Stressed teachers are dancing and stretching their worries away
Teachers experiencing high levels of stress in schools - mainly on the Cape Flats - are dancing, doing the downward dog and employing breathing techniques to cope.
NGO Wellbeing in School and Education (Wise) has piloted the project at a number of schools after international stress tests it employed revealed that teachers were burnt out and stressed, especially at schools in disadvantaged communities.
The project has been rolled out in primary schools but will eventually be extended to high schoolteachers. It’s designed around positive psychology-based techniques that teach self-care and mindfulness.
The tools used include mindful breathing, yoga, and Biodanza dance.
“There’s a desperate need for morale upliftment and motivation in these schools, not only at this time of year but all year round.
“Over and above the jam-packed curriculum, a big challenge for these teachers is keeping spirits up when faced with the harsh realities of community problems,” said Carol Surya, psychologist and Wise co-founder.
According to Surya, studies have proven that regularly practising mindfulness changes the structure of our brain and plays an important role in reducing stress and anxiety.
The wellbeing programme has been active in schools across the Cape Flats since 2017, offering mindfulness tools to schoolchildren, including yoga, dance and self-esteem games.
While working in these schools, the organisation noticed the high levels of stress teachers experienced and the impact it had in the classroom.
The project kicked off earlier this year with “dance assembly” - a form of free-movement which uses dance and music to promote self-awareness, restore health and vitality - at Sentinel Primary in Hangberg, Cape Town.
“We continue to see a need for teacher wellbeing.
“People don’t realise how overwhelmed they are and how this can play out negatively in the classroom with aggressive outbursts.
“Sadly, many of the children they teach come from extremely vulnerable backgrounds, and don’t even have parents.
“Teachers are having to play the role of both educator and caregiver, which takes a massive toll,” said Surya.
Teachers from Christian Davids Moravian Primary School in Coniston Park, Cape Town, who recently participated in the programme reported feeling calmer and more positive.
Over and above the jam-packed curriculum, a big challenge for these teachers is keeping spirits up when faced with the harsh realities of community problemsWise co-founder Carol Surya
Principal Tina Steyn approached Wise when she realised how demoralised teachers were and were in dire need of a motivational boost.
“The fourth term is a very strenuous time for both learner and educator. It’s hard for a teacher to keep positive when they work in these kinds of harsh situations day in and out.
“Our pupils are very poor and come from broken homes with gang violence being a major concern. I believe a happy teacher equals a happy school.”
Steyn said after the workshop, staff realised the value of self-care and had a renewed understanding of how their actions and attitude had a direct influence on the pupils' behaviour in the classroom.
“I learnt how to de-stress and felt so much calmer and positive after the session. It re-awoke my passion for teaching,” said one teacher.
Another said: “In spite of the given situation, we can still bring out the best in a pupil.”
Surya said Wise was working on expanding its teacher training workshops so that they could reach more educators across SA.
Tips to keep calm during stressful events:
• Deep breathing - For anyone who is under stress, slow, deep (filling up the belly first) breathing instantly reduces stress symptoms, by bringing more oxygen into the body.
• Chill time - Make sure to set aside even five- to 10-minute breaks during studying and/or teaching and marking to rest and replenish. In this chill time do not check your phone or think about the next task.
• Drink water - All forms of stress easily dehydrate us. Make sure to keep hydrated by drinking water as you study/teach (usually 8 glasses per day is recommended).
• Get moving - Even a few minutes of stretches, a vigorous walk or dancing to your favourite song can make a big difference to relieve your stress.
• Get positive - Make a point of thinking and repeating positive statements to yourself about your stressful situation. “I can do this” and “I’m coping well” have a great mental effect compared with the usual negative, stressful, thoughts which overwhelm our minds even more.
• Plan ahead - When you stick to a schedule for studying and/or getting through the workload, your mindset is automatically more at ease and better equipped to manage the stress you are facing.