In schools you will find teachers. Quite normal. They are supposed to be working as a team for the benefit of students. As one might expect. It is, however, not always turning out that way. So, what is wrong? It is not that teachers are not dedicated professionals. On the contrary. Work engagement is high in the teaching profession and motivation to help students in their learning is known to be the prime drive of teachers (1). It is also not true that teachers like to be distant from their colleagues and perform as ”isolated professionals” (2). Collaborative work is quite common in schools. Still, working as a team is a bit of a problem in many schools (3). It takes quite a lot to be a team, for sure. Teams share a common philosophy, distribute defined roles and tasks evenly among each member, and are enabled to work as a team based on sufficient resources. But even when team conditions are fulfilled it may not flourish. Collaboration in a team requires a lot of individual stress regulation.
A study among early childhood professionals working as a team (in day care centres) conducted in Finland looked at the physiological signals that could indicate what happened when working together. The researchers measured cortisol levels, alpha-amylase enzyme in saliva as indicators of psychological stress. This measurement was related to team work related demands. It showed that it was not so much work engagement or motivation (which are attributed to individuals) but far more quality of the work environment (i.e, clear goals, defined roles, and resources) that contributed to the regulation of stress. Teams that are energized to work well together are able to manage their work demands.
A link between physiological and psychological states is one thing the study managed to establish, the other perhaps is that person related factors (work engagement, motivation) are not the stressors per se but the quality of the work environment really is. The good news remains that teachers are devoted to their work, just let them be able to enact it. Stress is part of work life but it helps when it can be regulated through enabling conditions.
Mari A. Nislin, Nina K. Sajaniemi, Margaret Sims, Eira Suhonen, Enrique F. Maldonado Montero, Ari Hirvonen & Sirpa Hyttinen (2016) Pedagogical work, stress regulation and work-related well-being among early childhood professionals in integrated special day-care groups, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 31:1, 27-43, DOI:10.1080/08856257.2015.1087127