In a nutshell...

We were asked to work with a group of 20 lecturers to address the various obstacles and challenges that were stopping them from creating a stress-free teaching environment. The first hurdle was an idea they each shared which was that “Teaching is the most stressful job”. This is symptomatic of a widespread misunderstanding when it comes to stress which is that other people and events are the cause of the stress experience. The proposition is that stress is an inside job, and once this is understood, i.e. that the real cause of stress is internal, we can move towards a stress-free life. We designed a programme that brought the lecturers through a process which allowed them to discover, for themselves, that it was not their students nor their tight deadlines, nor their difficult colleagues that were causing their stress, but their reactions to these things. At the end of the programme all of the lecturers, without exception, reported increased confidence and self-control as well as much more effective relationships and ways of working. All spoke of considerably less stress in their classrooms and vastly increased personal awareness. Managing themselves and looking inward for the causes of stress was a real revelation for the whole group. In the end, the real bonus was that they discovered how to reduce stress both inside and outside of the classroom.

Creating Stress-Free Classrooms

Developing the confidence, assertiveness, resilience and wellbeing of a team of third level lecturers.


A third level educational institution.


Following an initial stress management programme which we facilitated for all full-time staff in the college, the client requested a more in-depth programme for a target group of 20 lecturers. The objective was to equip the lecturers with the understanding and capacity to make the vision of a stress-free environment a practical reality in their classrooms.


Like many, the lecturers believed wholeheartedly that their job (teaching) was the most stressful occupation. In the worst case scenario, they were spending considerable time longing for the end of the day, the week or the term when they could (only then) enjoy their much earned rest. Their time in the classroom with their students was deemed extremely stressful and the idea of it being otherwise was considered to be impossible.


Over the years, the word stress has come to have both positive and negative connotations. We often hear people say that they ‘work well under stress’ and yet in the same breath, they claim that they are suffering from too much stress and need a holiday. There is also a lot of confusion about the causes of stress. The commonly held view is that stress is caused by the external events, people and circumstances that we meet on a daily basis. If this was true there would be no solution to the problem of stress other than to eliminate so-called "stressful" things and people from our lives. An alternative view, which is much more challenging, is that the cause of stress is not in the external situations themselves but in how we respond to them. Put it this way, if the cause of stress was in the external situation itself, for example a traffic jam, then it follows that whenever we were in a traffic jam, we would always be stressed. But we know that this is not the case, some days we could be perfectly happy sitting in a traffic jam and on others we could be ready to tear our hair out! In this case, we needed to bring the lecturers to realise that the cause of their stress was not in their external situation, i.e. their students, lack of time, demands etc, but in what they were bringing to these situations i.e. their internal reactions to students, colleagues, events of the day and different circumstances. Realising that the cause of stress is entirely an inside job and therefore can only be eliminated from within is the key to a stress-free life, never mind a stress-free classroom.

No Quick Fix

Managing the expectation of a ‘quick fix’ solution to the stress issue is a common challenge. Like most people attending a stress management programme, this group of lecturers was expecting to be armed with a range of techniques and strategies to deal with their ‘stress causing’ students. So we had to carefully manage the transition from this position to one which saw them realise that the work they had to embark on was primarily on themselves.

What we did

In consultation with the client we identified the key areas which needed to be addressed in order for the stress-free vision to be realised. The areas were as follows:

  1. Creating harmonious relationships
  2. Eradicating conflict with students and colleagues
  3. Communicating and Overcoming Fear
  4. Building Confidence
  5. Teamwork

The Programme

The programme consisted of five group workshops which were presented on a monthly basis to allow plenty of time for practical implementation between sessions. Each workshop provided lecturers with practical directions which they had to test and verify in their own experience before the next session. They were given particular exercises to conduct with their students as well as directions to improve certain aspects of their own behaviour such as communication, listening and so on. For example, one of the primary issues that the lecturers faced on a daily basis was fear. During one particular group session we discussed the proposition that ‘Fear is only in the imagination and not in the experience itself’. The reality is that fear arises within and can only be eliminated from within. In order to test the veracity of the proposition, the lecturers were asked to go to the main communal area of the college and speak to a total stranger (a prospect which was terrifying for some). They were instructed to discover 5 interesting facts about the person. Following the exercise, each of the lecturers gave feedback on the difference between the imagined event and the actual event as it was in their experience. In their imagined version the whole conversation was awkward and they felt terrified and uneasy. Their actual experience was the opposite – each lecturer had a very harmonious and fruitful discussion with their chosen stranger, far from any of the awkward situations they had imagined would occur. This is just one example of the various practical exercises which were used throughout the programme.

An interesting thing about this project and others like it is that the programme was addressing issues that the participants were facing on a daily basis. In these circumstances, people are more motivated to practice and work themselves and this motivation and willingness greatly expedites the development process. It is for this reason that any workshop or training intervention must get as close as possible to the real needs of the participants, including those that may arise spontaneously.

Moving Forward

Having completed the programme, we scheduled a follow up session with the group. During this session we conducted an exercise which encouraged each individual to reflect on the three main areas on which they needed to place particular effort moving forward. For some it was Self-Awareness, others it was Relationships, and others felt that Fear was the big thing for them. Each person also identified the directions that they would put into practice moving forward.


This was a very effective programme with excellent individual and collective outcomes. All, without exception, reported increased confidence and self-control as well as much more effective relationships and ways of working. All spoke of considerably less stress in their classrooms and vastly increased personal awareness. Managing themselves and looking inward for the causes of conflict and stress was a real revelation for the whole group. In the end, the bonus was that they really discovered how to markedly reduce stress in their whole lives and enjoy themselves again – both inside and outside the classroom.


Restoring Fractured Relationships