This blog aims to help teachers in special schools to help their pupils with severe autism to reduce their stress and anxiety. This blog entry is relevant but a bit off topic. It is also a massive area that I do not have the opportunity to research at this time. For that reason I have not gone into much depth but raise some points that someone may want to follow in the future.
In special schools the staff have, in many cases, become deeply concerned about the mental well-being of our learners, particularly those profoundly affected by autism who often experience high levels of stress and anxiety. This state of mind can have a long term detrimental effect on their mental health. Schools have an important role to play in overcoming anxiety as we seek to support learners to be aspirational, confident and independent. We can seek to achieve this through working to reduce anxiety and stress and promoting well-being in schools.
School staff well-being is an important factor in meeting this need.
Roffey (2012) found that children’s well-being is linked with educational outcomes and their teacher’s own emotional well-being, a teacher’s emotional well-being influences their pupils; “happy teachers produce happy pupils” (Paterson and Grantham, 2016). A survey by Wellbeing Australia (2011) emphasised the relational links between increased teacher well-being, pupil wellbeing and improved school achievement, in the same study participants also reported wellbeing as being important in promoting student mental health.
Yet, despite recognising the nature of workplace stress, our jobs are getting more and not less stressful. This is significant in that it means that special schools must take seriously the emotional well-being, not only of learners, but also of staff. The interconnectedness of the emotional well-being of teachers and learners means that what is in the best interests of teachers, may also be for students, or vice versa (Paterson and Grantham, 2016).
This is a crucial finding for those teaching in the special school context seeking to support people with profound autism; emotional well-being is vital if teachers are to be successful in supporting challenging and vulnerable learners (Bricheno et al., 2009). However, at present, many teachers find their work demanding, resulting in burn out (Schussler, Jennings, Sharp, Frank, 2016). A report by Special Needs Week (2016) revealed that SENCo’s are trying to manage over 60 different special needs and many feel inadequately resourced for the job.
As little attention has been given to the well-being of teachers in special schools more specific research is needed.
However, some research may be relevant. Paterson and Grantham (2016) suggest that promoting socially supportive relationships within a school between staff, including support staff and senior management can help maintain positive emotional well-being among teachers. Roffey (2012) highlights the positive response of teachers to having their strengths and successes identified by senior management in their setting as this build self-esteem and confidence. It is suggested that positive relationships can be constructive as they provide an emotional outlet for frustrations and anxieties and offers useful opportunities for work load sharing.
The Big Lottery Fund National Well-being Evaluation found a number of factors key in improving staff well-being including improving employment chances, supporting those recovering from mental health problems, reducing stress in the workplace and reducing the stigma around mental health.
Schools can support staff health and wellbeing offering assessment of emotional health and providing support to enable staff to take actions to enhance their own wellbeing and by promoting a work-life balance.
Turning a school into a healthy workplace conducive to positive mental health is, in many cases, a huge task, far too big to go into much detail here.
Below are a few suggestions that seem to be effective but, as each school and staff body is so different, they cannot compare to a proper assessment of the needs of your own setting and implementation of setting specific culture. For far more help driving positive change consider implementing the Workplace Wellbeing Charter National Standards; see the Charter website (www.wellbeingcharter.org.uk).
- Shared relaxation at work
When investigating on the internet what makes a school a healthy workplace it is clear that there is a huge trend at the moment – Mindfulness. There has been a reasonable amount of research conducted across countries suggesting that Mindfulness helps staff to reduce stress and increase well-being (Shadi et al, 2016). A course on mindfulness can lead to more constructive thought patterns going forward so the benefit is long lasting.
Mindfulness is an example of an activity that is beneficial for well-being, other options may similar offer benefits; consider yoga, fitness classes such as boxercise, pilates or dance, group running, gardening, walking. The downside of these is that if stress is the result of workload the work will still be there when the class is over.
- Collaborative working
It is one of life’s great ironies: schools are in the business of teaching and learning, yet they are terrible at learning from each other. If they ever discover how to do this, their future is assured (Fullan, 2001 p92).
School staff can improve their stress levels through improving their work practice around collaboration.
- Positive understanding of behaviour
Student behaviour has a massive impact on teacher stress levels (Schaubman, Stetson, Plog, 2011). However, it has been found that training staff to understand and explain challenging behavior as having an underlying cause, using a proactive, positive approach significantly decreases teacher stress. For more information on positive behaviour support visit the website of the British Institute of Learning Difficulties, http://www.bild.org.uk/our-services/positive-behaviour-support/