Budget stress threatens teachers’ health, University offers help

3/5/2010 - By: Claudene Wharton

As budget cuts crash down on Nevada, K-12 teachers are likely experiencing increased stress. To try to help them cope, University of Nevada, Reno psychologist Steven Hayes and his research team have developed an Internet-guided learning program, Working And Living Resiliently Under Stress (WALRUS).

Two years ago, Hayes and his colleagues tested a similar program with over 200 Washoe County educators, and found some promising results in stress reduction and lower job burnout, among other positive outcomes.

“Our self-help approach really helped teachers in Washoe, and now we’re reaching out to education workers all over Nevada,” Hayes explains.

Over 100 educators from across the state have enrolled in WALRUS already, and the program is just getting started. WALRUS is organized as a structured correspondence course.

“People can complete the work from their own homes, which is great for them since they’re busy already. It’s only $10 to enroll, and we’ll mail the materials to participants’ homes.”

Because the program will also help teachers learn how to address the emotional needs of students, teachers can earn 1.5 credits for certificate renewal by participating in the online in-service course.

“Our goal is to teach emotional intelligence skills that will make a difference, not just in the lives of teachers and staff, but students as well,” Hayes explains.

The previous study conducted in Washoe County also suggested that this type of program might help prevent future problems from developing.

“That’s part of what we are exploring with our research. We shouldn’t just wait until problems develop – we need to learn how to help people step off paths that are leading them to trouble,” Hayes said.

Research has shown that the weight of stress and worry can damage not just job performance, but also personal relationships and health.

“We now know that stress can cause or worsen all sorts of problems, including a variety of physical health problems,” Hayes explains. “That’s the core of why we are offering the program. We are trying to learn what is the most helpful in reducing stress because its effects are so encompassing.”

The WALRUS program is now open to all education employees, not just teachers, partly due to the influence of Douglas Long, a newcomer to Hayes’ team. Long’s mother is a special education administrator, and his brother works as support staff.

“My grandmother served lunch in a public school,” adds Long. “When times got tough, her family relied on the school for support. It must be really scary for people to think of losing that with budget cuts. I hope WALRUS will help people like my family.”

Hayes’ research group has been the subject of stories in national media outlets such as Time Magazine and has extensive grant support.

“One of our goals is to reach people where they are with methods that can make a difference,” he says.

Last year, Hayes and his wife, University psychologist Jacque Pistorello, received a five-year $3 million grant to teach emotional intelligence skills to first-time college freshmen in a normal classroom. Both projects teach people in their natural environments, so they can reach people who wouldn’t normally ask for help.

If you are interested in WALRUS for yourself or someone you know, contact Douglas Long at unr.walrus@gmail.com or (775) 682-9665. All correspondence will be confidential.


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