Stressed-out schools: what to do?

school work stressed

Marc Smith is both a teacher and a chartered psychologist and he recently wrote about stress in schools in The Guardian.

‘Sadly,’ he says, ‘many of the stress management techniques on offer simply aren’t practical in a school setting. There is little to suggest that any organisation that runs after hours yoga classes or adventure training days is contributing anything to the reduction of stress in any real terms; the main issue faced by teachers is workload and the work will still be there even after the yoga.’

So what to do?

He recommends various levels of action, starting with ‘daily uplifts’ – those little treats we give ourselves at points during the day; everything from a five minute sit-down with a cup of tea to a 10 minute walk at lunchtime.

But these are not enough in themselves:

‘If workload is the main reason for our levels of stress and anxiety then our efforts are best directed towards finding ways of taking control of it and making it more manageable. Reducing workload is easier said than done – but remember that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness.’

Hear, hear!

‘The benefits, be they financial or in terms of academic achievement, of a healthy and happy school should be obvious to all; and head teachers who are serious about long-term investment in their staff must play a major role in tackling stress through prevention rather than management.

If a major cause of stress is the feeling that we are losing control, how can head teachers attempt to restore that sense of control?

Involving staff in decisions that impact on them can help…consulting with staff about what they feel they need hands much of the control back.

Remember that what we really need to understand in that successfully tackling stress isn’t just about individuals, it’s about the whole school; and this requires a serious combined initiative, not just another box to tick.’

The role of The Mind Clinic in schools is to offer staff the chance to get to the heart of their personal stress, something which Marc thinks is important:

‘Stress management tends to treat the symptoms of stress rather than identifying and tackling its causes.’

This is a challenge to school leadership – but very far from an impossible one.