Can Mindful meditation help alleviate stress (and associated problems) within the teaching profession?


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Consider this

I am currently a Teacher of Science, working in a …………………Secondary School. My role has enabled me to work alongside professional educators for a decade here in the UK, Asia and South America. These experiences allowed me to witness a of host working practices set in distinctive cultural settings. It was these personal experiences that made me aware of the stress and anxiety being suffered by teachers. I found it to be a state that affected the vast majority of my colleagues at some point in their careers.

Further reading around the topic led me to discover stress amongst teachers to be even more common than I had previously envisaged. The Teacher Support Network (2007) reported “71 per cent of Scottish teachers felt their job was ruining their health, with stress, exhaustion, mood swings and poor sleep patterns common”.

Personal observations also led me to conclude: the same external pressures would affect individuals very differently; some would ‘feel’ more stressed than others under the same

/ similar conditions. Informal reading around the topic heightened my curiosity as to why this may be. As someone with a Natural Science background I was fascinated how a group of trained individuals, who qualified with the same teaching standards, had almost identical working condition would report vastly differing levels of stress and anxiety. Some would brush it off and others would take a ‘stress induced’ leave of absence.

The study will revolve around the value of mindfulness which looks to “promote professional wellbeing and the ability to develop competently through a process of internally directed learning” (Korthagen, 2009: 2). The research will also aim to offer an insight into the contribution of mindfulness practice into advancing knowledge and understanding of teachers’ responses to stress and the development of wellbeing.

The investigation offered me the opportunity to deepen my understanding of the ways that teachers who utilized mindfulness-based approaches could further their practice and what key impacts were recognized during their journeys.

While most studies of mindfulness in the health arena focus on ‘fixing’ the subject or treating symptoms of increased anxiety and or depression, this research looks to assess the effects on the wellbeing of those undergoing low level stress where the participant has not previously sought the help of a health professional. Although there is limited research on mindfulness being applied to teachers (Churches and Gibbs 2011), this study will aim help support the growing body of studies that are taking place around mindfulness meditation.

My vision is that the information and understandings that result from the investigation will help inform our current specific need to create ways of ensuring teachers are effective, motivated and have the internal stability to cope with the specific stressors they face day-to-day.

Although stress in teaching is not a new phenomenon (Borg and Riding, 1991, Galloway et al, 1997) recent statistics have shown a greater number of new teachers leaving the profession, (NFER: Analysis of Teachers Joining and Leaving the Profession, 2015) and many attribute this pattern to the increased workload and subsequent stress of the job. (Chaplain, 2008)

A Teacher’s workload has been steadily increasing over the past twenty years (Tight, 2009). This, it has been claimed, has led to a myriad of unforeseen consequences, with increased levels of stress being cited as the largest negative effect (Dunham and Varma, 1998).

Traditionally, stress and depression have been stigmatic topics in British society (Haddad 2013). However, in the past twenty years there has been more open public discussion on these issues, particularly in light of increased suicide rates. (Suicide: facts and figures, Samaritans, 2016)

Numerous studies have highlighted Secondary teachers are widely subjected to stress in their daily work (Kyriacou and Sutcliffe, 1978; Troman, 2000; Wiley, 2000). The analysis has also been picked up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2004) who have lobbied for greater debate and understanding into the effects of these changes.

Some of the most common effects of excessive workload are stress and burnout, leading to ill health, low job satisfaction and diminished ability to engage with pupils (Kyriacou, 2000; Roeser et al., 2013; Csaszar and Buchanan, 2015).

More recently these concerns have been echoed by Cottrell, (2013) who reported “a growing concern about teacher wellbeing and the need to incorporate personal and professional strategies in order to maintain resilience”.

Mindfulness meditation has been in use for over 2500 years in the Indian subcontinent. (Smith, 1994) but only recently has Mindfulness has enjoyed a surge in popularity, both in the popular press and in the psychotherapy literature (Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). Owing largely to the success of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs and the central role of mindfulness in behavior therapy, mindfulness has moved from a largely obscure Buddhist concept to a mainstream psychotherapy construct.

Mindfulness training has been identified as a promising means for cultivating attention and reducing stress (Carmody et al., 2009). Among its theorized benefits are “self-control” (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2007), “objectivity” (Leary & Tate, 2007), “affect tolerance” (Fulton, 2005), “enhanced flexibility” (Adele & Feldman, 2004), “equanimity” (Morgan & Morgan, 2005), “improved concentration and mental clarity” (Young, 1997), “emotional intelligence (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006), “and the ability to relate to others and one’s self with kindness, acceptance, and compassion” (Fulton, 2005; Wallace, 2001). Higgins (2010) Described teaching as an occupation “that has great potential for human flourishing and self-fulness”. Bearing this in mind, many, including Meiklejohn et al, (2012) have drawn on the connections between mindfulness and a ‘teacher mindset’.

The few studies that do exist tend to focus on the more time consuming MBSR programme. MBSR is the brainchild of Jon Kabat-Zinn who’s work centered on applying mindfulness to “patients suffering beyond the reach of conventional medicine”. The MBSR program is taught over an eight-week period and combines “sitting and walking meditation, guided body awareness, and light yoga”. The results were promising with increased quality of life for about three-fourths of the people who engage in it”.

The research is fitting considering the ongoing changes in schools and curricula alongside teachers increased workloads and reduced resources driven by the need to be ‘cost-effective’ (Nunan, 2013). However, this study will be focusing purely on the meditation part of the programme. This approach has been adopted to suit an overworked, time-short professional; it requires less time commitment and is relatively easy to follow.

Studies are difficult to come by but the few that have been published have shown promising results. In a study conducted in Germany, randomly assigned counselor trainees who practiced meditation for nine weeks “reported higher self-awareness compared to nonmeditating counselor trainees” (Grepmair et al., 2007). Even more significantly, Grepmair reported clients of trainees who meditated displayed greater reductions in overall symptoms, faster rates of change, scored higher on measures of well-being, and perceived their treatment to be more effective than clients of non-meditating trainees. This highlights the ability of meditation not only affects those who participate directly, but also the benefits to those who come into contact with the practicing meditators. This suggest that pupils may also be able to indirectly benefit from the teacher’s meditation.

This paper will describe research designed to answer the following questions about stress and mindfulness intervention in a group of secondary school teachers.

  • What are the long / short term effects of stress on Teachers?

  • What are the long and short term effects on pupils?

  • What are the causes of stress amongst teachers?

  • What mechanisms are in place? How effective are these methods?

  • What is mindfulness?

  • What does previous research on mindfulness show?

  • Potential moving forward

Literature review

What are the long and short term effects on pupils?

What are the causes of stress amongst teachers?

What mechanisms are in place? How effective are these methods?

What is mindfulness?

What does previous research on mindfulness show?

Potential moving forward


Adele, M. H., & Feldman, G. (2004). Clarifying the construct of mindfulness in the context of emotion regulation and the process of change in therapy. Clinical Psychology, 11, 255–262. doi:10.1093/clipsy.bph080

Borg, M.G. and Riding, R.J. (1991) Occupational stress and satisfaction in teaching. British Educational Research Journal, 17(3) 263-281.

Carmody, J. (2009). Evolving conceptions of mindfulness in clinical settings. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 23, 270 –280. doi:10.1891/0889 – 8391.23.3.270

Csaszar, I. and Buchanan, T. (2015) Meditation and teacher stress. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 43(1) 4-7.

Cottrell, S. (2013) Executive Director’s Report. In: The Future is Now, Dublin, January 27th 2013. Dublin: IPPN, 1-5.

Churches and Gibbs Mindfulness A small-scale study of the effects of teacher work-related stress on the structure of consciousness, and the use of mindfulness in its management. Available at:

Fulton, P. R. (2005). Mindfulness as clinical training. In C. K. Germer, R. D. Siegel, & P. R. Fulton (Eds.), Mindfulness and psychotherapy (pp. 55–72). New York: Guilford Press.

Grepmair, L., Mietterlehner, F., Loew, T., Bachler, E., Rother, W., & Nickel, N. (2007). Promoting mindfulness in psychotherapists in training influences the treatment results of their patients: A randomized, double-blind, controlled study. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 76, 332–338. doi:10.1159/000107560

Korthagen, F. and Vasalos, A. (2009) From reflection to presence and mindfulness: 30 years of developments concerning the concept of reflection in teacher education. In: EARLI Conference, August

Kyriacou, C. (2000) Stress-Busting for Teachers. London: Stanley Thornes. Kyriacou, C. (2001) Teacher stress: Directions for future research. Educational Review, 53(1) 27-35.

Leary, M. R., & Tate, E. B. (2007). The multi-faceted nature of mindfulness. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 251–255.

Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2007). Relating mindfulness and self-regulatory processes. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 255–258.

Morgan, W. D., & Morgan, S. T. (2005). Cultivating attention and empathy. In C. K. Germer, R. D. Siegel, & P. R. Fulton (Eds.), Mindfulness and psychotherapy (pp. 73–90). New York: Guilford Press

Nunan, S. (September 2013) Keeping in Touch, General Secretary’s Report. In Touch INTO (137).

Roeser, R.W., Skinner, E., Beers, J. and Jennings, P.A. (2012) Mindfulness Training and Teachers’ Professional Development: An Emerging Area of Research And Practice. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2) 167-173.

Tight, 2009, Are Academic Workloads Increasing? The Post-War Survey Evidence in the UK. First published: 18 August 2009. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2273.2009.00433.x

Young, S. (1997). The science of enlightenment. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

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