Emotion regulation: why should teachers care about it?

Sept. 6, 2018
Jacynth Bennett

Jacynth Bennett

Associate Dean, Custom Solutions

There’s no doubt that teaching is an emotionally and psychologically demanding profession. It’s one of the things that makes it both extremely rewarding and enormously challenging.

Nevertheless, when we look at teacher wellbeing, teacher training and the support currently available to teachers, the psychological demands of the job aren’t being widely discussed. There is, however, an increasing body of research that aims to understand more about the emotional experience of teachers and the impact this has on their day-to-day life. At a time when teaching seems to be becoming ever more demanding, and teacher wellbeing a growing cause for concern this is particularly pertinent.

Clearly teacher wellbeing is complex. The research has identified key external factors that need to be considered and addressed if we are to begin to tackle the challenges of supporting teacher wellbeing – such as poor behaviour, workload, and leadership decisions. However, while these external factors are increasingly understood, there are some internal factors that are also worthy of exploration. There are learnings from psychology that may help teachers navigate the tricky day-to-day pressures of their jobs, whilst the system is changing to account for bigger-picture challenges.

Just as on our Masters in Expert Teaching we look beyond teacher to understand expertise, our interest in emotion regulation also comes from outside education the education sphere. It’s something psychologists have been exploring as a way to understand negative emotions, i.e. how they manifest themselves; how to manage them and, more recently, how regulating them can increase the impact of positive emotions on our wellbeing.

In education, researchers have used these frameworks to understand what it is that teachers experience and studies have drawn clear links between emotion regulation and burnout. They suggest that the more skilled a teacher is at regulating their emotions, the less likely they are to experience burnout. What’s more, they are also more likely to be satisfied by their work! Given the impact it can have on wellbeing and work satisfaction, researchers recommend teachers be taught about the process of emotion regulation so they might use it as a tool to help them manage their day-to-day work.

Researchers in the field of emotion regulation often conclude their work with a call to share knowledge. It’s widely felt that supporting individuals to understand their emotions, and how humans typically deal with them, can help us to begin to reflect on how we deal with challenges each day, and to interrupt and adapt the emotion regulation cycle to alter our experiences of events.

What’s more, understanding doesn’t only serve as a tool for dealing with negative emotions but can also be employed to maximise the benefit of positive emotions, of which there are many in the life of a teacher!

As part of our work on teacher wellbeing, we’ve sought to understand what research in this field can tell us about our day-to-day experience, and how we can make this knowledge accessible for busy teachers. We’ve worked with teachers to develop practical ways to apply this knowledge, and created a forum to share and develop our understanding of emotion regulation, in the hope that it can provide tools to help teachers pursuit of wellbeing.

It’s important to note that research in this field is relatively new, and psychology is notoriously hard to prove and understand. Nevertheless, we feel there’s real value for teachers in having a theoretical understanding of (and practical strategies based on) elements of psychology which can support wellbeing.

This article originally appeared on the website of the Institute for Teaching. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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