Reduce Stress and Improve the Psychological Health of Teachers with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“mindfulness training for teachers can help them cope better with stress on the job while also making the classroom environment more productive for learning.” – Jill Suttie
Stress is epidemic in the western workplace with almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. This often produces burnout; fatigue, cynicism, emotional exhaustion, and professional inefficacy. Teachers experience burnout at high rates. Roughly a half a million teachers out of a workforce of three million, leave the profession each year and the rate is almost double in poor schools compared to affluent schools. Indeed, nearly half of new teachers leave in their first five years.
Burnout frequently results from emotional exhaustion. This exhaustion not only affects the teachers personally, but also the students, as it produces a loss of enthusiasm, empathy, and compassion. Regardless of the reasons for burnout or its immediate presenting consequences, it is a threat to schools and their students. In fact, it is a threat to the entire educational systems as it contributes to the shortage of teachers. Hence, methods of reducing stress and improving teacher psychological health needs to be studied.
In today’s Research News article “Mixed-methods evaluation comparing the impact of two different mindfulness approaches on stress, anxiety and depression in school teachers.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6615820/), Todd and colleagues recruited primary and secondary school teachers who were attending mindfulness courses of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or .b Foundations. The MBSR program consists of 8 weekly 2-hour group sessions involving meditation, yoga, body scan, and discussion. The teachers are also encouraged to perform daily practice. The .b Foundations program consists of 8 weekly 1.5-hour group sessions involving mindfulness training in a classroom setting. The teachers are similarly encouraged to perform daily practice. They were measured before and after training for anxiety, depression, perceived stress, and completed semi-structured interviews.
They found that teachers who participated in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program had significant reductions in anxiety, depression, and perceived stress, while the teachers who participated in the .b Foundations program had significant reductions in anxiety and perceived stress, but not depression. The qualitative interviews revealed that both programs were found to be acceptable and a good experience and having profound impacts with no significant differences between the programs.
The weaknesses of this study were that there wasn’t a no-treatment or active control group and participants were not randomly assigned to conditions. As such the benefits of the training could have been due to subject expectancy effects, Hawthorne effects, experimenter bias, or just the effects of attending a social group for 8 weeks. But a large number of previous better controlled studies have shown that mindfulness training improves anxiety, depression, and perceived stress. So, it is likely that the reductions seen in the present study were due to the mindfulness training.
So, reduce stress and improve the psychological health of teachers with mindfulness.
“When administrators call you, you never know what they want. It could be a parent is upset with you, or you forgot something. I used to rush to meetings, grab a seat, and jump in. Now, I practice mindful walking. I think about where I’m going. When I arrive, I’m not revved up. I’m able to receive criticism or conversation without being triggered.” – Nicole Willheimer
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Todd, C., Cooksey, R., Davies, H., McRobbie, C., & Brophy, S. (2019). Mixed-methods evaluation comparing the impact of two different mindfulness approaches on stress, anxiety and depression in school teachers. BMJ open, 9(7), e025686. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-025686
Strengths and limitations of this study
- This study is unique as there are currently no published studies comparing the two mindfulness courses in terms of acceptability, experience and effects on stress, anxiety and depression, despite current roll-out.
- Strengths lie in the mixed-methods approach used to explore differences between .b and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
- Limitations lie in the numbers lost to follow-up, with future research needed to explore this further.
This study compared the impact of two different 8-week mindfulness based courses (.b Foundations and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)), delivered to school teachers, on quantitative (stress, anxiety and depression) and qualitative (experience, acceptability and implementation) outcomes.
A mixed-methods design was employed. Matched-paired t-tests were used to examine change from baseline, with imputation conducted to account for those lost to follow-up. Qualitative methods involved 1:1 semistructured interviews (n=10). Thematic analysis was used to explore differences in experience between courses.
Courses took place in UK primary schools or nearby leisure centres, 1:1 interviews took place via telephone.
44/69 teachers from schools in the UK were recruited from their attendance at mindfulness courses (.b and MBSR).
Participants attended either an MBSR (experiential style learning, 2 hours per week) or .b Foundations (more classroom focused learning, 1.5 hours per week) 8-week mindfulness course.
Stress (Perceived Stress Scale), anxiety and depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) were evaluated in both groups at baseline (n=44), end of intervention (n=32) and 3-month follow-up (n=19).
Both courses were associated with significant reductions in stress (.b 6.38; 95% CI 1.74 to 11.02; MBSR 9.69; 95% CI 4.9 to 14.5) and anxiety (.b 3.36; 95% CI 1.69 to 5.0; MBSR 4.06; 95% CI 2.6 to 5.5). MBSR was associated with improved depression outcomes (4.3; 95% CI 2.5 to 6.11). No differences were found in terms of experience and acceptability. Four main themes were identified including preconceptions, factors influencing delivery, perceived impact and training desires/practical application.
.b Foundations appears as beneficial as MBSR in anxiety and stress reduction but MBSR may be more appropriate for depression. Consideration over implementation factors may largely improve the acceptability of mindfulness courses for teachers. Further research with larger samples is needed.