3 Ways Education Leaders Can Reduce Teacher Stress Using the Mirror-Window Effect

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By: Camile Earle-Dennis



Why teacher stress matters
What is the Mirror-Window Effect?
3 ways to use the Mirror-Window Effect


As schools reopen and we prepare for students’ arrival, are we also preparing to address the needs of educators?

Our teachers are looking for a balance between coping with their own trauma from navigating a global pandemic, supporting student trauma and crisis, and bridging the achievement gap.

It is no surprise that teacher burnout is on the rise and that districts are struggling with teacher retention.

Education leaders across the country are beginning to recognize the need to focus on Adult SEL (Social Emotional Learning) just as much as Student SEL and are questioning how they can support Adult SEL, reduce teacher stress, and increase teacher and student performances.

Below, we share the research behind why teacher stress matters, what the Mirror-Window Effect is, and three ways leaders can use Mirror-Window Effect to reduce teacher stress with practical tips and examples.


Why teacher stress matters

Teachers are on the front lines of student trauma

A female teacher sits at a table with her laptop and holds her hands over her eyes, representing the concept of teacher stress.The Biden Administration is engaging in conversations with education leaders to better understand the social-emotional learning needs of teachers and how they may support districts and schools in providing the necessary resources and training for SEL and trauma-informed supports.

In a recent panel discussion with Arne Duncan, former US Secretary of Education under the Obama Administration, and Tim Shriver, CASEL’s co-founder, schools were described as “social safety nets.” Schools “can become ‘on the front edge of change’” as they “address unresolved trauma in schools” (Tamplin, 2021).

Researchers agree that in order for teachers to effectively lead change and create social safety nets for students, they must be mindful of their own stress levels: “when the teacher is in a calmer place, the children sense that…It allows them to be more attentive, compassionate and curious learners” (Haupt, 2016).

Those who will serve on the frontlines of addressing student trauma are our teachers. The question then becomes, how are we equipping our teachers to serve in this capacity?


Even experienced teachers are dealing with feelings of stress and inadequacy

Although teachers have successfully demonstrated their ability to innovate within virtual and hybrid platforms, they are sharing with our SEL team and on social media platforms that they are engaged in the most stressful time of their careers.

Teachers are reporting that they are feeling as though they are first-year teachers all over again. Some are even sharing that this experience has brought on feelings of inadequacy.

As former masters of their craft, more experienced teachers have had to learn new platforms and new methods of teaching and it is taking a toll on their self-esteem and even their performance.

In their stressful states, teachers are finding it challenging to focus on their well-being and finding increased difficulty in meeting the needs of students. In fact, teachers are reporting that their ability to perform at the levels they once did is difficult.

Researchers agree: Teacher stress affects student learning and well-being. “When the teacher is in a calmer place, the children sense that…It allows them to be more attentive, compassionate and curious learners” - @angelahaupt, 2016 Click To Tweet


Teacher well-being and performance are linked to student well-being and performance

As teachers prepare to face students who are experiencing complex trauma, many are not fully equipped to support social-emotional learning needs and are therefore ill-equipped to increase student achievement and narrow the achievement gap.

A special report from Education Week confirmed that “teacher well-being is intrinsically linked to student well-being” (Will, 2021).

In fact, researchers have confirmed that teachers are the most important school-related factor to student achievement and that high levels of teacher stress can lead to lower student outcomes (Opper, 2019; Sparks, 2017).

What is the Mirror-Window Effect?

Origins in equity and literacy circles

Perspective from the ground looking up at the windows of a tall building curved inward toward you and reflecting the sky and clouds. This is symbolic of the social emotional learning (SEL) and equity concept called the Mirror-Window Effect.The concept of mirror vs. window is well-established in equity circles and within promoting diverse reading through equity-based literacy strategies.

The mirror is the intentional manner by which we create opportunities for students to see themselves within their learning experiences.

The window is the manner in which we get a glimpse into the lived experiences of those who are different than us.

Mirror vs. window is often used for close and critical reading. Students determine if the author, speaker, characters, or content in a text reflect their lived experiences (a mirror) or provide a window into the lived experiences of those who are different (Learning for Justice, n.d).


Mirrors and windows applied to SEL

The concept of mirror vs. window has not yet been applied to social-emotional learning outcomes alongside trauma-informed supports for children or adults. Our SEL team of experts at Learning Sciences International observed the positive effects when educators intentionally create windows and mirrors, which we label as the “Mirror-Window Effect.”

Within the Mirror-Window Effect, education leaders, teachers, and students start to see themselves as equal stakeholders in their learning environments.

The Mirror-Window Effect happens when education leaders, teachers, and students find ways to relate to one another (mirrors) which creates a synergy that allows them to see how our differences help us grow individually and collectively toward a shared outcome (windows).


The Mirror-Window Effect

A graphical representation of the Mirror-Window Effect showing an inverted triangle with the three corners labeled “Students,” Teachers,” and “Administrators.” Each corner has arrows drawn between them with the words “Mirror: Connecting on Common Experiences.” Underneath the triangle, the text says “Shared Outcome: A Window of New Perspectives.”

Positive outcomes of the Mirror-Window Effect

The synergy that is fueled by the Mirror-Window Effect establishes a foundation of trust and safety that allows everyone to feel seen and heard. When stakeholders feel seen and heard, they are better able to equip themselves and one another with the necessary tools for addressing their social-emotional learning needs.

Teachers who implement Adult SEL tips and strategies for regulating their emotions and coping with stress tend to feel safer and more confident in their adult learning environments and are better equipped to teach effectively. The outcome is higher teacher and student performance.

One arrow pointing down, an equal sign, and an arrow pointing up. Low teacher stress equals high performance for teachers and students.

Similarly, when students’ social-emotional needs are met and they mirror their teachers’ tips and strategies for regulating their emotions and coping with stress, they too feel safe and confident in their classroom learning environments and are better equipped to learn effectively.

Through the Mirror-Window Effect, administrators and teachers can use their own emotional experiences to enhance their leadership and teaching styles.

Without always sharing the root of the emotion, administrators and teachers can share that they too feel frustrated or overwhelmed and offer ways in which they utilize coping strategies to address those feelings in the moment to ensure they do not interfere with their workday or the energy they bring into their shared spaces.

When administrators and teachers openly communicate their emotions and the process they take to address those emotions, students start to see the human side of their teachers and building leaders, and that they too can mirror those techniques when faced with similar emotions.

Mirror vs. window is a popular equity concept. Applied to SEL, the Mirror-Window Effect means leaders, teachers, and students relate to one another (mirrors), and recognize how differences help us grow (windows). - Camile Earle-Dennis Click To Tweet


Example from the field: Mirrors and Windows in action

Illustration of Speech BubblesOne high school building administrator that our SEL team interviewed has been utilizing our suggested strategies and tips for addressing Adult SEL and trauma-informed needs. He visits virtual classrooms for 3-minute refuel moments.

When he first started visiting virtual classrooms, he briefly shared with the class he was there for a refuel moment and why. In his department meetings with teachers, he shared that sometimes, he visits their classrooms when he’s having a rough day or feeling frustrated. Listening to students and teachers engage in learning helps him regulate his emotions and refuel from the positive energy in their classroom space.

That experience started a trend and has now become a part of the culture within their department.

This administrator provided a mirror experience for teachers and students. Teachers in the department can openly share with students when they need to take a deep breath and recalibrate without derailing the class or getting students off task.

The Mirror-Window Effect continued as students began to do the same. This same administrator has also shared that teachers in his department are reporting an increase in attendance in their virtual platforms and that students are more engaged and focused on their learning.

Through the Mirror-Window Effect, this administrator demonstrated how teachers rely on their leaders to model the coping strategies necessary for reducing stress levels and optimizing performance. Similarly, teachers in that space demonstrate how students rely on the confidence of their teachers to help fuel their own confidence levels within their learning environments.

Students also rely on their teachers to show them how to utilize coping mechanisms to address their daily stresses and existing trauma to be effective and thriving learners. A learning environment that is co-regulated is an equitable learning environment that fosters optimal levels of learning and teaching.



3 ways educational leaders can reduce teacher stress using the Mirror-Window Effect

As districts prepare for students’ return to in-person instruction, education leaders can follow these three ways to reduce teacher stress and help classroom teachers focus on teaching and supporting equitable learning communities.

3 ways ed leaders can reduce teacher stress w/ the Mirror-Window Effect 1. Model empathy 2. Establish a culture of equity and inclusion in meetings 3. Create schoolwide structures for agency & emotional self-management - Camile… Click To Tweet


1. Model empathy as a leader

Just as students look to their teachers as the adult mirrors in their learning environments, teachers are looking to their leaders to provide the same mirror effect.

When leaders are confident models who are open about their own self-regulating and coping strategies, teachers may feel safer and more confident to adopt the same strategies and take on ambitious goals such as accelerating student achievement.

Ideally, while districts are planning to invest in their administration and classroom teachers with Adult SEL courses, there are other simple and tangible ways to model empathy that may be enhancements to their course learning:

Sometimes, we may want to send an email late in the evening or on the weekend while it’s fresh in our minds. Be mindful that those on the receiving end of those messages may feel as though they can never really unplug in the evenings or on weekends. If we want teachers to practice self-care and engage in downtime to refuel and recharge, then we must model that through empathetic action. If you have an idea and/or request and want to share it, then write the email and save it in your draft folder. Write it on your To-Do and Must Do lists for the following day. Or, set a delivery time to have the system send the email at a specified time during the normal workday.

Another empathetic action is to ensure that you are scheduling break times and a lunch break for yourself and encouraging your staff to do the same. Cognitive breaks are crucial in helping staff stay focused and productive during working hours. Break times also help ensure that we are finding time to reflect and de-stress to prevent burnout. When teachers see you prioritizing your own well-being, they may feel that they can do so as well.

These practices bring a sense of humanity to a leader’s approach and creates empathy in both relating to your staff’s experiences (mirror) and opening up windows to new possibilities and strategies for self-care and co-regulation.


2. Establish a culture of equity and inclusion in staff and team meetings


Welcoming rituals have become a well-received social-emotional learning practice. Within adult settings, welcoming rituals during the first 3-5 minutes of team and staff meetings provide opportunities for participants to engage with one another in team-building exercises that help create a sense of belonging and community where everyone is recognized and heard.

Welcoming rituals also serve to help remind participants to be mindful of the energy they bring into the space. Promoting safe and equitable adult learning communities will help mirror the same in classroom environments with students. If time is limited, there are still ways to ensure you build a culture of community within your shared meeting spaces.

Creating and sustaining a culture of equity and inclusion is an investment in educators, students, and schoolwide culture. Here are a few quick tips that can help you in your equity and inclusion journey:

      • Share Joys and Affirmations
        • Meeting participants may write their joy or affirmation on a whiteboard or in the chat on a video conference call. Meeting facilitators may choose to ask a few participants to share.
      • Greet Participants
        • Before diving into the first agenda item, greet participants. Saying good morning or good afternoon to participants can help create a sense of community where people feel safe to share their ideas and opinions. If participants do not feel safe or welcomed in the space, they will most likely remain reserved and quiet during the meeting.
      • Set a Tone of Equity
        • In equity-conscious spaces, meeting facilitators set a tone of equity. Facilitators remind participants to provide time for others to weigh in with their ideas and contributions. An acronym used in national service organizations such as City Year is N-O-S-T-U-E-S-O, No One Speaks Twice Until Everyone Speaks Once. This not only helps ensure that everyone becomes aware of everyone in the meeting and that everyone is seen and heard but also creates a culture of equity and inclusion that appeals to all stakeholders.
      • Be Present in the Moment
        • While the stress of completing To-Do Lists and meeting goals and deadlines hovers in the background, it can be a challenge to be fully present during every meeting. If an urgent need or request should arise during a meeting, excuse yourself for a moment, respond to the call or chat, and return fully present to the meeting stakeholders. This demonstration of inclusion for all participants creates and helps to sustain a culture of respect for everyone in the space.

Teachers can use these same concepts with students by spending the first few moments of class to engage students in welcoming rituals and establishing a tone of equity and inclusion. These welcoming rituals and equity and inclusion practices help build equitable learning environments by establishing a sense of belonging that Maslow determines as a basic human need.

When you as a leader engage as a full participant in welcoming rituals and make a personal investment in creating a culture of equity and inclusion, you demonstrate a willingness to serve alongside staff and create opportunities for personal connection points (mirrors). Everyone in the meeting also opens windows to different perspectives, fueling collective growth.

When you model the Mirror-Window Effect yourself, teachers do the same with their students and build a community of learning where students can thrive.


3. Create schoolwide structures for students and staff to develop agency and manage their own stress

As a leader, you have the unique opportunity to influence the schoolwide structures that support teachers and students.

Infusing social-emotional learning and trauma-informed practices into the daily routines of leaders, teachers, and students is an investment in the well-being of all stakeholders. It is an investment in the future of our students and an investment in agency.

Administrators can support schoolwide mindfulness efforts by investing in calming spaces within their buildings for teachers to visit during their break times. In schools that have created these spaces, many are equipped with essential oil diffusers and relaxing music for teachers to engage in mindfulness for brief moments within their day to manage their stress levels and regulate their emotions.

At the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, students are referred to the Mindful Moment Room where they practice deep-breathing exercises, meditate, and talk about what happened. It’s one example of how mindfulness may provide lifelong tools to cope with challenging situations, resolve conflicts and feel compassion and empathy for both themselves and others (Haupt, 2016).

Educators who have engaged in LSI’s SEL courses and put our science-backed strategies and tips into practice with their students have shared inspiring feedback. For example, teachers say when they feel frustrated and stressed, they take a moment to practice deep breathing exercises for 30-60 seconds with their students and ask students to recenter and recalibrate. Teachers’ focus levels increase, and their students’ attention and focus increase as well. As a result of these co-regulation practices, teachers have shared with our SEL team that they are beginning to see students manage their emotions on their own. Students are coping with frustration, managing anger and stress, and engaging in practices that they can take with them throughout their life journey. Because leaders invested in Adult SEL practices which translated to increased Student SEL, many schools are able to opt out of detention and suspensions. Social-emotional learning and trauma-informed practices equip students with coping strategies that they may rely upon to manage emotions during stressful situations, to the point where behavior charts, detention, and suspensions are replaced with equitable learning environments that demonstrate emotional self-management.

A circle, equal sign, and arrow pointing upward. Adult SEL in Action equals high performance for teachers and students.

These schoolwide structures create numerous daily opportunities for nurturing social belonging and connections between you, your staff, and your students (mirrors). The structures also empower students and staff with the agency to use new skills and strategies, and diverse perspectives to increase social-emotional learning (windows).


Summary: Why invest time, energy, and funding into Adult SEL?

By now, we should all agree that one thing is certain: If we are going to effectively address the widening achievement gap of our students and narrow the performance gaps of our teachers, we must engage in addressing the trauma and Adult SEL needs of educators.

If we do not invest in Adult SEL and trauma-informed development, we cannot expect leaders and teachers to meet the SEL and trauma-informed needs of students.

Demonstrating empathy through the Mirror-Window Effect can help ensure that teachers receive the necessary coping strategies and social-emotional learning tools that they may rely on to increase their performance and help narrow the achievement gap.

We ask that you join us in our commitment to supporting teachers and students and encourage you to stay connected to us as we strive to meet the SEL and trauma-informed needs of the field.

Join our Facebook Page and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter. Check back regularly to learn more about our SEL offerings and field supports.

Not sure what supports you need? Connect with one of our SEL and trauma-informed experts who will help map your needs to our offerings.

We look forward to seeing you soon in our SEL and trauma-informed courses and hearing more about how our supports are helping to guide you and your staff along your SEL journeys.






Joys and Affirmations

A special appreciation to our CEO and visionary leader, Mr. Michael Toth, whose relentless belief in the capacity of all children fuels this essential work.

A warm appreciation to Taylor Barahona, Editorial Assistant to the CEO, whose enormous investment in our guided research and unwavering commitment to helping us share our findings with the field have been both encouraging and inspiring. Thank you for being such a dynamic thought partner.

A warm appreciation to Rebeccah Potavin for her reflective feedback and for bringing a diverse lens to our team and to this essential work.

A heartfelt appreciation for our SEL team who I have the honor and privilege of serving alongside. Thank you for serving the field behind the scenes and on the frontlines to support and guide districts and schools with their SEL needs. You bring joy to this work.

  • Melissa Bloom, VP of Professional Services in Evaluation/SEL
  • Gail Charles-Walters, Staff Developer
  • Claire ErwinDistrict Partnership Representative
  • Victoria Goodyear, Staff Developer
  • Sabrina Gulyas, Administrative Support Specialist in Evaluation/SEL
  • Gary Hess, Staff Developer
  • Lee Manly, Senior Director of District Partnerships – Evaluation Strategic Partnerships in Sales
  • Jan Matthews, Staff Developer
  • Shawn Merriweather, Staff Developer
  • Emily Nauman, Director of District Partnerships – Evaluation Strategic Partnerships in Sales
  • Rebeccah Potavin, Staff Developer
  • Susan Schilsky, Staff Developer
  • Lorie Spadafora, Staff Developer
  • Maria Thomas, Practice Area Operations Manager in Process Improvement

We would also like to extend our appreciation to our Scheduling, Research, Marketing, and Sales Teams who are extensions of our SEL team. We appreciate your support and shared commitment to our SEL vision. We cannot drive this essential work without you! Together, we are One LSI. We are One Team. We are LSI Family Strong!



About LSI

Our vision for education is to close the achievement gap. Equip all students with the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Expand equity by giving every child access to rigorous core instruction that empowers learners to free themselves from generational poverty.

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