Improving teacher wellbeing

As a teacher, it can be easy to get caught up in the ‘busyness’ of the day-to-day work of the classroom, and difficult to find time to reflect on your health and put strategies in place to look after yourself. So, what techniques can you use to improve your own wellbeing?

Teachers who practice mindfulness in the classroom tend to be better organised, more attentive to students and better communicators, Monash University Associate Professor Craig Hassed says.

He says that mindfulness could be seen as a form of meditation but it’s also a way of being.

“The two essential elements of training mindfulness, I think, are attention and attitude. So attention – a capacity to pay attention in the present moment to what’s happening… but attitude – to cultivate an attitude of openness, acceptance, curiosity, of equanimity, with which we’re observing those events.”

Research shows that when students learn to be more mindful, their mental health improves, they are more resilient and have better memory retention. They also tend to form stronger relationships and communicate more, Hassed says.

“For teachers, there are similar kinds of findings. (Mindfulness results in) better mental health and capacity to manage stress, and better resilience, which are all important in their own right. But also, teachers who are more mindful tend to be more organised in the classroom, more attentive to the students and so it actually affects how the teacher communicates and teaches as well.”

According to Hassed, there are both formal and informal practices of mindfulness. One simple strategy, he suggests, is before setting out for school in the morning, you make sure you punctuate your day with a full stop.

“What I mean by that is, you know, if you don’t punctuate a book, the book becomes a blur, it becomes meaningless, and it’s a bit like that with our life. If we don’t punctuate it with spaces, it becomes a bit of a blur. So you might punctuate your day with say, two full stops. So, that is, practice five or 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation before you get into your day, before you set out for school in the morning.

But you might also, when you get home, have five or 10 minutes at the end of the day – between the school day and then whatever you’re going to do that evening. During the day, you may not have time for a full stop, but you might just take a number of commas.”

A comma, Hassed explains, may be a moment between classes where you give yourself 30 seconds to centre yourself, walk attentively to the classroom, or enter the room with purpose.

He says teachers can also practice mindfulness by being calmer in their interactions with students, and avoiding multi-tasking altogether.

“You need to be able to efficiently switch attention to be awake and aware as a teacher, but multi-tasking – trying to do multiple, complex things at exactly the same time – is fraught with disaster. It increases the mental load, it increases stress, impairs communication and impairs memory. So a teacher shouldn’t do it and they shouldn’t have their students doing it”
- Hassed says
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit www.teachermagazine.com.au.