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How to train teachers to be emotionally resilient

Lucinda Reid meets Dr Brian Marien, Founder and Director of Positive Group, to talk training teachers to be emotionally resilient

Posted by Rianna Newman | August 28, 2017 | Teaching

Have you felt stressed at work today? Stress is something we all experience at some point in our careers, and teachers know that better than anybody.

Last year, NASUWT published a survey which revealed 83% of teachers have experienced workplace stress in the previous 12 months and over three quarters of female teachers reported that their job had affected their mental health and wellbeing. This survey is one of many that shows we need to be doing more to look after teachers. After all, teachers who feel well, will ultimately teach better. 

Consequently, Dr Brian Marien and his company, Positive Group, are working with teachers to improve their psychological wellbeing. The Positive Schools Programme is currently being piloted with The Girls Day School Trust (GDST) and is grounded in theory and empirical evidence. The programme delivers transformative learning by building several core protective psychological competencies. For example, emotional literacy, emotional regulation, cognitive flexibility and building resiliency. 

Dr Brian Marien

“Emotional literacy is the foundation to the programme,” explained Brian. “It helps people to understand how their brain works and how emotions are the core operating systems that influence their behaviour. This is really important as it reduces stigma and shame around stress and makes people realise that it’s normal to feel this way. Studies show that people who develop more emotional literacy have improved psychological wellbeing.” 

Before the Positive Schools Programme was created, Brian worked with the NHS, corporate companies and universities. He found that doctors, nurses and teachers are the high risk-professions for stress because they’re “the caring professions.” 

“People who care a lot tend to get more stressed and the reason for that is they have mirror-neurones which means they emphasise with people. That’s fantastic if you are a nurse, doctor or teacher, but it carries a risk with it as they find it difficult to boundary and then become overly stressed,” said Brian. 

Therefore, the Positive Schools Programme explains to teachers about stress risk-factors and how to modify them. For example, teachers are given tools to help them deal with stressful situations and then asked to go home and practise it. This is supported by an app, action learning sets and an online forum for teachers to share their questions and reactions. 

“If you really want to learn something, you have to teach it or at least incorporate it into day-to-day life,” explained Brian. “The ones who teach it are the ones that really take off.” 

Positive Schools Programme encourages teachers to transfer the skills they have learnt during the programme into the classroom. As although the primary goal of the programme is to maintain teachers’ psychological health, it is also for them to teach the tools to their pupils. This was one of things that attracted GDST to the programme, as Mary Sansom, Compliance and Training Manager at GDST, saw the potential to use the programme with their teachers and pupils. 

“I think children are very quick to pick up on adults who say one thing and do another thing themselves. So, for it to be effective you must have teachers who ‘walk the talk’ – to use the cliché,” explained Mary. “I think it is important that staff feel included in the programme and we hope it will help them in their lives. The idea of ‘do it yourself and teach it’, helps to reinforce the learning. You have to know it at a deeper level to be able to teach it.” 

People are just starting to put the mind and body back together and seeing it as a more integrated process

The GDST has seen great success with this way of learning as both teachers and pupils have been impacted positively by the programme. The pilot initially ran from April to June 2016 with nine schools, and in 2017 a second cohort of six teachers per pilot school joined the programme. Before teachers joined the programme they filled out a Resilience Framework Assessment, with 89% saying their mood state impacted on the behaviour of pupils. A year later, they re-evaluated and it became clear that something had changed. After the programme, teachers were significantly more likely to find their workload manageable, they were able to control their worrying and the programme had eight times more impact when teachers used the tools with their pupils. Due to the programme’s success, the GDST are now planning to involve all their schools from September 2017. 

“We’ve heard many stories about how well staff and pupils have responded to the programme and how after the course they’ve been motivated to make this something significant in their school,” said Mary. “This is now an important part of our strategy but we are still in the developmental stage. We are evaluating the results from the programme and looking very closely at the outcomes, but so far all the indications are that this really works.” 

This feedback from GDST is encouraging for the teaching profession, as Positive Schools Programme provides support for the rising stress in schools. It also shows that teachers and pupils are ready to talk about mental health and wellbeing. 

“People are just starting to put the mind and body back together and seeing it as a more integrated process,” said Brian. “20 years ago there was a lot of scepticism and cynicism about stress. It wasn’t something that people were happy to talk about. I think that has now changed and there has been a zeitgeist in terms of insights, understanding and normalising.” 

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