By Amanda Sterk, Counselor, American Nicaraguan School
As educators, we are continually focused on the needs of our students, parents, administrators, and our own family’s on a daily basis. At the end of the day, we are exhausted, stressed, overworked, and feeling, at times, under appreciated by the ones we serve. Add the pressure of living in an international setting where there are constant threats of natural disasters, political unrest, robberies, and constant acculturation to our host country, and you quickly notice a staff that is under tremendous stress. In addition, our transient nature leaves many with a sense of loss, betrayal, and instability as dear friends and colleagues embark on other journeys away from our schools. As leaders, it can be easy to dismiss the mental health issues of our staff, as the need to focus on managerial duties, standardized testing, personnel issues, and other energy drainers take center stage.
Teachers are the true leaders of the school as they have the most direct, one-on-one contact with our most important stakeholders, the students. Not only does a teacher have to instruct the students, but they have to continually inspire them. As leaders and colleagues, a greater amount of resources, time, and energy needs to be spent on addressing these teacher stressors since they can distract the learning process for our students. One way to help is by building emotional intelligence in our staff. Emotional intelligence is the emotional awareness to be able to identify one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and apply them to thinking and problem solving, and to manage emotions by regulating them appropriately (Psychology Today, 2014). Daniel Goleman, a prominent researcher in the area, once claimed that emotional intelligence “can be powerful, and at times more powerful than I.Q.” Several research studies have shown that higher levels of emotional intelligence in educators are positively connected to student achievement in the classroom because of better recognition of student needs, more caring classroom environment, and better classroom management. As well, higher emotional intelligence decreases burnout, and increases workplace performance, physical and mental health, and leadership skills (Ramana, 2013).
As leaders there are several ways, we can increase emotional intelligence in our staff in order to enrich our school community. First of all, we need to offer several different types of personal and professional support systems to our teachers. How we interact with our teachers on a daily basis has large impacts on teacher’s emotional intelligence factors. Teachers who feel supported from their administrators have been shown to have a decreased negative impact with school issues on their mental health, as well as increased abilities to cope with high-pressured demands. We also need to continually work together with teachers and take more care concerning their personal well-being, rather than monitoring or criticizing them. Being aware and discussing the reasons teachers are under stress and why they are not working successfully can positively engage teachers in finding balance in their lives. Similarly, as leaders, we can help teachers by providing them more information on school issues, giving teachers various resources to problem solve issues that arise, and to reassure the teachers they can handle their problems by themselves with the appropriate support. Teachers also need reassurance that their emotions and thoughts are being heard when problems arise. Proper channels to raise concerns in a safe, caring environment are a priority in creating mentally healthy teachers. Lastly, focusing on creating team environments for teachers has been shown to increase general satisfaction in their work, work group helpfulness and effectiveness, professional commitment, internal work motivation, and teacher efficacy (Ramana, 2013).
Though Latin American schools are “destination” schools that lure prospective teachers by our white sandy beaches, tropical rainforest, and promise of adventure, we still have unique problems that can, overtime, have a detrimental effect on our teachers. If you, as a leader/ administrator, are looking at your staff with another year of high turnover, it is time to take stock on the mental health needs of your teachers. Begin to listen and assess your staff’s needs while developing a plan to address ways to increase their emotional intelligence through communication, support, and a team environment.
Psychology Today (2014). What is emotional intelligence? Psychology Today. Retrieved May 3, 2014, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/emotional-intelligence
Ramana, T.V. (2013). Emotional intelligence and teacher effectiveness- An analysis. Voice of Research, 2 (2) , 18-22.