“Only 10 more weeks….” Stress Less: Work Smarter, NOT harder.

  • On 2012-07-18
  • planning, stress, working smarter

Cathryn Stephens – Lead Educational Designer, Intuyu Consulting

The start of a new term brings with it new stationery, new ideas and a new countdown to the next school holidays! Many teachers spend the last few, precious days of their break becoming increasingly stressed out – not necessarily about the curriculum to be developed or how they will manage that difficult student/parent/colleague (insert name here) – but about the notion of ‘stress’ itself.

I used to start feeling stressed at about 3pm on the day before school went back; but that was only when I first graduated. Soon after, the stress began creeping in sooner – perhaps on the last Thursday of holidays, when we would often go into school to do some planning or to attempt to peel old labels off subject folders. As I progressed in my career (and built up a network of teacher friends), conversations about the stress of having to ‘go back to school’ and ‘OMG the holidays are almost over’ began to dominate coffee meetings, Facebook updates and phone calls. Then something happened. Something groundbreaking, brilliant and ridiculously simple! I took the time to reflect on my mindset around stress and the fact that I was literally talking myself (and possibly some colleagues) into a state of perpetual angst about having to go to work for 10 weeks at a time.

What brought this subject to mind was the status update made by a hard-working, passionate and skilled former colleague on the aforementioned social medium last night. Her declaration in anticipation of the next lot of holidays: ’Only 10 more weeks…’ led me to think that, as teachers, we perhaps need to learn to be more present, both at work and at play, and to develop our awareness of the powerful impact of the language we use and the mindset we allow ourselves to ritualise. The vast majority of teachers with whom I’ve worked have LOVED the job. They are passionate, organised, caring and highly focused. Overwhelmingly, though, they are also frequently ‘stressed’, ‘exhausted’, ‘flat-out’ and anxious. They are also dreaming of end of term drinks and permission to mentally (if not physically) capitulate in 50 working days’ time.

Our passion is supporting teachers to build, not just their pedagogical expertise, but their metacognitive skills in the service of making the lives of teachers easier, more productive – and here’s a radical notion – more enjoyable! We work with teachers to explore what motivates us – and seemingly subtle changes of habit, language and thinking that can lead to the creation of ways of being and acting that are truly transformative. To put it simply: when I made a conscious, disciplined effort to stop dialoguing with myself (and others) about ‘my stress’ and ‘my exhaustion’, I began to get some perspective on it. To see it for what it really was – a story that I was telling myself about my work and my ability, not just to ‘cope’ with it, but to actually enjoy it.

Now, none of this is to say that teachers do not experience the unique and variable stressors of a demanding, accountable profession – of course we do. My argument here is that we add unnecessarily layers of burden to our load by constantly emphasising the stress rather than developing habits and discourses to help alleviate it. Here are some leading questions to ask yourself:

  • How often do you think about/discuss your level of work-related stress?
  • What is your language like around stress? Keep a notepad handy with you for a week or two in order to track both your internal thoughts and conversations; both positive and negative. See how they balance!
  • Who is with you when you are articulating your stress levels (the same people might indicate a pattern)
  • What specific steps do you take on a daily/weekly/term-long basis to help manage stress?
  • Do you set SMART goals for each term? These can help you stay on track and stay positive, even when work is at its busiest. Also, being able to track your achievements is very important to your sense of development and self-efficacy as a practitioner
  • Is the underlying cause of your stress something other than your work? As humans, we have a tendency to ‘pile up’ those things that cause stress and anxiety; rather than clearly categorising them and creating mental boundaries between them. The discipline to do this comes when you build the ‘muscle’ of self-awareness.

These questions are designed to get you thinking about how much POWER the concept of stress currently has in your life, and to help enable you to decide if you want to adjust the ‘stress settings’. These days, I have a much healthier outlook on work and life – we work in a dynamic, challenging and richly rewarding field – but if we don’t make the time to examine our thoughts and habits, the inspiring becomes the overwhelming and you’ll just have spent another term dreaming of holidays and reaching for the fundraising
choccies in a staffroom near you. Let this term be the term you try something different – and reap the rewards.

Chat: Let us know what you think – if you start to think about our Leading Questions and try some of the suggestions, drop us a line!

Read: The Brain that Changes Itself Norman Doidge, M.D.


Twitter @CathrynStephens



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