I have been watching videos featuring two leading psychologists and an occupational health expert in UK. They did a very interesting experiment at Kings Langley School in UK. They wired up 8 teachers to monitor their variable heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure in real time while they were at work. So far so good.
There were some fascinating findings – a teacher’s heart rate shot up to over 100 when she had to telephone a parent (usually this level is reserved for vigorous exercise). One teacher reacted to specific students in the class, almost as she walked towards them. Another teacher who had started the year with low blood pressure was at risk after just one year of teaching of getting high blood pressure. And the head teacher bought all the staff a new laptop when he saw how much stress was caused by having to share computers in the staffroom.
Then there is one great teacher who is completely different because he just doesn’t get stressed – even when he has to teach a PE class in the changing room because the school hall has been double booked. Most people would feel pretty tested by having 30 teenagers doing exercises surrounded by benches, lockers and pegs for hanging clothes on.
There is an excellent analysis of this stress-free teacher, showing that his exceptional motivation, passion and commitment to his students help him to take everything in his stride. It’s clear that his attitude to the job gives him energy and this is what prevents the stress.
If only every teacher were like him, schools would be a different place. But the truth is that they are not. Most schools are full of stress and negative emotions, many of which are brought into school from home – and this is teachers as well as students.
Just imagine putting into a room one teacher whose husband is having an affair + thirty 15 year olds: some of their parents are arguing a lot; some of them are divorced; a few of them have a relative who is very sick or dying; one or two are regularly exposed to violence at home; quite a few are battling with teenage angst; a couple have just split up with boyfriends/girlfriends; at least half the class is feeling inadequate because they are not in the top half when it comes to academic results; a few have already been shouted at by a teacher this morning; some are afraid of break-times because they are being bullied and so on.
This is no exaggeration! I spent 10 years interviewing children and young people for BBC Radio and all these things may be on their minds along with a lot of other stuff we don’t even want to go into, most of which they rarely speak about to anyone. Now imagine walking into that room – feel the energy in there. It’s full of unspoken fears, worry, anger and aggression. Of course there is also lots of fun, laughs and affection between these young people – thank goodness the human spirit is not so easy to break – but this is not the atmosphere any of us would want to learn in if we had any choice.
So what is the conclusion of the psychologists who have studied stress in the classroom?
– That it’s important to make hard measurements because otherwise people don’t take stress seriously. Yes, I’m sure that is true.
– That we can learn from the teacher who doesn’t get stressed that we all need to have that kind of commitment/motivation/passion. Yes, of course we should – but how?
– That we need to find our personal stress triggers so we can learn to react differently. Yes, again very useful advice, but how? Most of the teachers were surprised to discover their stress triggers by looking at their heart and breathing rates, so it is not necessarily something you know intuitively.
But why do they not talk about learning how to relax and recharge your energy? They know that people get stressed because they need more energy – they said so in the film. They must be aware that some relaxation techniques are good for recharging energy – or do they not realise? I’m sure lots of people like me must have contacted them over the years and said “Hey, try this out, it really helps to prevent stress!”
In 12 years of teaching relaxation and energy recharging I have virtually never seen a client who didn’t benefit instantly. And the first result is that stress disappears. If they keep doing it every day under proper guidance (which can be recorded) their stress levels drop so dramatically that they talk in terms of life transformation. I have seen teachers change their attitudes towards their most challenging pupils in just a couple of sessions. I have seen a class of difficult 9 year olds stop fighting at break-times for months on end. I remember interviewing a 5 year old who had taught his little brother to relax after his mother had chased him upstairs screaming at him. And a 7 year old who taught his sister to relax so her stomach ache would go away.
These are simple changes to achieve, not complicated. Maybe they are not high enough level for psychologists, or it’s too difficult to explain academically why such a simple approach is so effective. But it works and people need it. They can’t wait for more academic papers to be written, or for the government to find enough money to pay for all teachers to be wired up and discover their stress triggers.
The most challenging thing about relaxation is making it regular. It is easy to do it, easy to benefit and easy to forget. It’s the same as taking regular exercise. But this is just a question of awareness. We used to forget to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and then we had 5 a day campaigns and more of us remember. We used to drink and drive, but then we learned that we shouldn’t do that and we do it a lot less now.
If we don’t get the message out about the simplest solution to stress of all we are going to waste years of people’s lives, and later government health budgets, being far more stressed than we need to be.
Let’s not look at the consequences right now – I will save that for another blog. But let’s just picture for a moment how life in schools could change. A student relaxes in the morning rather than watching the news, and comes in to school smiling rather than shaking (yes, young people can be profoundly disturbed by the news). The whole class starts the day with a group relaxation session, just 10 minutes, which helps them to forget all their troubles at home and get on the same page with each other so they can work peacefully together for the day. The teacher relaxes before she starts work and the students are surprisingly calm that day – actually no surprise at all. A student relaxes before her exam and her mind is clear so she is able to do her best.
These are small differences but they add up to a total transformation.
So You Want To Learn To Relax is Oceen’s introductory course which teaches all the basics of daily relaxation in 8 x 20 minute audio downloads.