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Center Partners with the School of Education to Improve Preservice Teacher Education and Reduce Teacher Burnout
December 1, 2015

Image by Christopher Webb via Flickr

Recent studies have indicated that close to one-third of teachers leave the profession within the first three years – with nearly half calling it quits within five years. Such reports have helped increase awareness of the stress a majority of teachers are feeling in the classroom and the impact it’s having on their careers and well-being.

Researchers with the School of Education and the Center for Healthy Minds recently joined forces to study the effects of a novel mindfulness-based well-being training designed specifically for pre-service teachers in the university’s Elementary Education program. The training being examined is based on a long history of contemplative practices secularized and popularized in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and grounded on different forms of meditation as ways of training the mind to attend to the present moment with ease, calm, clarity and equanimity.

This study is investigating the effects of mindfulness training on two dimensions of pre-service teacher education: whether it reduces the stress and mental health concerns that are often part of teaching and teacher education; and whether pre-service teachers trained in mindfulness demonstrate qualitatively and quantitatively better classroom management behaviors.

Matt Hirshberg, a Ph.D. student with UW–Madison’s Department of Educational Psychology and a graduate research assistant with the Center who is leading the quantitative part of the study for his dissertation, explains how research has demonstrated that socially and emotionally competent teachers tend to have more supportive relationships with students and healthier classroom environments. Conversely, when teachers struggle to manage the emotional components of their job, studies have indicated that low job-satisfaction and antagonistic student-teacher interactions become more common.

For the next two-and-a-half years, students in the Elementary Education program entering their senior year will be recruited to participate in the study. This program offers four undergraduate certification options, and over the course of the study two of each of these certificate programs will be enrolled in the study, with half randomly assigned to receive mindfulness training and the other half assigned to serve as controls. Participants will be tested on a number of measures of well-being before and after training, and again at the end of student teaching. Following graduation from the Elementary Education program, participants will complete a yearly follow-up assessment for three years to determine persistence in teaching as well as to monitor their well-being.

Similarly, Beth Graue and Curriculum and Instruction graduate students Evan Moss and Sophia Diamantes are conducting a qualitative study of pre-service teachers’ experiences in the program. It was Moss who first asked the Center for Healthy Minds if anyone had conducted a study on mindfulness training for pre-service teachers. These researchers will do interviews with pre-service teachers and conduct ratings of classroom quality in field placements at various points in the project.

“This program is a unique collaboration that builds on the groundbreaking research on mindfulness conducted at the Center for Healthy Minds, extending into teacher education,” says Graue, chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and UW–Madison’s Sorenson Professor of Childhood Studies.

“Most importantly, it is a brilliant example of fusing the Wisconsin Idea with high-quality scientific inquiry. In an era that has many purveyors of mindfulness ‘activities,’ we’re excited to offer something that is research based and relevant.”

Lisa Flook, an associate scientist with the Center for Healthy Minds, is the principal investigator for this project, which is being supported by the School of Education and the Center, and with grants from the Mind and Life Institute and the Trust for the Meditation Process.

Diamantes, Hirshberg and Moss all are former teachers who were driven into their current roles with this project by a desire to better support students and teachers.

“There is an interest in the School of Education in one day incorporating this project more widely in teacher education programs,” says Hirshberg. “But first we need to find out if it is effective and, if so, how we can optimize the training for pre-service teachers.”

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