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Reducing Teacher Anxiety in Schools

A principal can do a lot to reduce the amount of stress staff experience at school.

Effective school leadership aids and supports reducing teacher anxiety in schools. It isn’t quite this simple, I know, but coupled with building resilience in teachers, a culture of high-quality communications with clarity and transparency, valuing teachers’ work and adding value to a teacher’s work every day helps to make a difference. A teacher’s commitment to their well-being is vital as well. Any measures a school and its leaders take must be matched by a teacher’s commitment to their well-being.

Leaders who can articulate a clear and simple vision of the direction and future of the school can support teachers in feeling optimistic and confident about their own future in the school. It helps a teacher deal with any competing priorities and aids them to prioritise their work.

Planning effectively, having structures that support regular team planning and communicating the same to teachers ensures that teachers feel comfortable about their work and workflow. Effective leaders can shepherd and pilot dialogic conversations so that they are productive.

Highly successful principals know effective communication is a panacea for managing teacher equanimity and calmness. This is especially important when there are changes and disruptions afoot. (Dare I mention the word) Covid did teach the learning principal that high-quality communication during disruption really supports teacher resilience. It also helps teachers be more proactive rather than reactive.

Principals and executive leaders who model and make visible to their staff an appropriate work-life balance give authority to teachers to look after themselves. I would share with my staff what I did during holidays, weekends, and when I took a mini-break. The challenge is to challenge the teacher’s mindset that they must be ‘on’ 24/7. Some principals do a very poor job of modelling this. Sending emails at 5pm on a Sunday is poor modelling. Healthy cultures provide daily space to refuel (@AdamMGrant).

Teachers also have an important role in looking after themselves to manage anxiety and build resilience. It is a teacher’s responsibility to manage their well-being. Leaders can address staff well-being and pay attention to this. However, daily practices and habits that a teacher has in place can have a profound influence on their well-being.

I value the impact of an hour’s walk at sunrise or sunset. Walking is the simplest and most effective thing I do to manage my work and life. When I want to do something that’s good for my mind, body and soul, I go for a walk.

Here are some tips that I recommend for principals; they apply to teachers as well. (1)

  • Create a realistic boundary between work and after-work hours and stick to this schedule.
  • Organise your goals and tasks based on importance.
  • Taking time off from your busy schedule to relax is important for your mental well-being.
  • Learn how to say no – it becomes effortless to overwork yourself.
  • Make use of technology.

I recommend to all staff in schools; to have purposeful daily strategies; a well-structured week with a planned program of work, recreation, and rest; and to sustain this throughout the year. You must manage your work, family life and personal life. Manage your energy, not your time, to ensure you are highly productive when on task.

Achieving an effective work-life balance is not simply a theoretical concept; it is a function of your personal traits and a derivative of important attributes like resilience. Looking after yourself is a selfish and deeply personal commitment you must make because you will be hard-pressed to find anyone else who will.

One of the most significant sources of stress and anxiety for teachers in systems schools is the intrusive behaviours of bureaucrats and dysfunctional centralised systems leadership. Not to tip the can over all centralised systems, but the central office needs to get their act together, appreciate, and then take measures to manage teacher anxiety in systems schools. This can be done by ensuring quality planning, vision, and future thinking, raising the case for why, effective collaboration, and high-quality, clear and transparent communications are vital to support teacher welfare in our school systems as well. Teachers object to having to fly in the dark.

My final piece of advice for school leaders would be to use data to inform practices and strategies to support the management of teacher well-being. Use surveys, focus groups, and teacher meetings to unpack teacher views about the concept. Ask teachers what can be done. Leaders shouldn’t work through this alone or from their office or the executive team meeting agenda, but be sure to engage teachers. Many leaders don’t have a background in well-being, so they read widely, engage with colleagues who do, and connect with the research to mitigate this.