School Stress – Possible Strategies

School

“When fear sneaks behind you, know it is a creation of your thoughts.” (Jewish proverb)

Primary Responsibility: to address practices and structures that may have some benefits, but ultimately contribute negatively to the stress culture and do not have a critical positive impact on student learning.

E.g. Homework. This practice has been over-valued by both teachers and parents for decades. A close look at the research shows no correlation to achievement at the elementary school ages, a slight correlation at the middle school, and a stronger correlation at the high school (likely because homework is graded so heavily). A growing number of schools, partly led by the lower school at the American School in London, have instituted progressive homework policies that allow the practice to achieve a more sensible balance (link to ISG’s Draft Homework Policy).

Possible Strategies

  • Move toward longer class periods (70-90 min), flex periods (teacher-less) , significant breaks between periods (10-25 min), and a long lunch block (45-60 min).
  • Start high school after 9:00am.
  • Place limitations on the annual number of Advanced Placement classes a student can take (e.g. 3), the number of formal leadership positions one can hold (e.g. 1), or the extra-curriculars one can simultaneously participate in (e.g. 2).
  • Don’t publish individual achievement results (e.g. Honor Roll) publicly. (link to Needham article)
  • Rewrite the school’s Academic Integrity Policy. Consider adopting an Honor Code. (link to my paper)
  • Emphasize the school’s Core Values. Make them visible and relevant to the school experience through constant attention to and discussion of real cases.
  • Promote a culture of teacher flexibility, particularly around helping students manage their school assessment schedules.
  • Address teacher stress through professional development or wellness activities. (Teachers are not immune to school stress, though it is different in nature to that of students’ stress.) (link to sample PD experience)
  • Communicate regularly on the work of the Task Force and on stress topics through a blog or newsletter, and social media.

Students

“When it comes to my happiness, I’m self-employed.” (overheard)

Primary Responsibility: to develop agency in both navigating in and coping with the school stress culture, but also in personalizing the school experience as one’s own, so as to achieve personal goals, and be in a position to thrive at a best-fit university and ultimately in the workplace.

Possible Strategies

  • Focus on the locus of control Students cannot see themselves as victims of school stress, and most certainly, cannot be allowed to develop a learned helplessness toward stress. Specific activities can identify what is under a student’s control (e.g. coping strategies; e.g. scheduling choices), and what is not (e.g. where a friend is applying to college). (link to lessons)
  • Measure sleep debt. Establish healthy routines to promote adequate sleep.(link to sleep lessons)
  • Offer programs and experiences that help students develop a toolkit of healthy coping strategies. E.g. Yoga in PE; e.g. Mindfulness in Health Class (link to NY Times article on Needham High School’s Yoga)
  • Empower students to speak constructively with their parents about grades and college expectations.

Parents

“Prepare the student for the path, not the path for the student.” (Psychologist Dr. Robert Evans; link to Family Matters book)

Primary Responsibility: to provide developmentally-appropriate support to their children, so each child can build resiliency, empathy, a strong connection to school, and ultimately, achieve health, happiness, and school success.

Possible Strategies

  • Hold parent assemblies to educate adults on various stress topics, and the parent’s developmentally-appropriate role in support of their children. (link to parent role-play activity)
  • Communicate to parents through blogs or newsletters, and social media (link to sample missives)
  • Promote book study groups, led by parents.
  • Bring in experts to speak on student stress, positive psychology, and parenting.