Study: Teacher Stress Reduction Leads to Instructional Improvement

By Elisha McNeil — May 04, 2016 2 min read
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Mindfulness-based interventions and stress-reducing strategies can lead to improvements not only in teachers’ social and emotional well-being but also in instructional climate and student engagement, according to a recent study out of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education.

For the study, researchers examined the effects of teachers and students participating in “Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education” (CARE) for Teachers, a mindfulness-based professional-development program designed to help teachers reduce stress and burnout.

Patricia Jennings, associate professor of elementary education and lead author on the study, presented the findings at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference in April. (See slides below.)

“Today, many teachers are not well-prepared for the social and emotional demands of the classroom,” Jennings said, according to a release on the study. “While spending a great amount of cognitive energy on the content of their lessons, teachers are also constantly managing a classroom of students, some of whom have difficulty attending to learning activities, sitting still or getting along with their peers.”

The study is based on a classroom model theory positing that teachers’ well-being promotes better teacher-student relationships, effective classroom management skills, and effective social-emotional learning.

The CARE program consisted of self-care and emotion-awareness instruction, mindfulness and stress-reduction practices, and empathy exercises, with applications to teaching explored through discussion and role plays.

The study followed two groups of 36 New York City public elementary schools—eight in the 2012-13 academic school year and 28 in 2013-14—including 5,036 students and 224 teachers split into an intervention group and a control group. The teachers in the intervention group participated in a series of five six-hour sessions with individualized phone coaching in between over two weeks.

Researchers found that the teachers who participated in CARE were more emotionally supportive and demonstrated greater sensitivity to students than those in the control group. Teachers made better use of instructional time, which in turn made students more productive and involved in learning activities. The findings are based largely on teacher self-report questionnaires, observational ratings of teachers and classrooms, teacher reports on students, and students’ school records.

“Teachers who are able to reduce the level of stress they are experiencing have an improved ability to recognize a student’s perspective and how their own judgments or biases are impacting their reaction to a student,” Jennings said. “The findings definitely suggest that mindfulness-based interventions can have ‘downstream’ effects on the classroom environment and on the students.”

To follow up on the study, Jennings is currently working on a two-year analysis of teacher outcomes and sustainability. For her next project, she wants to bring the CARE program to additional locations and make it adaptable for special populations, such as caregivers and special education teachers.

CARE NYC Teacher and Classroom Outcomes presentation by Patricia Jennings.

Photo by Flickr user Max Talbot-Minkin; licensed under Creative Commons.

More on teacher mindfulness:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.