A ‘Teacher Rejuvination Program’ Would Give Better Returns…

The hundreds of thousands of dollars (at $50,000 per successful applicant) that the  South Australian Government is offering to ‘burnt out, older’ and ‘unmotivated’ teachers to leave the profession and be replaced by fresh, young graduates as part of their Teacher Renewal Program could be better spent.  I’d like to see that money invested in teacher education programs that explain what burnout really is and  provide school based staff with research proven strategies and that help buffer the effects of working in highly stressful and emotionally demanding work environments such as school administration and classroom settings.

What I’ve seen of the TRP in the press makes no reference to burnout being a naturally occurring phenomenon in the teaching profession.  Instead the tone of the reports are derogatory in nature, implying that teachers who apply are tired and should be put out to pasture.  The underlying suggestion is that as a profession we don’t work hard and have no reason to be tired, with burnt out teachers being implicated as lazy and/or incompetent.

Now I’m not saying that there aren’t lazy and incompetent teachers in South Australian schools. What I’m saying is that burnout can affect anyone, regardless of age, experience or level of qualification and that this fact is not well known in the teaching circles.  Pines and Aronson (1988) describe burnout as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding.”   School settings can meet this criteria!!  It is recognized as 3 dimensioned in nature with it presenting as i) emotional exhaustion, ii) depersonalisation and iii) reduced personal accomplishment (Maslach and Jackson, 1981).  Indicators of this condition may include somatic complaints, sensory sensitivity (particularly to noise), sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, feeling anxious, guilty, overwhelmed, angry, sad and avoidance behaviours.**

If not recognised and managed early, these indicators can develop into more serious emotional issues and can result in individuals leaving the teaching profession all together.  We only need to look at what’s been reported in the press recently with schools in both the UK and Australia  recruiting people from non-educational backgrounds to work in schools as there are simply not enough teachers to fill teacher vacancies.  If we take into consideration the rate at which new graduates are leaving the profession (between 4 and 5 in every 10) in their first five years of working in schools and the age distribution among the workforce (the highest percentage in the 50 to 60 age bracket) it’s not rocket science to predict that a major teacher shortage is looming.

The investment required to train teachers to manage their own wellbeing and increase their awareness about burnout would be a relatively economic alternative to the TRP, not nearly as expensive as what the SA government is currently forking out to fund it.  Preventative in  nature, such a model would give teachers the knowledge required to recognise when they were experiencing burnout and information about how to manage it effectively.  Such an intervention is urgently needed: after all, what will the government do when the inevitable happens and the new graduates become tired, unmotivated and burnt out in a few short years time??

**It is important that individuals who experience these indicators seek support from professionals who understand the risks of working in the educational setting and who are able to provide the appropriate support and management of these side effects before they manifest as problem psychological issues.  EQUILIBRIUM Counselling, Training, Consulting provides such services http://www.equilibriumctc.com.au

The reason I have a problem with THAT Leisl photo

I find the whole palava that has emerged from this photo and the sudden fascination with Leisl Jones’ physical appearance sexist and contrived. I won’t go on about it here though because I think the general population has done a good enough job of advocating for her right to be whatever shape and size she chooses because let’s face it, she’s an Olympian.  Enough said about that.

I’m not a fan of this image because of the messages it gives to the wider community about body image.  And for the purpose of this blog I’m going to do something a bit random and focus on his physique and explain the impact that that photo may be having on young boys and men who see it.

Monk’s physique is incredibly lean, my guess is his percentage of body fat is close to if not below zero.  He is white, tall and for use of a better word ripped.  Note the lack of body hair.  I’m focussing on his image today because I want you to think about the message that it’s giving to young males about what it means to be a real man.

We know that physical ability is one of the two key contributing factors that determine popularity in boys (the other being good looks, as opposed to prettiness and intelligence in girls) so images like this in the media about body image can have an unhealthy influence about how young people perceive themselves and consequently influence their self esteem and confidence.

Murray Drummond (from Flinders University in South Australia) explains the detrimental effect of the media on the wellbeing of young boys in an article by Verity Edwards as featured in ‘Body Image Muscling in on Boyhood’ (2 January 2012, ‘The Australian’ pg 3).  Drummond’s research showed that “boys as young as five are starting to believe that being masculine is all about six-packs, muscles and hairless chests” which can have an obvious effect on boys’ mental health if they perceive that they do not fit this mould.  He continues “Boys don’t even mention masculinity” but they begin to think that being a successful male involves being muscular and strong.  And although it isn’t as well reported as eating disorders in girls, let it be known that boys also suffer from anorexia, bulimia and other disordered eating behaviours, not to mention excessive compulsive exercising and steroid use.  And that concerns me.

The end.

Top 3 Causes of Teacher Stress – Part 1

I had a great time presenting a one and a half hour staff meeting yesterday at a relatively small primary school in Adelaide’s southern region.  On the drive home I reflected on the session and at one of the many traffic light stops perused the responses I received from one of the standard questions I always ask participants, being “What are the three main causes of stress for you working at this site?”

I ask this question for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I don’t think may teachers have ever had the opportunity to think about this.  In great detail.  Or to be specific about what it is that causes them the most stress.  My hunch is when asked they would say things along the lines of “Work’s so stressful” but not be explicit about what is and how.  Secondly, I suspect the opportunity to have this information fed back to leadership may be a rare opportunity and my sense is that people feel empowered when they are asked to comment about what they feel affects the overall wellbeing of  the site at which they work.  Lastly, I feel this process acknowledges that there are going to be at least 3 things that are stressful about working in education and because participants have no difficulty responding (and some people give me 7 or 8 ‘most stressful’ things), they come to understand that feeling this way is normal because the pressures of working in education are very real and felt by most school based practitioners.  In fact when I ask participants how many find their role “extremely stressful,” the standard response is at lest 75% of the total group, often more.  This amount is consistent from site to site but is a stark contrast to Borg’s findings (Tyson, Roberts and Kane, 2009) which states that only one third of teachers rate the job as highly stressful.

The data I have collected so far shows these factors as the top 5 (well 7 really) causes of stress as experiences by teachers in South Australian schools:

1.  Student behaviour

2. Workload

3. Parent/family issues (including communication issues and parent behaviour)

4.  a) Administrative challenges and b) lack of time

5. a) lack of support for children with learning or behaviour needs and b) DECD priorities (including implementing ACARA)

I wonder what you find the most stressful part of your current position (that is if you happen to be school based).  I’d love you to reply so that I am able to collate a series of responses.  I’ll put them together with some recent research findings about how to best manage stressful situations in a post in the near future.

Teacher Training Session – August 23rd

“Managing the Emotional Demands of Working in the Educational Setting”

At this workshop, evidence-based material will be presented and participants will be led through a number of explorative exercises that will inform and support them in increasing their awareness about how to improve their personal wellbeing.  The factors essential in optimising mental and emotional health will be explored, giving those who attend the knowledge required so that they may be able to flourish in their professional roles.

For more information or to register, click HERE

Being Grateful

Be Grateful

On Sunday I hurt my back.  Badly.  Just doing the dishes, leant over to grab the pancake mixture sodden whisk and ‘phop!’ – couldn’t move.  Turns out its not serious and will settle quickly, it’s just the after effects of carrying babies and giving birth.  But what came out of the experience was the time to sit, do nothing (apart from watch Masterchef for 5 hours straight), read and think.

As I lay immobile and did nothing much, I found my thoughts kept coming back a post I’d read by Headspace’s Andy Puddicombe a week or so ago, part of which read:

“…Generally we tend to compare our situation to those who have more, or who we perceive to live in a nicer place, a warmer environment, or whatever else it might be.  We often forget that our situation right now, compared to many other people in the world, is incredibly fortunate.”

So although I couldn’t do a lot yesterday and was hurting quite badly, I didn’t feel angry or sad or sorry for myself at all.  My thoughts were actually positive ones, and instead of focussing on the things I couldn’t do yesterday, I instead focussed on the things I could do and what I did have.  I concentrated on the fact that I was able to get treatment for my back quickly and cheaply, unlike many other people in the world.  I took solace in the fact that I would be able to walk again, and that I have 2 feet.  I felt happy that I didn’t feel this level of sensation permanently and that I unlike so many others I do not suffer from chronic pain.  I was warm and relatively comfortable and had people around to care for me.  And for these things I was grateful.
I came to the conclusion that really I was lucky.  If that was all that that severe twinge in the sacrum was about, reminding me of my good fortune, then I was happy to have experienced it.  Sometimes we just get so caught up in what we don’t have, it takes a random event like that to bring us back to reality and realise how fortunate our lives really are.  So the next time the world seems to be crumbling around you, instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the situation, take your attention to what is going well and the experience will become much easier to manage.

Social Media Addiction

The concept of a “digital detox” and “i-addiction” is an area that I have become increasingly interested in in recent years. In my work as a counsellor I have a particular interest in dependency and this is a real issue that can be as destructive as other addictions as we know them.  People who work in this field tend not to associate themselves as having a dependency on their phones or i-Pads – they may joke about the amount of time they spend online or acknowledge they are “married” to their computer, can’t live without it etc but then really have a very hard time (including sometimes experiencing very real physical withdrawals) when their technology can’t be accessed.  It’s concerning!!

My suggestion to participants at my session was to record the amount of time they spend ‘on’ in a week (to the minute).  My guess is most would be surprised if not shocked by their results. If this was the case they could then put into place strategies (and cognitive behaviour therapy ones would be as good a start as any) if they thought this was appropriate.  Alternatively, my advice is to get professional support.

Do you consider yourself dependent?  Addicted even?  How do you think you would fare with the strategy I’ve suggested above to monitor your own social media use?  I’d love to see some numbers come through…

Restoring your balance…

So after 3 days of what can only be described as a STEEP learning curve and intense IT overload I have now created my blog and here’s my first blog post!  I’m excited to see how this is going to grow and develop….


The main theme that came through for me from the CEGSA conference and attending George Couros’ masterclass on Tuesday was the importance of being connected.  Obviously the focus at the conference was in terms of social networking but I wanted to address connectedness in relation to wellbeing for teachers and how it can serve as a protective factor and actually boost resilience.  Howard and Johnson’s research (UniSA, 2004) found parallels between student and teacher experiences with strong support groups being a key feature in those who were resilient and  able to ‘bounce back’ from adverse circumstances.  More notably and of particular relevance to those in South Australia at the moment is Thinker in Residence Martin Seligman’s notion of connectedness in boosting resilience.  Seligman’s PERMA theory (the R being for relationships) is one of the essential elements of wellbeing he identifies as creating a flourishing state in individuals, writing “other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up” (pg 20, 2011).

What other benefits of being connected to others do you see?