Reducing Stress in Your Primary SchoolNovember 20, 2017
Many of us may remember our days at primary school as fun, nourishing, and care-free.
However, in recent years, more and more primary school pupils have exhibited signs of stress, particularly when undertaking standardised achievement tests (SATs).
Panic attacks and sleepless nights are known to affect in those preparing to undertake SAT’s, with a recent study revealing eight out of 10 primary schools reporting such symptoms. In one extreme case, a student lost their eyelashes through stress, while others were found crying during the tests themselves.
Teachers are placed under significant pressure to help pupils receive the best results possible, while parents feel concerned about the effect poor results can have on their children’s futures. Pupils appear to be picking up on this, attributing overwhelming levels of importance to exams and feeling pressured to make their parents as proud as they can.
Managing pupils’ and teachers’ stress is obviously incredibly important in your primary school. Stress is deeply unpleasant (and potentially dangerous) in adults of any age, but for children in particular, it can be a monumental struggle.
What steps and techniques can you try to make your school a calmer, less-stressed environment?
Be Open and Honest
All staff in primary schools are busy, and finding the time to speak to pupils on topics not directly linked to their education can be difficult, but be sure your teaching staff are willing to talk to pupils exhibiting signs of stress.
Identifying symptoms may not be easy, but being open and honest with the children in your classrooms can prevent troubling thoughts or feelings becoming internalised. Though children may not want to talk about their fears or worries, encourage them to address their stress with you, and possibly with the rest of their class.
It may help to tackle stress early, as the run up to exams begins. Talk to the children together (either as whole classes or the entire school) and explain what stress and anxiety is. Let them know it’s nothing to be frightened of too.
You may want to try relaxation rituals with your pupils, perhaps in assemblies or at set times throughout the day: breathing techniques, mindfulness strategies, and positive visualisation can all make a difference.
You should share a schedule of such relaxation techniques on your school website and mobile apps, so parents see how you are trying to help. They may also want to try the techniques at home, too, or make their own suggestions.
Collaborate with Parents
Following on from the above, parents and teachers have to work together to reduce the stress their children experience before, and during, exams.
Both the home and the classroom should feel like safe, warm, nurturing environments in which children are encouraged to be honest. Your primary school can use a bespoke mobile app or school website to engage with parents (even those who speak English as a second language), communicating about any changes in their child’s attitude and behaviour.
Newsletters and emails should be sent out to parents ahead of the tests, giving them details on how to manage their stress in the home and what to do if symptoms present themselves.
Even when there are no exams or tests due, parents and teachers should always have open lines of communication. If there are any problems at school, this can feed into their home life – and vice versa.
Keep the Tests in Perspective
One effective way to help pupils manage stress is to hear adults they see as successful (parents and teachers alike) discuss their own difficulties at school.
This is especially helpful before exams: the majority of us feel anxious when taking an important test, and if your children can see that other people in positions of power know exactly what they are going through, they may feel less overwhelmed.
Being able to hear teachers and adults discuss their own school days and troubles shows that these problems, which can feel all-consuming as children, will be overcome.
It’s also vital to make your pupils see that the results of their primary school tests don’t dictate their entire lives. Some parents and teachers may not realise (or have forgotten) how daunting exams can be to children today, especially when they never felt nervous and breezed through every test themselves, but it’s key to avoid making exams seem bigger than they are.
Help them to see that they can only do their best, and that their teachers and parents will be proud of them whatever their result.
Encourage Staff to Combat their Own Stress
Stress is a major concern for teachers and schools every day, but particularly so around exams.
Teachers are expected to help children achieve the best results possible, not just for their own success but to help schools compete in national league tables. Poor results can be seen not only as a reflection on a specific teacher’s skills and abilities, but on the school’s entire ethos too.
However, the more stressed teachers become, the more their pupils are likely to pick up on it – and the importance placed upon the exams this way may feed the children’s own stress. Encourage your teachers to practice some of the relaxation techniques along with the children, such as deep breathing and positive visualisation.
On top of this, you can arrange various group activities for your teachers in the run up to exams, to help them all share their experiences and worries. Perhaps choose something as simple as a night at a bowling alley, laser tag, or a meal; not only will this take their mind off work for a while, but reduce stress through open conversation.
Teachers can also try communicating with parents via your school website or mobile app, and inform them of any areas pupils should focus on to achieve the best results. By notifying parents of their child’s progress and identifying useful preparation techniques, some of the pressure on teachers can be alleviated, and show parents how committed your school is.
Try to integrate the techniques and strategies explored above into your primary school’s everyday processes. Stress-reduction is especially helpful at exam time, but mindfulness, open discussion, and collaboration between teachers and parents can make a big difference all the year round.