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Teacher wellbeing: how to mentally prepare for a new school year

The stress of school life might seem like a distant memory but with a new term approaching psychologist Gail Kinman offers her advice on how to prepare for the melee


                                                                                                                                        You maybe feeling zen now but for many teachers the start of term is like an onslaught. To help you get ready for a new school year, psychologist Gail Kinman offers advice on how to prepare and how to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Your employer has a legal and moral duty of care so, if you feel stressed, remember to talk about it with your line manager.

If you have had a relaxing summer, going back to work may be stressful – but there are ways to readjust. Photograph: Aurora Photos/Alamy

You may be feeling zen now but for many teachers the start of term is like an onslaught. To help you get ready for a new school year, psychologist Gail Kinman offers advice on how to prepare and how to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Your employer has a legal and moral duty of care so, if you feel stressed, remember to talk about it with your line manager.

A couple of weeks before a new term

  • Ask yourself how you feel
    Some people dread going back, while others are excited. The majority of teachers will feel a mixture of emotions. Asking yourself how you feel about the job will help you decide whether you need to take action and, if so, what that action should be. If you feel dread, what stresses you out and what can you do about it? If there are steps you can take to change things: great. But if something is beyond your control, work on managing your reaction to it. It can be difficult to think rationally about how we feel during a stressful term. The holidays are an ideal time to reflect.
  • Reflect on the way you work
    For example, if you usually do lesson preparation or marking late into the night and miss out on social life or sleep, think about whether there are other ways of managing your workload. Perhaps take the opportunity to talk to your manager about it.
  • Listen to your body
  • Recover before term starts by spending time listening to your body and what it needs. Go and see friends and family, exercise, eat your favourite foods or read – whatever activities work for you.
  • Try mindfulness techniques
    A great way to relax and prepare for a new term is through mindfulness techniques. Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace, has some great tips on getting started in his Ted talk.
  • Build up your emotional resilience
  • Resilience is essential for people working in “helping” professions, such as teaching. The job is undoubtedly rewarding but it can be stressful too. One of the best ways to build resilience and avoid stress is to get support from other people. This can be done by spending time with friends but it should mean more than just chatting on Facebook – go and see people.
  • Get your work-life balance right
    Start thinking now about ways that you can divide your work life and home life because teachers commonly work a lot at home. Make sure that you allow yourself time to relax after work as this is essential to maintain long-term physical and psychological health. There is evidence that if teachers go straight to bed after working at night they don’t sleep as well, which impacts on their health and job performance. Teaching is a passion but you need some time away from it to recover.
  • Do a bit of work (yes, really)
  • Some people find that doing some preparation before starting work in the autumn term pays off. It can help you feel in control rather than being thrown in at the deep end. If you spend a few days at the beginning or the end of the break working then you are less likely to panic when you go back.
  • Rehearse saying no
    Think about the things that may derail you at the start of term. Rehearsing what you would do in challenging situations can be helpful. If you go over how a situation could pan out in your mind then you are more likely to feel in control if it arises. For example, if you often get a lot of extra work thrown your way, rehearse saying no to colleagues. Then, when they actually ask you, you may be able to say it.
  • Get to know yourself and how you feel
    If you are not sure about how you feel about your job then write down some specific “emotion words” that come to mind when you think about work. If they are stress-related, then how can you make things better? Feeling very negative about returning to work after the summer rather than rejuvenated may indicate that you need a job change.  If you are showing signs of depression or anxiety (or other mental health symptoms) you should consult a professional. Coaching from colleagues can also be useful in finding out how you feel and what options you have.
  • Vow to build a division between home and work
  • Create a corridor between your work and your personal life to help you separate the two domains. Worrying about work can spill over and this has a negative impact on your wellbeing. Take the dog for a walk, listen to a radio programme (not related to teaching) or cook; do anything that will help you go from being a teacher to being off duty.
  • Worry at set times in the day
    There is something called “designated worry time” which I love. If a worry comes into your head, write it down and set aside some time each day to think about it. For example, 10 minutes at 7pm each evening. By the time you get around to thinking about your worries, they have often been resolved.
  • Find a colleague you can talk to
    Spend an hour a week with someone you can talk through work-related issues with. Ideally this colleague should be of equal status to avoid an imbalance of power. You want the person you meet with to be able to understand the problems you face so it is better if they do similar work. Get together with them regularly to talk, focusing on solutions to problems rather than just dwelling on the problems themselves. You can easily get trapped in a paralysis when you think things are awful and there is nothing you can do. It is important to spend the time being constructive rather than having a mutual whinging session about how bad things are. While this can help you feel better initially, it does not solve the problems.
  • Set yourself small and achievable goals
  • We all make plans for big changes we hope to make in the new term. But if they are too difficult you will not be able to do them and if they are too easy you will not find them challenging enough.
  • One way to manage this is by assessing the likelihood of meeting the goals you set on a scale of one to five (with one meaning you will definitely achieve it and five meaning you will not). To have a good chance of success, you should estimate your goal as a three. It is often best to make changes in small steps because meeting small goals can often engender feelings of efficiency that can help you tackle larger feats.
  • Reward yourself
    Managing stress effectively will improve your physical and psychological health and make you happier. This will be a reward in itself. Nonetheless, more tangible rewards can also be a help. Promise yourself treats – however small – when you meet your goals.

Gail Kinman is professor of occupational health psychology at the University of Bedfordshire

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Canadian Mental Health Association 


Did you know that EIPS offers a Employee Assistance Program that provides confidential counselling for employees and immediate family members to help with a variety of personal concerns including family and relationship issues, stress, grief, depression, anxiety, alcohol/drugs, workplace issues, and management consultation  

Mental & Emotional Health Resources

A variety of mental and emotional health resources are available from the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan (ASEBP), Manulife, and Alberta Health Services.

  • ASEBP, one of our health and benefits providers, prepares regular health content they post in the "For Your Health" section of their website. They also provide tip sheets about mental health and managing stress, as well as resources about nutrition, physical activity, and general health on the Health Clinic Resources page.


  • Take the Manulife Health Risk Assessment to receive a personalized summary report on how you measure up when it comes to 12 important health risk factors. It only takes about 20 minutes (login may be required).    


  • The Mental Health for Life resources from Manulife provide opportunies to explore information and guide you through treating and living better with issues related to mental health (login may be required).


  • Alberta Health Services offers a five-week Success over Stress series of engaging and interactive activities related to stress management.


  • My Health Alberta, an initiative of the provincial government, also offers a number of tips on Stress Management and other mental and emotional health related topics.