MRP NOVEMBER Session ~Transforming Teacher Stress

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Stress is neither good nor bad; how you see things and how you handle them makes all the difference in terms of how much stress you will experience.

{J. Kabat-Zinn}

Over the last several session, we have focused on directing your attention, discovering your inner roommate, and understanding the nature of teacher stress. These topics and the “homework” you have been integrating into your every day life, have been intentional and essential to bringing you to thinking about, understanding, and re-framing the nature of teacher stress. As the quote above suggests, and perhaps you are really coming to feel this in your body and not just in a purely intellectual way,  HOW you see things matters. Events in the external world, the actions of others, and even your own inner commentary/ thoughts are not the “problem” nor the real causes the stress you feel.

Whew– this is really good news, actually. How disastrous if these external things held that much control over us and how we felt. Rather, what you are coming to experience through your daily mindfulness practice is that your perception or how you see things is what determines the level, intensity, and duration of “stress” you internalize. 

So this is where we learn to SHIFT OUR PERSPECTIVE of the purpose of STRESS! Stress is essential to you personal and professional growth. Here is why:

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Highly effective teachers who sustain commitment to their work are resilient, committed, and connected to their bigger purpose for teaching. Here’s the rub, tho.

Resilience is only cultivated in moments of stress and struggle– in moments when you feel you have lost your purpose, in moments of adversity!

Thus, you are learning how to work with the stress— learn from your stress triggers, notice what stress feels like for you, how to breathe through it and center yourself. The better you get at centering yourself after a stress event, the quicker you will gain that bigger perspective of things. Every time you connect with a bigger perspective or view of things, you re-connect with your purpose! So let’s talk about how to do this work intentionally….

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The Nature of Stress

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RESPONDING to the things that threaten our sense of control 

As humans, we do have the choice and capacity to notice HOW we are feeling (which tends to be the messenger that gives us a clue as to that inner commentary that is rigid and fixed). This is step one.

STEP 1: AWARENESS: Notice what you are feeling and acknowledge it by feeling it all. Be present for what comes up.

Step 1 is all about being aware of what is happening in your body. This awareness is what is so key! Its the necessary first step to transfiguring stress and finding meaning in it. You first have to allow yourself to EXPERIENCE the stress. So FEEL IT ALL!

STEP 2. BREATHE

What you are training here…right in the middle of the stress event…. is to instinctively come back to the breath in the body. The breath as the focus of your attention in the middle of stress will both physically and psychological trip your body’s systems to chill out just enough so you can see clearly and not over-react (adding to the stress!).

STEP 3. BE CURIOUS

After you have taken a breath, and only after, can you see differently. After you have taken a breath, intentionally try to ask questions: Why did I feel that way? Why did I react that way? Why did THEY feel that way? What did THEY do/ say that? What is going on in the environment around us that contributed to this stressful event. Getting into a curious mindset will dull the reaction and shift your attention in away that will allow you see things from a different perspective and not be so caught by your initial reaction.

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TEACHER STRESS

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As you read about in chapter 5, The Heart of Teaching, your secret weapon as a teacher is your open heart and caring presence. So how do you get there?? Well, you “practice being mindfully aware of your own thoughts and feelings so that you can be fully present for your students” (Jennings, p. 110). That is what you are learning how to do– being mindfully aware of your thoughts and feelings because when you are, you significantly diminish the stress you feel, and thus are capable of seeing beyond your issues and annoyances to be fully there for others.

So let’s not forget that: 

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Remember– Stress isn’t always bad!!

Eustress is a form of GOOD stress. It’s the type of stress we need that invigorates us.

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PERSONAL REFLECTION:

Think for a moment of 2-3 good stressors in your life. Think about your personal life. What do you NEED to do to feel alive and invigorated?? Think about your teaching now. What are some GOOD stressors in teaching that you need to feel capable and effective?

 

While it is equally important to look at good stress that serves to stoke our passion and desire to teach, we also need to consider the types of stress that burn us out if we are unaware:

 

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Which ones do you most strongly relate to? Yep– they are all big ones. But the biggest, most stressful part of teaching according to the research is not all these external factors. The biggest stressors for teachers– new teachers in particular– is coping with the intense emotional reactions that come from these stressors. Notice that– the most negative stress comes from the teacher’s inner world, not external.

In effect, teachers cite not being able to cope with the emotional demands of the profession AND not being able to cope with their own emotional reactions to these demands as the most debilitating stressors of the job.

We will be talking more about teacher emotional intelligence, the emotional art of teaching, and coping with your strong emotional reactions as teachers in our next several sessions. For now, let’s look first at what happens to teachers when they lack the awareness of the emotional demands of the profession and/or how to cope with their own emotional reactions.

Chronic stress the goes unnoticed (***ding, ding*** that’s your first sign) for extended amounts of time starts to impact the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual body. Well- since your mindfulness practice cultivates NOTICING, you are already protecting yourself from the onset of chronic stress. This is good because chronic stress initiates the process of burnout.

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TEACHER BURNOUT is a PROCESS of “dis-integration” that occurs over time. Its almost as if your body, mind, and sprit are being broken apart from the inside out– they are disintegrating! Burnout refers to the “physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that occurs from chronic job stress and frustration” (Larrivee, 2012). 

Burnout is a crisis. Even though the crisis begins as an occupational identity crisis, it will generalize to the entire self-concept of the teacher

(Vandernberghe & Huberman)

Basically, that means that the stress your feel in your professional life, impacts who you are as a person. You need to protect yourself! And you do this by learning many different strategies, tools, and behaviors to help you cope with the stressors (both internal and external) of teaching so you A) don’t completely lose yourself, and B) teach who you really are. Because that “you-ness” is really your greatest secret weapon as a teacher!

Okay- more on that to come, but for now, before you reflect in one second, become aware of the 3 stages of teacher burnout. You knowing them and being aware of them is the first step in recognizing when you start to feel the onset of burnout setting in.

Stages of Teacher Burnout

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Let’s pause and reflect here. *(You may choose write out your reflections, if you would like). We will talk about your online reflections at our next face to face.)pause 2

What do you notice about the progress or progression of the stages of teacher burnout? What do you notice happens in the both the MIND and the BODY?

 

Based on what you know about and your experiences with mindfulness, how does mindful awareness help to mitigate or diffuse teacher burnout?

The Manifestation of Burnout

Chronic stress (or as you are seeing, your mental over-reactions to things) gone unnoticed and unchecked over time will have physical, mental, and emotional ramifications. As we are seeing as teachers, these ramifications don’t just affect us, personally. They affect how we teach, how we interact with our students, the climates of our classrooms, and the presence (or lack thereof) we bring into the classroom setting every day.

We simply MUST take excellent care of our selves, mentally, physically, and emotionally because our health and wellbeing directly impacts our professional lives. Here’s why:

Teaching is an interpersonally oriented profession. The relationship between teacher & students is central to the job and the nature of the work is highly emotional.

{Vandenberghe & Huberman}

Teaching is a relational profession. HOW you are as a person will impact every single relationship with students, colleagues, and parents. So what happens when teachers don’t know the strategies to cope with the stresses of teaching or their own emotional reactions to events in the classroom? They burnout– internally and externally.

The internal manifestation of burnout is described above in the stages. The external manifestation of teacher burnout– how it impacts those around you– is described below:

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Look at the 3 external manifestations of teacher burnout above. Have you felt or experienced any of these? To what degree (a lot or a little)?

How do these manifestations of burnout impact your instruction?

How do they impact your classroom climate?

How do they impact your relationships with your students?

 

NOVEMBER Present Teacher Practice Tips

The reason why you are learning about the nature of stress, teacher stress, your mind, and the manifestation of burnout is because heightened awareness of these things gives you choice. The more aware you are, the more you enable yourself with options for THINKING and ACTING with awareness. We always start with awareness. So the recommended practices this month have to do with being more aware of your specific stressors and noticing your habitual reactions to them.

We do this because once we are aware of what stresses us out and how we unconsciously react to the stress in a way that breaks us down, we enter the space to make productive changes in our lives. From this place of awareness, we can make better, more healthy choices for how we relate to and respond to stress triggers. From this place of awareness of yourself and your triggers, you gain FREEDOM to choose a new response.

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This month you will be practicing cultivating greater awareness of your reactions to “stressful” situations. You may choose to use classroom situations or you may simple use your everyday experiences to notice how your mind and emotions respond to stressful situations.

Practice Tip #1- Complete (2) Teacher Stress Scenario Worksheets per week

In order for you to transform and USE your stress to be more self-aware and change your hardwired habits of reacting to stress, you must NOTICE and REFLECT on how you feel and think about your stress. 

*This worksheet will be emailed to you. It is recommended that you do (2) of these per week. Basic steps for this practice:

  1. Notice a moment in your teaching when you feel stressed. Take a mental note of that event at that time. No need to stop what you are doing to do this worksheet. You have to allow the stressful event to work its way through you. 

  2. Later in the day, take like 5-10 minutes to reflect on the even with the processing questions in this handout:

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Practice Tip #2- BODY AWARENESS Meditations

You simply must condition your body to take deep breaths when you feel stress in the body. The way you condition the body to recover and ground itself when in the middle of a stressful event is to keep training the mind/ body connection! The MORE you are in tune with your body, the better able you will be able to regulate and purposefully process your stress so that it doesn’t lead to burnout.

What you are literally training your mind and body to do in the middle of a stressful event is calm itself instinctively. If you keep INTENTIONALLY training yourself to breathe and connect with the body, and we use formal meditations like the ones below as powerful training outside of stress events, when you get triggered by stress, your BODY will instinctively take over and breathe for you. Here are 2 simple BODY AWARENESS training pointers:

BREATHE INTO STRESS in the MOMENT

  • Intentionally notice your breath and connect with it when you feel stress rising while teaching. When you feel the stress or the trigger take hold, silently say to yourself, “This is stressful. I am noticing a reaction in my body,” and then take a LONG, DEEP BREATH. You are hardwiring something very powerful here.

TRAIN THE CONNECTION TO THE BREATH outside of the STRESS MOMENT

  • You do this by intentionally setting aside 5-15 minute (daily if you can) 3x per week to connect with  your body. It is always communicating with you. Any guided body scan will do! If you have a favorite on your Calm or Breathe App, use that.
  • Also try this 11 minute AWARENESS OF BREATH Meditation I’ve created for you. (This meditation and a body scan are also found here: http://gotmindpower.com/training-programs/for-educators/meditations-for-teachers/

 

Awareness of Breath Meditation (by jen) 11 Minutes