Creative Solutions for Students AND Teachers

A report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on Teacher Stress and Health: Effects on Teachers, Students, and Schools documents the value of social-emotional learning for students and teachers.  Students show improved behavior and academic achievement. Teachers show increased productivity and well-being. In addition, teachers who use mindfulness practices gain both personal and professional benefits. Scroll down for key findings from the report.

So why not achieve all of the above goals through arts-based social emotional learning?

The arts enable us to express what is within, and voice parts of ourselves that we are otherwise unlikely to reveal. They enable participation by anyone, which helps build a sense of community and otherwise unlikely connections. They are also uniquely capable of increasing positive emotions, and not just reducing negative ones.

Engagement in arts activities can not only build mindfulness but also enable organic social connection and learning of new behavior. Shared creative experiences deepen possibilities for reflection and meaningful dialogue. The arts tap into parts of the brain that are active even during traumatic stress (e.g., visual, sound, movement) to enable communication and connection when other parts (e.g., speech, sequential thinking, decision making) are not. The arts also engage large parts of the brain to literally crowd out stress.

Will any arts program have these benefits? Maybe.

So what should you look for in an arts program to maximize social-emotional benefits and minimize anxiety, self-judgment, or re-triggering of trauma that may be a byproduct of the experience? Here are some examples:

  • Emphasis on process over product or performance.
  • Supportive language by the facilitator that is mindful and nonjudgmental.
  • Activities that facilitate synchrony among participants, either mirroring the same sound or movement, for example, or building on one another’s ideas.
  • Opportunities for reflection and dialogue.
  • Safety tools in place for moments when traumatic stress reactions are triggered, for example.
  • Practices to empower participants to take care of themselves, like not requiring closing of eyes or being forced to share.

If you are looking for arts programs for social-emotional learning or want to build your own skills in developing them, we recommend that you peruse our website for training programs and resources. Also, you may wish to attend our annual experiential conference on “Creativity & the Arts in Healing,” which offers 100+ sessions featuring national experts who will train participants in arts-based tools for facilitating communication, building connection, promoting positive emotions, fostering engagement, reducing stress, and managing the impact of trauma.

the report’s key findings:

Excerpt from the Robert Wood Johnson Report on Teacher Stress and Health: Effects on Teachers, Students and Schools:

Programs Focused on Student Behavior and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Benefit Teachers and Support Classroom Learning. While programs to improve student behavior and student SEL have yielded positive outcomes for students,56 evidence suggests they may also improve teacher functioning. In a randomized control trial (RCT) of 350 K-5 teachers across 27 urban schools, teachers trained to implement a classroom management program with an SEL curriculum reported greater efficacy for managing student behavior and higher levels of personal accomplishment compared to teachers in control schools.57 These findings support other studies showing that teachers trained and supported in implementing SEL programs have lower job-related anxiety and depression,58 higher quality classroom interactions with students,59,60 greater teacher engagement,61 and greater perceived job control.62 Teachers in schools implementing multi-tiered approaches such as school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) also reported lower levels of job-related burnout and higher efficacy.63 Teachers receiving coaching focused on improving the quality of their interactions with students have led to a significant increase in student achievement,64 suggesting that systematic and sustained coaching supports may be a critical component of SEL interventions for teachers.

Teachers Who Participate in Stress Management Programs Report Mental and Physical Health Benefits. Mindfulness and stress management-based professional development programs foster teachers’ ability to focus their awareness in the present moment in a non-reactive manner, connecting to their own experience and to others with ease, patience, and kindness.68,69,70 Skills are taught using sequenced exercises such as body scans, breath awareness, meditative movement, greater emotional awareness, and the cultivation of positive emotions towards self and others. Well-designed studies have shown psychological and physiological benefits as well as improvements in quality of teaching.71,72 The Benefits of Workplace Wellness Programs in Schools $3.60 is the cost savings from every dollar spent on wellness programs Among wellness program participants: 46% reduced body mass index 34.7% lowered systolic blood pressure 65.6% lowered blood glucose 38.6% lowered total cholesterol What Is Mindfulness? Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present moment. Being mindful means observing one’s thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad.65,66 It has been related to reducing teacher burnout, negative affect, sleep-related impairment, and daily physical symptoms.67 In the largest study to date, 224 K-5 teachers from 36 urban public schools were randomly assigned to mindfulness training or control. Those who received mindfulness training showed improved levels of mindfulness and emotion regulation skills and lower levels of personal distress.73 They also showed significant improvements in their observed instruction. Other studies with the same or similar intervention models have shown positive effects on occupational stress and burnout,74,75 and in a study of special needs teachers, mindfulness training led to lower stress and anxiety and greater personal growth, empathy, and forgiveness.76 Although few studies have assessed teachers’ physiological changes, findings suggest mindfulness practices can lead to reductions in physiological stress, including lower levels of cortisol and blood pressure,77,78,79 and positive effects on sleep quality.80,81,82

selected references from the report:

56 Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405–432.

57 Domitrovich, C. E., Bradshaw, C. P., Berg, J. P., Pas, E. T., Becker, K. D., Musci, R Ialongo, N. (2016). How do school-based prevention programs impact teachers? Findings from a randomized trial of an integrated classroom management and social-emotional program. Prevention Science, 17, 325-337.

58 Tyson, O., Roberts, C.M., & Kane, R. (2009). Can implementation of a resilience program for primary school children enhance the mental health of teachers? Australian Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 19, 116–130. issue brief 12 | The Pennsylvania State University © 2017 | September 2016 issue brief

59 Abry, T., Rimm-Kaufman, S.E., Larsen, R.A., & Brewer, A.J. (2013). The influence of fidelity of implementation on teacher–student interaction quality in the context of a randomized controlled trial of the Responsive Classroom approach. Journal of School Psychology, 51, 437–453.

60 Castillo, R., Fernández-Berrocal, P., & Brackett, M.A. (2013). Enhancing teacher effectiveness in Spain: A pilot study of The RULER approach to social and emotional learning. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 1 (2). 61 Ibid

62 Zhai, F., Raver, C.C., & Li-Grining, C. (2011). Classroom-based interventions and teachers’ perceived job stressors and confidence: Evidence from a randomized trial in Head Start settings. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 26, 442– 452.

63 Ross, S.W., Romer, N., & Horner, R.H. (2012). Teacher well-being and the implementation of school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 14, 118–128

64 Allen,J., Pianta, R.C., Gregory, A., Mikami, A.Y., & Lun, J. (2011). An interaction-based approach to enhancing secondary school instruction and student achievement. Science, 333, 1034-1037.

65 Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

66 Roeser, R.W., Skinner, E., Beers, J., & Jennings, P.A. (2012). Mindfulness training and teachers’ professional development: An emerging area of research and practice. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 167-173.

67 Abenavoli, R.M., Jennings, P.A., Greenberg, M.T., Harris, A.R., & Katz, D.A. (2013). The protective effects of mindfulness against burnout among educators. Psychology of Education Review, 37(2), 57-69.

68 Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., Devins, G. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11, 230-241.

69 Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 144-156.

70 Roeser, R.W. (2014). The emergence of mindfulness-based interventions in educational settings. Motivational Interventions: Advances in Motivation and Achievement, 18, 379-419.

71 Ibid