campusreview . com . au
Teachers have about a thousand interactions a week ; that ’ s an awful lot .
Peer groups could be the answer to improving teacher wellbeing .
By Emilie Lauer
Exhaustion , stress and burnout are some of the reasons teachers are leaving the classroom , yet a simple peer support program might be the solution to keep teachers afloat .
A new study by La Trobe University used peer support techniques borrowed from frontier health workers to boost teachers ’ wellbeing and showed promising results .
The concept is based on ‘ reflective circles ’, where six teachers ( including one taking on the role of facilitator ), use critical reflection to discuss the challenges faced in the classroom and generate strategies to tackle the issues .
According to La Trobe University master of education coordinator Dr Anne Southall , the model can cover anything from disruptive students to unhappy parents .
“ I think [ people ] really underestimate the complex emotional and intellectual work demands that are on teachers daily ,” Southall told Campus Review .
“ Teachers have about a thousand interactions a week ; that ’ s an awful lot . With the overlay of COVID , the mental health and wellbeing of our students and our teachers is at an all-time low .”
The study demonstrated that by using reflective practice , teachers could freely discuss issues they faced at school and receive feedback from their peers , presenting them with different perspectives .
The process is first accessible via online training , where teachers learn how to assess themselves and give constructive and non-judgmental feedback . The group session will then last for an hour and a half , with a twice per term frequency .
With the support group , teachers have to reflect in an online journal about the difficult situations they face in the classroom and analyse their emotions and feelings toward them , before deconstructing it for the group .
The rest of the group will then listen to each other , give feedback and try to find a solution together with the help of a facilitator .
“ It ’ s not advice-giving and it ’ s not ‘ what they should have done or shouldn ’ t have done ’. It ’ s simply how differently they think about it and they take on another perspective ,” Southall said .
“ With that the person realises their way of looking at things is not the only way .”
According to Southall , the experience creates deep bonds between the team and helps teachers liberate themselves of their frustrations which by extension will help teachers avoid burnout .
“ One of the big contributors to burnout is the discrepancy between what you ’ re really feeling inside and the feelings that you ’ re actually showing .
“ Teachers feel very strong negative emotions , and they ’ re masking them most of the time . With the peer group they get to process them properly with people who truly understand .”
By being honest about their feelings , teachers have a “ huge load taken off their shoulders ”, Southall said , and they accept and feel better about themselves .
Teachers are given a place to process their feelings and deal with their frustration and anger , but also learn how to let go of things that are not under their control .
In certain situations , teachers will spend days and nights ruminating on what they could have done differently , and these thoughts follow them home .
Southall believes that processing these thoughts and stopping thinking about them is incredibly important . “ To let go is a very healing experience , and it lightens their load a lot .”
She also said the peer group gives teachers a space where they feel listened to and understood .
“ Teachers often think they ’ re the only ones struggling with issues . With the peer group , they felt more confident because they realised they weren ’ t the only one and that they were struggling with issues .” According to Southall , it is more important than ever to take care of our teacher ’ s mental health as there is a correlation between teachers and students ’ wellbeing .
A dysregulated teacher really does have an impact on the classes , she said , adding if there ’ s high levels of stress , students will experience that .
Likewise , healthy teachers whose emotional needs are being met can instead use that space for dysregulated , anxious and stressed kids present in their classrooms . ■