The time is NOW to get real about developing teachers that have the mental foundation to be able to thrive in a challenging and stressful, yet rewarding and much-valued profession. My daughter and son-in-law are both teachers and I’ve seen first-hand how the profession demands so much of them and with lip service paid to supporting and developing their ability to deal with the stressors and pressures they face. I know that a lot of schools know that it’s an issue but either choose to do little or nothing about it or don’t know how.
Education Support Partnership, the UK’s only charity committed to the wellbeing and mental health of everyone working in education, is demanding urgent action be taken by the government and sector to address a stress epidemic and rising mental health issues across the entire UK education workforce. This follows the release on 22 October 2018 of its Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018, conducted in partnership with YouGov.
Key findings include:
- 76% of education professionals experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work, compared to 60% of UK employees
- 57% considered leaving the profession in the last two years due to health pressures
- 47% experienced depression, anxiety or panic attacks due to work.
The 2018 results – when compared to ESP’s Health Survey 2017 – revealed a significant rise in several mental health and wellbeing-related symptoms. Rising levels of insomnia and irritability/mood swings over the last year were the most common factors:
- Insomnia (increased from 41-56%) and irritability or mood swings (from 37-51%)
- Tearfulness (31-44%), forgetfulness (27-41%) and difficulty concentrating (27-40%)
- Senior leaders were more likely to suffer from all these symptoms than teachers and other education professionals. The largest increase in the signs of depression was from senior leaders, which rose from 25% in 2017 to 40% in 2018
- Acute stress was a new category for the 2018 survey – with 27% of education professionals showing signs of this (31% for senior leaders), and 23% with these signs receiving a formal diagnosis from their GP.
Mental toughness is the ability of a person to deal with the stressors, pressures and challenges they face. How to enhance performance, relationships and one’s approach whilst under physical and psychological pressure. It’s often associated with terms such as resilience, grit, positive thinking, hardiness etc.
All teachers face stressors in their role. Teachers with higher levels of mental toughness are however better able to respond to the negative consequences of these stressors (including the symptoms listed above) by either:
- Overcoming the consequences much quicker than more mentally sensitive people or;
- Experiencing these consequences in relatively minor ways compared to others for whom they are much more significant or;
- Eliminating the stressor completely
Much better at using problem coping strategies
Research shows that people who have higher levels of mental toughness are much better at using ‘problem coping’ strategies such as visualisation, logical thinking, emotional tracking, meaning focused coping etc. They tend to make little or no use of ‘avoidance coping’ strategies such as distancing, mental distraction or resignation.
What would a mentally tough teacher look like:
They would invest more of their time and energy focusing on aspects of their role that they have direct influence over – their teaching methods, how they interact with students, their perception of certain people or events, their preparation etc. They realise that worrying about what people think of them is counter-productive and avoiding the more challenging issues only exacerbates them.
They account much more for the reasons that they joined the profession and connect more to their real purpose. They reflect more on the desire to develop young people, their passion for igniting young minds and what they can really do to help their students achieve.
They recognise that being a teacher in today’s world is not easy. However, they only expect of their pupils what they themselves model. An ability to grow in the face of challenge, a drive to succeed even when it seems like things are against them and the tenacity to push themselves to become a better version of themselves.
These are just a few key elements of mental toughness and there’s no doubt that a teacher possessing and demonstrating these qualities would experience less of the negative consequences identified by the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018 above.
The good news
The good news is that mental toughness can:
- Be measured
- Be developed
The highly reliable MTQ48 and MTQPlus have already been used in education to assess and develop mental toughness in pupils with excellent results. This statistically reliable and valid psychometric assessment measures mental toughness overall and in 8 key areas. The subsequent development report provides an excellent foundation for developing this with a structured programme of developmental interventions.
Here at Pro Mind Coaching & Training we support people to develop their mental toughness and thrive and prosper as they face the stressors and challenges in their work.
- We run mental toughness workshops that bring to life mental toughness and utilise the MTQPlus assessment. Our workshops help people recognise their levels of mental toughness and support them to begin the journey of developing it with a toolkit of practical and effective methods.
- We also run 1-2-1 and group coaching. These are more bespoke and again use the MTQPlus assessment as the framework to support individuals to improve and develop their mental toughness over a 12-week period.
- We can also run a mental toughness programme for your school focusing on your teaching staff or a specific pupil group for whom this would prove to be beneficial. This would be bespoke to your specific needs and utilise the MTQ assessment process.
For more details, please get in touch with us and we can discuss how we can help you to develop this vital personality trait for the challenges that teachers face in today’s world of education.
Steve Dent is a mental toughness coach and trainer, associate member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), Master Practitioner of NLP, Licenced to administer the MTQ family of assessments and founder of Pro Mind Coaching & Training