Mindfulness and teacher wellbeing

20/05/2022

Teaching is a complex and demanding job involving many unique pressures and challenges. Although there are, no doubt, many rewarding and inspiring features associated with teaching, such demands and pressures also have the potential to cause significant stress. As we know, high levels of ongoing stress can be detrimental to wellbeing, and if left unaddressed in occupational settings, this can lead to increased risk of burnout and negative impacts on mental health. As a vocational group, teachers consistently report comparatively high levels of stress,1 burnout,2 and consequent mental health impacts.3 This pattern is clear both overseas and here in New Zealand.4 These risks to wellbeing and the associated potential consequences have also been compounded by the current Covid-19 pandemic.5 It is therefore particularly important, given the nature of the job and the unique challenges currently faced, that efficacious, evidence-based strategies are put in place to help address teacher wellbeing.

There has been an increase in research over the last decade on the development of interventions for addressing teacher stress and wellbeing. This has subsequently led to the need for systematic reviews of the evidence base. One such review6 explored the evidence for stress-reduction interventions for teachers, where most of the studies that were identified had components of meditation (including mindfulness), yoga, and relaxation. Medium effect sizes were shown for reduction of mental health symptoms and indicators of burnout. Many of the studies also measured mindfulness, demonstrating positive shifts on this outcome as an intervention effect. We know that practising mindfulness is associated with stress reduction and improvements in wellbeing,7 and studies have begun to demonstrate the benefits of mindfulness training8 and related aspects such as compassion training9 for teachers. Such interventions have shown potential not only for enhancing wellbeing and decreasing risk of burnout, but also for encouraging healthy emotional regulation.

Our own research and evaluations have shown clear advantages of engaging in mindfulness as part of both training and practice in the classroom. The Breathe mindfulness course, which forms part of Pause Breathe Smile training for teachers, was evaluated as an online intervention, with results showing favourable effects for mood, anxiety, rumination, compassion, and mindfulness.10 These results reflect previous report findings on positive impacts for wellbeing among teachers completing the same course.11 Furthermore, research conducted in five New Zealand primary schools indicated that active engagement in the delivery of the Pause Breathe Smile programme can have potential benefits of increased calm and reduction of stress for teachers.12 In other words, engaging in regular practice of mindfulness in the classroom can not only have significant wellbeing rewards for learners,13 it may also enhance outcomes for teachers too!

References

  1. Kyriacou, C. (2001). Teacher stress: Directions for future research. Educational Review, 53, 27–35.
  2. de Heus, P. & Diekstra, R. F. W. Do teachers burn more easily? A comparison of teachers with other social professions on work stress and burnout symptoms. In R. Vandenberghe & A. M. Huberman (Eds), Understanding and preventing teacher burnout: A sourcebook of international research and practice. Cambridge University Press.
  3. Schonfeld, I., Bianchi, R., & Luehring-Jones, P. (2017). Consequences of job stress for the mental health of teachers. In M. McIntyre et al. (Eds.), Educator stress, aligning perspectives on health, safety and well-being. Springer.
  4. Milfont, T. L., Denny, S., Ameratunga, S., Robinson, E., & Merry, S. (2008). Burnout and wellbeing: Testing the Copenhagen burnout inventory in New Zealand teachers. Social Indicators Research, 89(1), 169-177.
  5. Pressley, T. (2021). Factors contributing to teacher burnout during COVID-19. Educational Researcher, 50(5), 325-327.
  6. Hagermoser Sanetti, L.M., Boyle, A.M., Magrath, E. et al. (2021). Intervening to decrease teacher stress: A review of current research and new directions. Contemporary School Psychology, 25(4), 416–425.
  7. Carmody, J., & Baer, R. A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 31(1), 23–33.
  8. de Carvalho, J.S., Oliveira, S., Roberto, M.S., et al. (2021). Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention for teachers: A study on teacher and student outcomes. Mindfulness, 12(7), 1719–1732.
  9. Matos, M., Palmeira, L., Albuquerque, I. et al. (2021). Building compassionate schools: Pilot study of a compassionate mind training intervention to promote teachers’ well-being. Mindfulness.
  10. Krägeloh, C.U., Medvedev, O.N., Taylor, T. et al. A pilot randomized controlled trial for a videoconference-delivered mindfulness-based group intervention in a nonclinical setting. Mindfulness 10, 700–711 (2019).
  11. Rix, G. & Rix, N. (2018). Pause, Breathe, Smile school-based mindfulness programme: Professional development for Canterbury teachers and classroom implementation. Report prepared by the Mindfulness Education Group.
  12. Rix, G., & Bernay, R. (2014). A Study of the Effects of Mindfulness in Five Primary Schools in New Zealand. Teachers’ Work, 11(2), 201-220.
  13. Devcich, D. A., Rix, G., Bernay, R., & Graham, E. (2017). Effectiveness of a mindfulness-based program on school children’s self-reported well-being: A pilot study comparing effects with an emotional literacy program. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 33(4), 309-330.