Finding Balance At Work

Further training courses help teachers to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday working life.

In order to promote the topic of health in everyday school life and the climate at Suhr schools, Denise Widmer has completed further training at the University of Education FHNW.

The university makes a broadly varied offer available – from evening courses over one-day Workshops at the schools up to half-yearly intensive advanced training -, which concerns itself with the loading sides of teaching.

“The training occupation is a social occupation, which requires very much giving from the Akteurinnen and participants , explains course chief Claudia Suter of the teaching university. “And studies have shown that teachers are disproportionately affected by burnout – or leave their profession prematurely.

Personal esteem

So how to prevent? Headmistress Denise Widmer says that in Suhr there are many small things, “mosaic stones” so to speak, that contribute to a successful, nourishing school climate. During her training, Denise Widmer developed a health blog, which resulted in a monthly newsletter for all employees, with “clear, transparent information for all”.

Each newsletter is illustrated with selected cartoons. Two to three times a year, teachers are surprised with a healthy snack in the teachers’ room. Each teacher receives a specially designed card for their birthday, written by the headmistress herself. And once a year, Widmer and her school management team organise a further training course for all levels, which is explicitly not aimed at the use in the classroom, but at the health of the teachers: Workshops with Shiatsu, Pilates, Zumba and more.

“Behind this is a clear attitude, based on mindfulness and respect,” says Denise Widmer. “In this way we signal that one may allow oneself in Suhr to approach things calmly.

Mindfulness: This topic is also taken up in the continuing education courses offered by the University of Education. Important questions, which lecturer Claudia Suter addresses in the courses, are as follows:

How do I gain distance? How do I protect myself from too much? How do I deal with the various demands, and how do I reduce my allowance in between? “Good is better than perfect, is a principle of successful stress management,” says Suter. She hears from many teachers as feedback that the further training “came at exactly the right time”.

Input from outside

One of them is Yvonne Müller, who works in Künten near Bremgarten as a primary school teacher (1st and 2nd grade). In 2016, the 35-year-old had the opportunity to take a six-month sabbatical after eleven years of service. Yvonne Müller stresses how important it is for teachers to distance themselves from everyday school life in order to thoroughly reflect on their own actions.

Eleven years after starting my career, I had gained confidence and routine as a teacher,” says Yvonne Müller. “I had a relatively broad experience in teaching, I was familiar with teaching aids and other materials, I knew how to build a relationship with children or what parental work means. Nevertheless, in all these years she had never really managed to strike a balance between her own and others’ demands.

“After the strenuous start to her career, she soon had to face new challenges – working groups, offices, curriculum 21. And I began to ask myself: What kind of commitment is “normal”? Do I want to pursue this exhausting profession until my retirement?”

Yvonne Müller wanted external input on many topics. She received this input in further education. With new verve she fathomed health aspects of teaching – and many other topics: the books of the Danish pedagogue Jesper Jul; the findings of the famous study by John Hattie, the New Zealand educational researcher.

It was from the latter that she was particularly tired: “Thanks to Hattie, I realized that the most important thing in teaching was not the methodology, but the relationship with the pupils. Yvonne Müller says that her further education was basically personality development. “This ultimately made it clear to me how much I love my profession, that I definitely don’t want to quit. It was definitely worth investing here.

Rediscover teaching

The experience of Toni Eichler, teacher of mathematics and biology at the Endingen district school is very similar. He also says that – after 23 years in the profession – he has “reached his limits” in teaching. How did Toni Eichler use his intensive further education?

“I rediscovered math lessons for myself, so to speak,” says the mid-fifties man with unmistakable enthusiasm. He made contact with a textbook author who presented mathematics as an adventure. “Math as adventure, imagine!

Toni Eichler tells how he enjoyed the time and leisure of further education and absorbed new things, how coincidences led him on unknown paths and how he came up with new teaching ideas. For example, learning videos that he had developed with the help of his son. “The further training echoes”, says Toni Eichler. And after the holidays he is looking forward to the new school year.

Teacher Health: Personal and Corporate Responsibility

Dominique Högger, Head of the Advisory Centre for Health Education and Prevention at the University of Education FHNW

Teachers have many possibilities in their profession. They choose topics, methods, tasks, teaching procedures, songs, readings, etc. within the guidelines and objectives set. Outside the timetable and team tasks, they also autonomously determine their time initiation and priorities.

Those who like this responsibility can develop their full potential here. A high level of identification with one’s own task, enthusiasm for goals far above expectations, a special ambition or even a penchant for perfection are welcome in this profession.

Not only do they help students to experience success and satisfaction in their work, but they are also recognised by school management and parents as well as colleagues. Teachers are more like a self-employed person with their own company than an average employee: With a certain inclination to self-exploitation, one can go far.

This also addresses the other side of the coin: The commitment can become boundless. Many teachers take it for granted that they use the short time between lessons for arrangements or final preparations, answer emails from parents late in the evening or correct essays, perhaps even roll over ideas for the coming day shortly before falling asleep, or even go to work themselves, feeling ill.

Teachers have many possibilities in their profession. They choose topics, methods, tasks, lesson plans, songs, readings, etc., within the guidelines and goals set. Outside the timetable and team tasks, they also autonomously determine their time initiation and priorities.

Effective self-management

The teaching profession is therefore virtually susceptible to self-endangerment: Out of one’s own interest in professional success, one puts one’s own health at risk. Any consideration of physical or mental needs only distracts from one’s own tasks.

Even those who have recognised the problem will not necessarily find a way to change. But nobody is able to run at full speed all the time. In order to be able to perform well, people must be able to switch off and relax in between. Teachers also bear a large part of the responsibility for this.

Teachers therefore also need a feeling for when ambition, challenges and even stress become too great. Effective self-management means: dosing perfectionism and setting oneself apart at certain moments, taking targeted breaks and organising recovery phases, organising one’s own work well and dealing with acute stress situations. These are essential personal skills in order to stay healthy (not only) in the teaching profession.