Misery does not love company


Comparing to a role model may help reduce burnout among teachers
Published: 31Jan2018
With as many as four in 10 Canadian teachers leaving the field within their first five years, what can be done to keep more of them in the classroom?
Researchers in McGill University’s Faculty of Education examined this question by surveying more than 500 Canadian teachers about how they dealt with teaching setbacks. In particular, they asked if teachers used social comparisons as motivational tools to deal with instructional setbacks. The researchers investigated the effects of three types of social comparisons (downward, horizontal, and upward).
Their findings showed that:
  • Teachers who compared themselves with worse-off teachers(downward comparisons) reported greater job satisfaction and higher levels of anger.
  • Those who compared themselves with other teachers who were similarly struggling to achieve their goals (horizontal comparisons) reported higher levels of burnout and intentions to quit, as well as lower job satisfaction, a more negative profile of teaching-related emotions (lower enjoyment, higher anger and anxiety), and more illness symptoms.
  • Teachers who compared themselves with role models (upward comparisons) experienced lower levels of burnout and intentions to quit, along with higher job satisfaction, optimal teaching emotions (enjoyment, anger, anxiety), and fewer illness symptoms.
“We found that upward social comparisons were more beneficial for newer teachers because modeling themselves after a teacher who has successfully overcome challenges provides hope that they, too, will overcome their current instructional setbacks,” explained Sonia Rahimi, lead author and PhD candidate in Prof. Nathan Hall’s lab in McGill’s Department of Educational & Counselling Psychology. 
“This strategy most strongly and consistently predicts not only physical and psychological health outcomes in teachers, but also their intentions to quit the profession.” 
Upward, Downward, and Horizontal Social Comparisons: Effects on Adjustment, Emotions, and Persistence in Teachers, Interdisciplinary Education and Psychology, Sonia Rahimi, Nathan C. Hall, Hui Wang, and Rebecca Maymon, DOI: Interdisc Edu Psychol/10

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Cynthia Lee
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cynthia.lee [at] mcgill.ca
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