Managing the stress and upheaval of change

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Julian Stanley, chief executive, Education Support Partnership

Managing change can be difficult, but it is something that teachers today are facing on a regular basis.
Julian Stanley offers some coping advice

The recent news about the future academisation of the school system has left many in the sector feeling confused and concerned. Worse still this announcement comes hot on the heels of many others made over the last few years, perhaps making this one of the most unsettled periods there has ever been in education.

This latest policy change is, as we know, not universally supported by many, as evidenced by the recent round of teaching union conferences.

The government’s White Paper on academisation itself even highlighted questions about the desirability of such large-scale reforms in the context of the impact of an all-academy system on local democracy and teachers’ pay and condition. In short, these new government proposals are highly controversial.

It is increasingly difficult for those working in schools to mentally process the volume of change this government is rushing through, while remaining motivated, focused and providing high-quality teaching.

Here at the Education Support Partnership we exist to help everyone working in education to be the best they can be, whatever the backdrop – whether they are working as a teacher, a school leader, a school business manager or finance and support staff. Given that, we have pulled together some tips designed to help you deal the state of flux you might currently find yourself facing and to help you manage change and uncertainty – no matter what form it may take – as best you can.

Knowledge is power

Sometimes having as much information about a possible change can help quell the nerves. So why not read up on the academisation debate via respected sources such as SecEd, The Guardian and even the government White Paper itself. Don’t forget to also speak to your line manager and/or headteacher and your union too, because they will be working through what they plan doing in response to change and may be able to reassure you a little.

Relax – calm your mind

Easier said than done, but when you feel uncertain, your amygdala—an almond-shaped structure located in your temporal lobes – revs you up by signalling to the rest of the brain that a fight-or-flight response might be needed. The prefrontal cortex in turn receives the alarm call from the amygdala and can agree and take action or can recognise that there’s no cause for concern and quell the amygdala. But sometimes it isn’t able to control the amygdala on its own. So when you feel that anxiety coming, you need to engage the prefrontal cortex directly, perhaps through meditation, mindfulness, therapy, or yoga.

Seek a second opinion

When you are in the eye of the storm with a worry or concern, it can be hard to gain a clear perspective. So speak to others, even those outside of teaching, to get their thoughts on your worries and to see if you are over thinking the problem.
And if you want professional help or counselling then maybe our free helpline could be an external source you turn to?

Embrace the change?

There is no question that academisation as a positive opportunity is a tough sell. However, if that is what we end up with as a sector, then we will have to start rewiring our brains – to shift from doomsday or worst-case scenarios to seeking out the potential in the academy structure.

The truth is that there is rarely disruption without some kind of opportunity. So try to think about some possibilities that might arise from uncertainty and how you could act on them. At least then if change does take place you will have a “glass half full” to reflect on.

Turn off your mental narrative

Sometimes a problem is bigger than us and there is little more we can do than wait it out. In this scenario the best thing to do is to take a break from it all and think about something else. School holidays are a good opportunity for this, and research we supported by City University late last year found that switching off in the school holidays can go a long way to building mental resilience and readiness for a new term or year ahead.

  • Julian Stanley is CEO of the Education Support Partnership. For help or advice on this issue or any other, contact the charity’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit


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