher:
“I am a teacher and I am feeling stressed. What can I do to manage that?”
And something like this if you’re a leader:
“I can see that this teacher/these teachers/my staff body is/are feeling stressed. How can I/we support them to help them manage that?”
The focus therefore shifts to coping mechanisms and finding the most efficient, impactful and effective mechanisms that work for that teacher or those teachers who need them. It is vital to highlight here that coping mechanisms should not be applied in a generic way, be imposed on teachers or be presented as being finite and the only mechanisms available. A more effective approach would be to have a wealth of quality information and mechanisms that the teachers are educated in and can have access to and then are employed on a needs and preference basis. This autonomous and subsequent empowering approach could boost the confidence and self-efficacy of the teacher as they understand that the help and support they are receiving they have chosen for themselves using their knowledge of their own characters, preferences and needs with the complete endorsement and support of their leaders who provide the opportunity for them to have access to expertise and knowledge they can explore to decide on what their coping mechanisms can be.
One of the key reasons Barnes’s paper on fulfilment in teaching presents as being one of the most effective drivers behind teacher fulfilment is that teacher fulfilment is achieved when a teacher feels that they are understood as a whole person including their strengths, passions and interests and in turn are allowed to flourish in them in their teaching roles. If we apply that concept here when providing support to teachers to choose their own stress coping mechanisms, it can be reasonably deduced that similar feelings of fulfilment, self-worth and feeling cared for can be created, all of which would then contribute towards their journey in building resilience in teaching and dealing with stress and eventual fulfilment, which can be argued as a foundational and vital element of teacher wellbeing.
That is the journey we must support our teachers to make because if they manage to make it to the finish line and achieve fulfilment, then perhaps we could say we would be able to retain our teachers, improve teaching standards and enhance educational provision in England. I stand by my original statement that teachers form the truss of any education system, regardless of nationalism, and if we are able to strengthen and empower our teachers by helping them deal with the innate stresses of teaching, then we can have a better education system that will serve the best functions and achieve the best outcomes for students, teachers, parents, communities and the country as a whole. Now, isn’t that an ideal?
By Sarah Bibi
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