Over the course of three years, dozens of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade teachers in a large urban school district in the Pacific Northwest agreed to participate in a randomized controlled trial.
Twenty-nine of the teachers were selected to serve as a control group and were put on a waiting list. Meanwhile, 29 other teachers were invited to participate in an eight-week, ten-session mindfulness training program based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s widely used Mindfulness-based stress reduction program. These teachers were taught strategies for dealing with stressful situations.
“We often think that what mindfulness helps us do is put some space between what happens, what researchers would call stimulus onset, and then our reaction,” says Robert W. Roeser, lead author of the recent published document. examination and Bennett Pierce Professor of Care and Compassion at the College of Health and Human Development at Pennsylvania State University. “Mindfulness gives us a little bit more presence and a break. And then we also teach teachers how to deal with emotions like fear, compassion, kindness and anger. So think directly about the emotional nature of their work and how to deal with those difficult emotions. “
The training also examined the importance of forgiveness. “We see forgiveness as a critical skill in everyone’s lives. Because we’re all in these social relationships, and you know, breaks happen. It’s just a part of life,” Roeser says.
The training stuck with the teachers who received it. Four months after the end of the program, they reported greater occupational self-compassion and less job stress and anxiety, as well as less emotional exhaustion and depression than the teachers in the control group. Although no differences were observed in the quality of teachers’ interaction with students in their most stressful classrooms, the teachers who received mindfulness training had better classroom organization than the supervisors.
Although small, the randomized controlled design of the study adds powerful weight to previous evidence that mindfulness training is a valuable intervention in schools. It is also particularly important to understand the potential of these types of pandemic interventions such as teacher stress and burn out is smoked in the air.
Care for caregivers
“One of the ideas behind the study is this idea care for relatives,Says Roeser. “There may be a set of skills that we do not normally teach in professional development, or even teacher training, that can help teachers deal with and work skillfully with the daily stressors of being a teacher.”
People whose jobs include caring for others, including teachers, are often at greater risk for stress and burnout, Roeser says. “Those in the human service professions are much more likely to exhibit stress and what we would call internalized distress – anxiety and depression – than people in other professions, and this is especially true in education, where most of the teachers are women. That kind of expression of distress is a little more common among women. “
His team’s previous research has found that mindfulness can help overcome these challenges, and that mindfulness training for teachers can reduce feelings of stress, burnout, anxiety and depression, and improve a sense of self-compassion. It also helps them understand that, “” Yes, I’m struggling, but it’s part of the deal, and everyone is struggling, “Roeser says.” We also found some nice effects that were contagious at home. Teachers reported, that they thought and worried less about work when they went home, and they actually slept a little longer and better. “
Implications and further research
Further research can help fine-tune mindfulness training for teachers and students. Mindfulness programs in particular need to be culturally responsive, Roeser says. In addition, more engaging mindfulness programs can be designed for children or students. Instead of having children sit still and meditate indoors, he would like to see child-centered mindfulness programs that get children outside to learn to appreciate nature and enjoy tactile experiences like digging in the ground.
Moreover, while targeting individual teachers can help, Roeser believes that mindfulness programs will be more powerful when implemented throughout the system as part of the curriculum.
“These programs are often additions to what teachers are already doing, and that in itself can sometimes be stressful,” he says. “How could we move being present and being kind into the DNA itself, the very life of a school, so that it’s in math, and you talk about empathy and compassion in your English class? We do not want it to be an addition, we want it to just be how we do this, how we do teaching and learning. We are thoughtful. We are reflective. We are cooperative. We support. “