Social-emotional exercises important for teachers too

Social-emotional exercises important for teachers too

(Va.) Teacher participation in mindfulness-based exercises can reduce burnout among educators as well as turnover rates which can negatively impact student performance in the classroom, according to new research from the University of Virginia.

Mindful awareness practices, such as meditation, yoga or tai chi, may be particularly useful for helping teachers develop the skills they need to manage the demands of teaching, and can be practiced formally or informally, such as during routine daily activities like walking or eating lunch.

Researchers suggest that school leaders promote the development of adaptive emotion regulation and coping skills among teachers to reduce stress, and improve the well-being of staff, which in turn can lead to more supportive teacher-student interactions that promote student learning.

“Efforts to foster teachers’ social and emotional competences may have significant impacts on both the cost and quality of education,” authors of the report wrote. “In the long run, reducing teacher stress and burnout may reduce costs associated with teacher absenteeism, turnover, and health care, as well as lead to gains in classroom interaction quality and supportive teacher-student relationships that promote student positive social and emotional and academic development.”

Social-emotional learning programs for students are becoming increasingly popular throughout the country as more research points to gains in academics, graduation rates and future earnings. With increasing class sizes, student behavior problems, high-stakes testing, tight funding, and limited autonomy are among the many factors that teachers regularly report cause them increased stress–and factor into why teachers leave the profession.

At the same time, high turnover rates–considered one of the factors which lead to the current national teacher shortage–have been found to negatively impact math and language arts performance, especially among already lower-performing students and in low-income schools. Additionally, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future estimates that public school teacher turnover costs more than $7.3 billion per year due to a loss of investment in training new educators.

The latest study spearheaded by the University of Virginia–which included researchers from Fordham University, Pennsylvania State University and Columbia University–focused on the CARE for Teachers program model of mindfulness development. The system is designed to reduce teachers’ stress and to promote and support teachers’ social and emotional competences.

Over the course of the 2012-13 school year, researchers examined more than 220 teachers across 36 inner city public K–5 elementary schools in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan–both high poverty parts of New York.

Compared to the control group, teachers who received the CARE for Teachers training reported a 14 percent improvement in their ability to regulate their emotions, an 11 percent increase in their overall mindfulness, a 7 percent reduction in their reported psychological distress, and 8 percent reduction in their sense of time urgency. Time urgency generally involves completing activities quickly due to feeling pressed for time even if there is no need to rush. Having a high sense of time urgency, for instance, can manifest in a teacher feeling the need to finish their lunch in five minutes despite having a 30 minute lunch break.

Researchers note that frequently having negative emotions may impair teachers’ cognitive functioning, motivation and well-being, which can have a negative effect on instruction

“Long-term, constant emotional distress can impair teachers’ performance leading to burnout, and increased student misbehavior,” authors of the report wrote. “In contrast, teachers who manage their stress and effectively regulate their emotions can more frequently experience positive emotions, leading to greater resilience and enjoyment of teaching.”