Collaborative autobiography: a process for addressing educators' stress and awareness in 21st century public education
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This study focused on two teachers, a school improvement facilitator, and two administrators’ collaborative reflections on the causes of their stress, their reactions to stress, and the effects of stress. The study was conducted using a constructionist epistemology, an interpretivist theoretical perspective, a grounded theory methodology, and a case study method. The study lasted fourteen weeks and followed the four phases of the collaborative autobiography process. The research procedures consisted of collecting four reflective papers from each participant, each based on a phase of the collaborative autobiography process; two interviews; and field notes from observations of the five collaborative meetings. Throughout the study, the participants reflected on the causes, reactions, and effects of stress as well as personal histories and how these histories affected their reactions to stress. The study concluded with each participant creating a plan for a preferred future in which they would reduce and better cope with stress. The findings from the collaborative autobiography process demonstrated an improved understanding of the group in the causes, reactions, and effects of stress, but more importantly, each participant gained more control of how they react to stress by better understanding the causes of stress and the common features of stress found on each campus. Although the participants had diverse backgrounds and worked in diverse settings, many of the causes of stress, reactions to stress, and effects of stress were similar. Each participant reported feeling significant stress with work management and the effects of national, state, and local systems that inhibited what they perceived was student wellbeing and academic growth. The most common cause of stress cited among the group was other adults. Although all participants found teachers to be significant causes of their stress, the two teachers found administrators to be the greatest source of stress, while the school improvement facilitator and two administrators overwhelmingly found teachers were the greatest cause of their stress. The five participants’ plans for a preferred future included several common themes. Each participant borrowed from the reflections and insight gained in the collaborative autobiography process to create a plan that sought to control heavy workloads by being more discriminating regarding the acceptance of additional duties. Each participant also planned for improved communication with coworkers, planned more time with family and friends, and taking breaks from their hectic schedules to reduce their stress. Each participant reported benefiting from the collaborative autobiography process and considered the study a form of therapy. The group provided recommendations for teacher and administrator professional development, district offices, and policy makers on how educator stress could be reduced. Each participant recommended collaborative autobiography for other educators as a viable method of addressing educator stress. Four of the five members recommended reflective writing as a tool for self-analysis and problem solving, and each member reported feeling significant growth and awareness due to the study.