Teachers’ social competence protects against burnout

Diverse Elementary ClassStudents’ social skills are critical to learning and achievement, but the social competence of their teachers may be just as important to the classroom, says a recent study in the Review of Educational Research.

Teachers with high levels of social competence are better able to develop and manage nurturing relationships with their students, manage behavior in their classrooms, serve as behavioral role models for children and regulate their own emotions, protecting themselves and their students from the “burnout cascade.”

“The deteriorating climate is marked by increases in troublesome student behaviors, and teachers become emotionally exhausted as they try to manage them,” the article says. “Under these conditions, teachers may resort to reactive and excessively punitive responses that do not teach self-regulation and may contribute to a self-sustaining cycle of classroom disruption.”

Social competence involves 5 major emotional, cognitive and behavior competencies:

  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness
  • Responsible decision making
  • Self-management
  • Relationship management.


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Teachers with social and emotional competence are better able to implement social and emotional curriculum more effectively because they provide outstanding examples of desired social and emotional behavior, the says the study which proposes a model of the prosocial classroom.

“Unlike many other professions, teachers are constantly exposed to emotionally provocative situations and have limited options for self-regulation when a situation provokes a strong emotional reaction,” the article says. “For example, when feeling highly aroused, a teacher cannot simply excuse herself until she calms down. She must stay in the classroom with the students. Indeed, coping with their own negative emotional responses is a major stressor for teachers.” Previous research has identified 4 components of emotional intelligence involved in teacher burnout:

  • Emotional appraisal
  • Positive regulation
  • Empathic sensitivity
  • Positive utilization

More emphasis should be placed on developing teachers’ social and emotional competence both in teacher training and professional development programs, the authors write. Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to improve self-awareness and self-regulation. Several programs on emotional awareness could be beneficial for teachers, the authors write. These include, The Emotionally Intelligent Teacher training and Cultivating Emotional Balance training.

A program that tends to the inner life of teachers, the Courage to Teach, helps develop more trusting and caring relationships with colleagues and students. Finally, teachers should receive more training on social and emotional development of children to help them manage behavior in more developmentally appropriate ways.

“The Prosocial Classroom: Teacher Social and Emotional Competence in Relation to Student and Classroom Outcomes,” by Patricia Jennings and Mark Greenberg, Review of Educational Research, Spring 2009, Volume 79, Number 1 , pps. 491-525.

One Response to “Teachers’ social competence protects against burnout”

  1. Kim

    It was a helpful article about social and emotional competencies. Yes teachers need this type of training; so they can cope with the different social and emotional issues that the student brings to the classroom. We did not have social and emotional education when I was attending school. Education has truly change.


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