Resilient teachers: Resisting stress and burnout

Year: 2002

Author: Howard, Sue, Johnson, Bruce

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Across Australia, the incidence of teacher stress and burn-out causes serious concern. Many studies of teacher stress have focused on the dysfunctional strategies of individual teachers - in other words they have adopted a deficit approach to the problem with the focus firmly fixed on 'what's going wrong'. From this perspective, failure of some teachers to cope has generally been defined as a personal rather than an institutional weakness and the solutions that have been promoted have been largely palliative or therapeutic.

The study being reported in this paper adopted a different approach to the question of teacher stress and burn-out. Instead of asking 'what's going wrong' we asked why are some teachers able to cope successfully with the same kinds of stressors that appear to defeat others - in other words, we looked at 'what's going right'.

We interviewed 10 primary school teachers in hard-to-staff schools in disadvantaged areas. Using a screening device we had developed, principals identified teachers who were 'at risk of stress and burnout' but were 'persistently and successfully coping with stress' (i.e. 'resilient'). Our findings indicate that these teachers' sources of coping with stress are many, varied and largely (but not exclusively) located outside the individual.