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Turning School-Related Stress to Your Advantage: 4 Practical Ways

Say what you want about summers off or “friendly” work schedules. Being an educator is stressful. So is being a school leader.

With students’ safety, well-being, and success hanging in the balance, it doesn’t take long for the pressures to mount. Add to that the weight of standardized tests, increased school choice competition, and the high expectations of parents and community members, and the stress is palpable.

Just how stressful is a career in K12 education?

In one recent American Federation of Teachers survey, 73 percent of teachers reported feeling stressed at work.

With numbers like that, it comes as little surprise that so many schools report high teacher turnover and short superintendent tenures.

But school-related stress doesn’t have to be paralyzing, or even discouraging, says Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal. In a recent article for Edutopia, McGonigal outlines four strategies for educators and school leaders to stay productive under the weight of school-related stress.

1. See the meaning in stress

First and foremost, she says, educators have to realize that stress isn’t always a bad thing.

“Stress is what you feel when something that you care about is at stake,” writes McGonigal. “When you care a lot, you experience more stress.”

Whether you’re a teacher or a school leader, your job is vitally important to the success of the community and to young people personally. So the pressure makes sense.

The key is to find meaning in that stress, explains McGonigal. Remembering why you got into education in the first place will keep you grounded and focused when the pressure mounts.

2. Implement a growth mindset

This is the famous Carol Dweck idea.

McGonigal suggests that educators encourage students to adopt a growth mindset—a consistent attitude of improvement that encourages them to recognize incremental failures and shortcomings as steps on the road to long-term success.

She cites a study that shows that participants who see mistakes as learning experiences find greater purpose in life.

Next time you feel stressed about a mistake or a failure on the job or in the classroom, step back and look at the big picture. Ask yourself: What can I learn from this? And use that knowledge to keep improving over time.

3. Know that resilience is contagious

McGonigal describes the psychological concept of “vicarious resilience.” This idea states that seeing someone persevere often inspires resilience in others.

Says McGonigal, “Make a ritual of ending the school day by thinking about a student who demonstrated character, courage, or kindness. Share your favorite stories with others.”

4. Remember: you’re not the only one

Everyone deals with stress…everyone.

But when faced with mounting pressure it’s easy to forget that we’re not alone.

It’s important to understand that others struggle too, say McGonigal. That understanding is often what pushes you forward, and helps to solve the problem.

“People who hold a mindset of common humanity are less likely to give up on their goals, more willing to talk with others about their problems, and more likely to get the support they need,” explains McGonigal.

How do you deal with stress in school? Do you have systems in place to help teachers and administrators cope with work-related pressures? Tell us in the comments.

Want more ideas to keep your staff engaged and inspired? Read 3 reasons teachers quit and how to keep them from leaving.