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Teacher PD training: Should self-care be part of it?

Like therapists, nurses, doctors and priests, teachers fall into a special category of professionals whose work is to help others. This leads to a particular and unique combination of stressors: the risk of burn-out, “compassion fatigue”, and an unhealthy lack of distinction between their personal problems and the problems of others.

Teachers, doctors and nurses are additionally required to perform within a highly regulated environment, where they are answerable to “society” for their outcomes and results. For teachers this is explicitly defined by the increasingly controversial NCLB standardized testing. As such it can be said that of the “caring professions” doctors, nurses and teachers have not only the highest moral obligation, but the comparatively firmest regulatory paradigm. Consequently they experience the highest levels of stress - not just among caring professions - but in fact all professions featured in the study.

Gallup released a report in 2013, The State of America’s Schools: The Path to Winning Again in Education, that attempts to use the very many data sources at Gallup’s disposal to position “the human element” as essential to successful education outcomes. Their argument is simply that students and teachers that are more inspired, engaged and socially and professionally supported do better at any test of educational outcomes you’d care to give them.

The consequences of stressful work conditions can be directly linked to student performance, as well as high turnover of staff - costing billions. Not to mention of course, the individual teachers who are in effect surrendering their mental health to their careers.

Exhaustion sometimes peppered with hopelessness. Edutopia

Should self-care form part of teacher PD training?

The reasons for teacher-based stress fall into three broad categories: Societal, Systemic and Personal. Societal stressors include stressed out students, school-based violence and the economy. Systemic stressors include a lack of strong school leadership, standardized testing and a lack of mentoring and support.

Obviously the personal reasons underlying teacher stress are the most readily addressed by teachers themselves. Having said that, teachers do tend to have a predisposition towards acting in ways that are not necessarily good for them including:

  • “I feel guilty saying ‘No’”
  • “Isn’t everyone this busy?”
  • “I feel better about myself when I’m busy”
  • “Self-care takes time, and I don’t have any!”

There are literally millions of self-care blogs, columns, books and journals that offer advice ranging from the ineffectual: take a long hot bath, to the absurd: eat less sugar (!) Seriously though, self care has become a memeable, corporately-funded content tsunami whose main purpose is to get us to buy stuff we’ll never use - sandalwood candles anyone?

When it comes to effective self-care for “real” people - in this instance “real” teachers - the general trend of recommendations centers around finding a community of teachers with whom you share the unique dynamic of stress. The best place to do that is within the ambit of Professional Development courses.

Related: Professional development for teachers is key to ed-tech success

Without further ado, let’s start on those stress levels with practical avenues of action.

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club

Angela Watson has spent the past couple of years really focusing on how to help teachers live more balanced lives. In her 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club teachers are provided with a range of resources and community connections to really get to grips with what is really bogging down their creativity, productivity and wellness. They also issue completion certificates that your district could count as up to 104 continuing education hours.


A PD-based consultancy that offers bespoke mindfulness training specifically designed and geared towards teachers and educators. The group offers a wide range of workshops, as well as supplementary video and printed material. Their stated goal is: “We help schools develop a more mindful culture – one that engages the heart as well as the head, in a holistic approach to wellbeing in teaching and learning.”

Teacher Well Being

This is both a site filled with resources, as well as a group of educators providing well-being coaching to teachers and schools across Australia. Naturally if you are not located in Australia the online resources, downloads and infographic are a really good way to start a well-being conversation among your colleagues and school leaders. Australia is in fact a rich vein of teacher well-being literature and courses, and it is well worth exploring the many online and downloadable well-being content.

Happy Teacher Revolution

Based in Boston, but facilitating the founding of teacher support groups throughout the world, this training-based business is seeking to help teachers create and find support in their school communities. With a PD component that trains “Revolutionaries”, the organisation hopes to seed the skills and awareness to deal with teacher stress wherever a “Revolutionary” starts practicing. Think of it as the Avon lady of managing teacher stress.

Self-Care reading list

I’ll leave you now with a little bit of homework in the form of a reading (or listening) list:

NEO Brochure: Using NEO for professional development for teachers

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