School principals seek solutions to workplace stress

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on stress issues in Tasmanian teachers.  Victorian data has been revealed of stress in the education profession through The Age newspaperr on 6 July 2010.   Apparently stress claims for school principals have cost $A2.4 million since 2005.

One principal said the claims are likely to be under-reported as a stress claim can kill one’s career.

For the purposes of this blog, control measures or causes need to be identified.  The Age article said that principals have asked the Education Department to consider the following issues.  It is reasonable to assume that these have been identified by the principals as contributory factors to workplace stress.

The Principals complained of:

  • increased paperwork
  • increased departmental demands
  • decreased disciplinary options for unruly students.

If these are the main issues, school principals share stressors with retail workers who face unruly and angry customers.  Departmental demands are increasing throughout the public service as corporate governance issues gain prominence and, as for paperwork, join the queue.

All areas of business are demanding more proof of decisions, actions and assessments and paperwork will continue to increase.  It is important that some of the gains in workplace flexibility do not get eaten up in paperwork catchup.  Perhaps some occupations and jobs need to be redesigned to cope with increased demands in compliance and reporting.  Or perhaps, we should just begin to refuse additional paperwork, with a strong justification – health and wellbeing.

Kevin Jones

3 thoughts on “School principals seek solutions to workplace stress”

  1. I wouldn\’t dismiss Rosemary\’s suggestion so lightly Kevin. Clearly there are some fundamental issues concerning workload and discipline, but what\’s not clear is that there are simple solutions. Being in the school environment means being in close contact with that most unpredictable of machines, the human (worse still, the human teenager!) – and to be more flippant, I don\’t think elimination / substitution (except maybe in the private school system), or even engineering controls are a viable alternative!

    To be serious, some of the hazards that contribute to high stress can\’t readily be resolved without creating the right environment for teachers, students and parents to first feel safe, then feel included, and lastly challenged to produce their best. I have the good fortune to see this at work in one of Victoria\’s premier state secondary colleges, and there is no doubt that the physical infrastructure and the psychosocial environment both play a part in achieving this.

  2. My concern is that the stress filters from the principles down to the students and the students are vicariously learning that excess stress is normal.
    The question remain \”what can be done to prevent or reduce the levels of stress?\”

    Return to simpler time.
    For mine that means looking to another system and incorporating into educating system.

    Gardens.
    It was discovered well over 150 years back that patients in insane asylums were much easier to work with, if the patient was able to access the gardens surrounding the asylum.
    It was also discovered that if the patient actually did some work in the garden, the patients responded with astounding results.
    The next discovery was that if the patient helped to grow the vegetables had even more astounding responses.
    The unexpected side issue was the staff who accessed the gardens and worked with the patients either accessing or working in the gardens also had increased levels of tolerance and less physical illness than other staff who did not access the gardens.

    I would hazard a guess that schools who have gardens that the students and staff work in to grow vegetables and fruit and flowers also have a lower stress level simply because the mental and emotional effects of gardens slow down and improve the lives of all who work within them.
    I am unable to cite the study I read where medication for social issues -ADD ADHD- decreased when students were involved in the school gardens, there is also a reduction in truancy and a corresponding increase in the academic measures.

    It would be an interesting study to do to measure the stress levels of staff and students in schools with and without school gardens.

    Life is not static, it is about involving all areas of life and trialing many things to see what works and what was just a good idea at the time.
    Schools are lots of lives pulled together in a melting pot that may just need some freshly grown herbs to soothe the frayed nerves.

    1. I agree that a work environment that includes a garden may be a useful control measure and a program by Stephanie Alexander in Vcitoria is having some success, but I think this is a lower order of contorl where, more fundamental issues suhould be addressed.

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