Posted 08.17.2015 | by AMRA

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The high emotional demands of public school teaching can contribute to impaired teacher morale and professional burnout. Given the stressful nature of the profession, it’s no small wonder that 40-50% of teachers quit teaching within their first five years on the job. Prior research supports the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in improving teacher well-being and reducing burnout, but what are the psychological and interpersonal processes underlying their effectiveness?

In a randomized, controlled trial, Taylor et al. [Mindfulness] tested how a MBI affected teachers’ emotional regulation, forgiveness, and compassion, and how changes in these domains contributed to stress reduction.

The researchers randomly assigned a predominantly female cohort of 59 Canadian elementary and secondary school teachers to either a Stress Management and Relaxation Training (SMART) program or a wait-list control. The 9-week SMART program shared components with MBSR (the body scan, sitting, walking, movement and eating meditations) and included specific training in emotional regulation, forgiveness and loving-kindness. Participants completed self-report measures before and after training and at four-month follow-up. Participants were also interviewed after the SMART program about job stress and attitudes towards challenging students and colleagues.

The teachers found the SMART program “quite helpful,” stating they derived a “moderate” to a “great deal” of benefit from it. At the end of training, SMART program teachers showed significant and large (Cohen’s d =.90) declines in occupational stress compared to controls, a difference that remained marginally significant at four month follow-up.

In post-training interviews, SMART participants used significantly fewer negative emotional words than controls when discussing work stressors, and used significantly more positive emotional words than controls when describing challenging students. SMART participants also showed significant and moderately sized improvements on measures of self-perceived efficacy in emotional regulation and of dispositional forgiveness compared to controls. Dispositional forgiveness was significantly associated (Cohen’s d = .70) with decreases in teacher stress.

This study extends previous findings supporting the efficacy of MBIs in reducing teacher stress, and clarifies distinct psychological and interpersonal processes contributing to their potential efficacy. It is limited by its small sample size, lack of active controls and lack of in-classroom behavioral measures. Future research can help determine whether these improvements in teachers can translate to enhanced student learning and development.

Reference:

Taylor, C., Harrison, J., Haimovitz, K., Oberle, E., Thomson, K., Schonert-Reichl, K., & Roeser, R. W. (2015). Examining ways that a mindfulness-based intervention reduces stress in public school teachers: A mixed-methods study. Mindfulness.

[Link to abstract]