Promoting Emotional Well-Being in Challenging Teaching Situations

Area(s) of Focus: well being
Level(s): Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5, Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8, Grade 9, Grade 10, Grade 11, Grade 12

Understanding the role of unmanaged stressors on health and workplace performance for teachers. Finding ways to maintain emotional equilibrium from the fields of neuroscience and positive psychology.

It is generally believed that teacher well-being can have a profound influence on student well-being and success. Accordingly, teachers are expected to be examples of self-regulation in the classroom, even in adverse conditions. Occasional teachers face unique challenges in their work, often creating heightened levels of stress over their permanent teacher colleagues.  

Our inquiry required a multi-dimensional view of emotional distress as a product of stress in the workplace. This included distinguishing specific elements of occasional work and their connection to well-being, the effect of stress on physical health and workplace performance, as well as positive interventions supported by scientific evidence. 

As a foundation and to underline the importance of this topic, we felt it was important to first understand the consequences of prolonged or chronic emotional distress to well-being. Secondly, we reflected on the complex task of identifying antecedents to negative emotional responses in the classroom, especially during challenging student-teacher interactions. This included common biases and beliefs which lead to dissatisfaction and demoralization. Lastly, we explored multiple positive interventions to prevent emotional distress and build resilience in order to rebound efficiently from stressors in the OT workplace.

Through literature reviews, anecdotal feedback from colleagues and attending conferences, we gained greater insight into the process and effect of emotional disregulation and created a toolbox of strategies to promote well-being among OTs.

Team Members

  • Asha Mohindra

    Durham District School Board

  • Staff

    Durham District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  • Understood the effect of distress on health and workplace performance from the viewpoint of physiology and neuroscience
  • Verified how strategies from positive psychology are supported by scientific evidence
  • Became more familiar with positive interventions such as purpose, optimism, gratitude, perseverance, mindfulness, growth mindset, self-compassion, etc. to be able to teach concepts to students
  • Contributed to a more positive and inclusive school climate for students and teachers
  • Supported OT colleagues in emotionally challenging teaching situations

Activities and Resources

  • Attended MEHRIT Centre seminar on self-regulation 
  • Attended OTF conference on well-being in schools
  • Attended DDSB-hosted presentations on self-regulation led by Stuart Shanker as well as administrative staff
  • Attended Canadian scientific meeting on well-being and Canadian positive psychology conference (co-hosted by OISE)
  • Review of literature and videos including scholarly articles and books by researchers and practitioners in fields relevant to occupational health
  • Informal discussion with OTs, local union leaders, staff development team members and well-being/mental health staff from DDSB and other boards/universities/locals
  • Personal reflection and observations

Unexpected Challenges

  • Difficulties scheduling meetings due to being in different schools with different timetables
  • Team member required a leave of absence during project 
  • Studies/statistics on occasional teacher well-being is limited
  • Amount of available research/resources on positive psychology was larger than anticipated
  • Many teachers displayed difficulty in detaching from teaching role and focusing on self-care 
  • For many concepts, there were multiple definitions, which required us to carefully define terms before using them

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

Successful application of the findings of this project has the potential to effect student learning and development on many levels. Regulated, emotionally intelligent teachers can:

  • serve as a role model for students 
  • be more alert to dangers and make better decisions when cognitive functions are optimized in the brain
  • experience less chance of burnout or absence from physical or mental illness, providing more stability and consistency for students
  • become familiar with a skillset they can teach to students/integrate into the curriculum


  • Workshop to OTs hosted by elementary OT local on “Reducing Stress in Challenging Teaching Situations”
  • Follow up interactive support session to workshop
  • Discussion with other local/admin staff about implications for additional support for OTs

Project Evaluation

Overall, professional goals were met or exceeded and a number of reflections were personally noted as well as shared.

In order to assess participant feedback from the workshop, on exiting, attendees were asked to complete a rating scale as well as provide comments pertaining to perceived usefulness. More than 80 per cent of participants were highly positive in their evaluations. Requests were made by participants for additional resources, a written article and further group support.  

The workshop may have been more effective spread over a longer period of time (i.e., half- to full-day or multi-session instead of two hours). It would have also been preferable to present in the summer when teachers had more time and energy assimilate concepts into repertoire and focus more on their own well-being away from the immediate needs of students.

The amount of time required and complexity of concepts involved was greater than expected. Research in the area of positive psychology and neuroscience has increased exponentially over the last two decades. The findings of this project provided a realistic overview of relevant findings; however, time permitting, further benefit could be derived from more exploration of the component parts of this inquiry. 

Continued research could include the influence of cultural orientations as a factor in emotional regulation. Also, some implications for policy change and OT support emerged as well as the need to distinguish between psychological and real safety concerns in schools.

Resources Used

Powell, W. and Kusuma-Powell, O. (2010). Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Teacher. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Kuypers, L.M. (2011). The Zones of Regulation: A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control. Tennessee: Mighty Color Printing.

Marzano, R.J. and Marzano, J.S. (2015). Managing the Inner World of Teaching: Emotions, Interpretations, and ActionsBloomington: Marzano Research.

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Rechtschaffen, D. (2014). The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students. New York: W.W. Nortan & Company Ltd.

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Fosha, D., Siegel, D.J. and Solomon, M.F. (2009). The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience Development & Clinical Practice (pp. 27-54). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

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Shanker, S. (2013). Calm, Alert, and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation. Toronto: Pearson Canada Inc.

Shanker, S. and Barker, T. (2017). Self-Reg: How to help your child (and you) break the stress cycle and successfully engage with life. Toronto: Penguin Canada.

Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Achor, S. (2013). Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Hopkins, S. and Shepherd, E. (2017). Masking Stress with Misbehavior. The MEHRIT Centre: Self-Reg Seminar. Peterborough: Self Regulation Institute.

Hopkins, S. and Shepherd, E. (2017). Self-Regulation, Self-Control, and the Practice of Shanker Self Reg. The MEHRIT Centre: Self-Reg Seminar. Peterborough: Self-Regulation Institute

Shanker, S. and Francis, T. Hide and Seek: The Challenge of Understanding the Full Complexity of Stress and Stress-Reactivity. The MEHRIT Centre: Self-Reg Seminar. Peterborough: Self-Regulation Institute

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