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Unrealistic goals and standards make teachers stressed

02 September 2010 Kent, University of

Research from the University of Kent, in association with the Teacher Support Network, has found that teachers who want to be happier should not try to please everyone and should have a greater say in setting targets.

The research, which was conducted by Julian Childs and Dr Joachim Stoeber from the University’s School of Psychology, also shows that teachers with career aspirations and a goal to learn are happier than those facing unrealistic standards. Other findings include teachers who set high performance standards for themselves having, in contrast, higher levels of wellbeing. Similarly, teachers with a goal to advance their professional development have higher levels of mental energy and are more invested in their work than those who are focused on outperforming others.

Yet the study of 197 teachers, completed twice over three months, makes it clear that teachers should set these performance standards for themselves, rather than be imposed from colleagues or senior managers. In fact, teachers who felt that other people demanded more than they were capable of giving had higher levels of stress, stress- related ill health and burnout, as well as lower levels of wellbeing.

Julian Childs explained: ‘Of the teachers we spoke with we discovered that most only suffered from burnout if they were highly stressed. Yet teachers who thought other people wanted them to be perfect had high burnout and low wellbeing whether they were highly stressed or not.’

Among the study’s conclusions is the recommendation that teachers need to discuss clear and achievable work goals with their managers. Julian Childs added: ‘Managers then need to make sure teachers have the resources to achieve these goals and are able to talk about conflicting duties and how these can be prioritised.’

Mr Childs also explained how higher standards could benefit students. ‘Teachers pass their goals onto students: a teacher focused on learning and developing their skills will foster the same goal in their students.’

Julian Stanley, Chief Executive of Teacher Support Network, echoed this view. He said: ‘Stress is the leading cause of work-related illness in the UK education sector. We believe that great teachers are made in part by the environments in which they work. Teachers must be fully supported and developed throughout their careers, but crucially not overworked, so that they, and by extension our children, can reach their full potentials.’

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