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Four ways that senior leaders can help to reduce teacher stress

How can school leaders help to prevent burnout in those they manage? One occupational psychologist explains what managers should do – and avoid doing

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How can school leaders help to prevent burnout in those they manage? One occupational psychologist explains what managers should do – and avoid doing

Research evidence consistently shows that the way individuals are managed is an important factor in their wellbeing.

At one extreme, an abusive, negative, inconsistent or even just disorganised manager can be an enormous cause of stress for those who work for them. At the other end of the scale, feeling valued and supported by a manager can help individuals to cope with all kinds of difficulties that would otherwise dent their performance.

Looking across a range of high-stress sectors, including education, my research colleagues and I explored the role of line managers in stress prevention.

We examined what managers need to do – and avoid doing – in order to prevent and reduce stress in those they manage.

We came up with four broad categories of behaviour that are important in this context.

School leaders and managers might want to reflect on whether these are things that they currently do in their management role:

Be respectful and responsible manage emotions and show integrity

As a school leader or manager you should demonstrate integrity and respect for those who work for you by doing what you say you will do and taking a consistent approach. Try to act calmly in pressured situations and make sure that you give plenty of positive feedback.

Communicate existing and future work

Make sure that you clearly communicate teachers’ job objectives, especially where they have been required to take on additional responsibilities besides teaching. Encourage staff to review how they organise their workload and stop them from taking on unnecessary work where you can. If problems arise, deal with these rationally and swiftly. Keep teachers informed of what is happening in the school and support them to develop in their role.

Tread carefully when managing difficult situations

A good manager must be able to effectively deal with conflict between teachers and/or others in the school. You need to act as a mediator and take the time to follow up after the conflict has been resolved. Support your teachers through personal difficulties and address any instances of bullying. In order to do this effectively, you may need to seek support or advice yourself when handling difficult situations.

Manage the individual within the team

It can be tempting to “manage by email”, but it is important that you speak to the teachers you manage in person as often as you can. Provide regular opportunities for them to speak with you one-on-one. Find out what motivates them and encourage their input in staff meetings and discussions. At the same time, you should also make time to have a laugh with your staff and to have informal chats. Listen when they ask for help and make an effort to see their point of view.

If you want to explore this in more detail, you could use the HSE’s line-manager competency tool or read more about the behavioural framework here.

Emma Donaldson-Feilder is an occupational psychologist and director of Affinity Health at Work

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