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The Pupils' Stress and Fear: the Content and Peculiarity of the Expression in the Context

of Educational System

Algimantas Bagdonas

Kaunas University of Technology, the Institute of Educational Science,

Donelaicio 20, 3000 Kaunas, Lithuania

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of

Hamburg, 17-20, September 2003

This essay is based on the following concepts: McLaughlin’s concept of personal autonomy,
emphasising education of an autonomous, intellectually and morally independent, responsible
individual; the concept of school fear suggested by Rost and Hurrelmann, representatives of the
German pedagogical psychology school; the concept of humanistic pedagogy, integrating the
actions and communicative interaction of all school components which eliminates violence and
psychological pressure at the educational institution and emphasises teaching methods and
organisational forms enabling the integration of student feelings and intellect (Maslow, Rogers);
the notions of educational environment, learning paradigm, change in the teacher training
paradigm, and teaching individualisation suggested by Lithuanian researchers in education
(Juceviciene, Siauciukeniene).
School is a community of students, teachers and parents, which pursues unanimous goals and
serves as a bridge to society and humankind. The view of school as merely a place of knowledge
acquisition and learning is wrong in principle. School life should be rich and joyful. To make it
such, it is very important to create an atmosphere of collaboration. Relationships between adults
and children as well as requirements of the educational process make school life peculiar,
however it is possible to seek and achieve a school life and relationships within the school
community based on sincerity, respect, love and responsibility. Having established such priorities
for school life, one can hope for a harmonious and wise society.
Already the classics of pedagogy argued that school is a house of joy and perfection. If
children experience school fear and continuous stress situations, a question has to be asked:
why this happens?
School-related problems and the speed of contemporary life brings in a lot of tension and rush
which can lead to physical ailments since children’s reaction to spiritual conflicts harms not only
their mind, but also body. Excessively high volume of studies even at primary school, parents’
expectations and teachers’ attempts to convey as much knowledge as possible impose an
emotional pressure on students. As a result, they experience stress situations, which, by repeating
regularly, cause the feeling of fear in students. We can call this feeling school fear and analyse
it as an important and interesting phenomenon.
In the rapidly changing world, the best chances to achieve success have flexible, creative, and
able to communicate and adapt people. Such individuals have an optimistic approach to problem
solving and self-development. Meanwhile, people suffering from stress, experiencing constant
fear, having poor opinion about themselves and painfully reacting to criticism are not able to
compete with those able of critical thinking and adapting to constantly changing circumstances.
It is important not only to help these individuals, but also to develop such educational ideas,
which exclude stress and fear from the educational system. Continuous development and ability
to change helps to ensure mutual understanding and respect between people. To avoid
psychological crises, it is important to accept change, to adapt more flexibly to the new
situations, to continuously develop one and to be prepared for changing one’s personal direction.

Modern society emphasising achievement and successful career, school curriculum
requirements, complex exams demanding broad academic knowledge, uninteresting, traditional
lessons and gaps in teacher competence lead to emergence of school fear and stress. There is no
doubt that certain humiliation experienced after getting bad or unjust marks and anxiety caused
by advice of tactless teachers make wounds in children’s soul, mind and body which cause
certain ailments gradually turning into chronic disease. One might say that these are rare cases,
which should not be given much consideration. However, how many such cases there are? It
could be argued that these students lack learning motivation, but one of the functions of school
and the entire education system is to strengthen learning motivation.

It is important to try to answer the question: what is wrong in educational ideas, teacher and
student interaction and the educational system which turns school from the house of joy into a
place causing illness, stress and feelings of fear?
Research methods: scientific literature analysis, documents analysis.
This problem is addressed in the four sections of this essay. In the first section, reasons behind
the stress and school fear are analysed. The second section deals with philosophical,
psychological and educational problems of school fear. In the third section, school level
categories (educational forms and methods) are analysed. Finally, in the fourth section, student’s
autonomy as a measure of fear prevention is discussed. The essay is ended with conclusions and

Stress and fear: nature and reasons (determined by school and other factors)

Stress is a scattered phenomenon since stress situations are created both at school and at home.
School cannot stay aside from dealing with this problem. Stress develops into school fear. It is
interesting to compare characteristics of stress and fear suggested in various sources. Dictionary
of Educational Terms (1993, in Lithuanian) gives this definition of stress:
Stress is a state of physical and mental overload caused by stimuli and situations of various
origins. This state is caused by sudden impacts or long overload (fright, fear, conflict). Both
students and teacher experience a certain load of tension during every lesson. Educational
institutions are often subject to tense situations: examinations, teachers’ reproaches, interpersonal
hostility, unfair assessment, work overload, etc. Stress-related tension is dangerous for physical
and mental health.
Stress often has a positive, mobilising effect, prompts energetic action and active search for way
out of the stress situation. However, when individual experiences stress constantly, continuously
or intensively, stress can turn into distress, which has a negative effect on physical and emotional
state, can cause various illnesses, or disorganise all activities of an individual. According to
research, human body functions best under the limited influence of stressors. Too many or too
intensive stressors turn stress into distress which leads to decrease in capacity and resistance of
the body.
To summarise, stress is defined as a state caused by unfavourable situations, excessive workload,
or other individuals’ influence. Stress (tension) is a state of mental and physiological tension
emerging due to the change in external conditions or internal disorders (stressors). It manifests
itself through physiological changes, emotional tension, frustration and fear. Stress is dangerous
for physical and mental health. Hence, stress is not an acceptable state and ways should be
sought avoid and fight it by socialising students and meeting their self-expression needs.
According to the Dictionary of Educational Terms (1993), fear is an emotion caused by
perceived or imagined danger. Children feel fear when things or events, when they find
themselves in under threat, which seems unavoidable, scare them. This causes ‘learned’ fear
(phobias). Therefore it is important to avoid intimidation when raising children and to teach
children to overcome problems and difficulties. Overcoming fear helps to develop courage;

otherwise timidity can become a personal trait. Fright is dangerous for health: it may cause
speech distortions, stammering, twitches and permanent anxiety.
Fear arises when individual encounters danger. In normal conditions, fear helps to avoid danger.
Contrary to anxiety, fear is always related to a specific object in the environment – person, thing,
or event. Fear is accompanied by tension, agitation, activity lacking in harmony and changed
perception. Strong fear reduces individual’s active involvement in life. At the same time, fear
warns about the imminent danger, stimulates vigilance, increases sensitivity, and suppresses pain
and ability to adapt to the changed conditions. Fear is agitation, tension, and emotional state,
presentiment of danger. An increasing, panic fear leads to illness and suffering. Fear is caused by
big concern, anxiety and danger, which are often groundless, imaginary. Fear is an emotion
caused by real or alleged danger, self-protection instinct, experiences, or upbringing. Regularly
experienced fear can turn into a mental quality, i.e. timidity. Fear inhibits human activity,
ingenuity, memory and ability to adapt to change. Being under constant stress and fear,
individual is not able to meet life challenges.

Can a student who permanently experiences the feeling of fear express oneself as a

Fear can be a consequence of stress experienced both at school and in family. It is worth
discussing whether fear can be related only to school, whether family and society can also
cause it? It can be argued that one feels fear towards something unknown. Fear is not always a
consequence of stress. School-related phobias emerge when a child goes to school for the first
time and is afraid of the unknown. Fear may emerge when a pupil expects repeating failure. The
category of fear includes helplessness, threat and uncertainty. School fear also covers the notions
of socium-related and achievement-related fear.
Factors causing students’ stress and school fear can be classified as follows:
 External: legal, economic, political, technological, cultural.
 Internal: values, culture, philosophy, human resources, communication, and qualification.
 Those related to educational process: educational aims, curriculum, methods, tools, and
Fear can be analysed both at the school and at the educational system level. Reasons of stress
and fear can be classified into those related to school and those unrelated to school. School-
related problems bring to light the role of school as an institution with its own culture, ethos and
community. In case of stress caused by other factors, it should be analysed whether it is in any
way related to educational situations. Other reasons of stress can be punishments by parents,
restrictions, prohibitions, or emotional aloofness at home.
Emergence of school fear is influenced by the following factors:
 Teacher training paradigm, impacting teachers’ behaviour in the educational process:
authoritarian vs. democratic, humiliation vs. praise.
 Choosing the content of instruction material and conveying it through selected educational
forms and methods.
 Determining students’ abilities to be able to differentiate and individualise the educational
 Achievement assessment: what is assessed – work or the whole personality?
 Student relationships in the educational institution: competition or collaboration?
 Parent support and cooperation with school.
 Socium’s influence on the student.
Stress and fear related problems are embedded in the educational policy and laws, so school
inadvertently causes stress and feeling of fear in children. How does it happen? One of the
ambitions of the Lithuanian National Curriculum is to change society through education. The
aim of the Curriculum is to provide deep education developing a student as a versatile individual.
The Curriculum and the organisation of education are based on central attention given to a child,
and an academic subject is a tool, which helps to develop child’s personality. Another aim of
education is to provide children with sufficient base of the formal knowledge.
In the Lithuanian Educational Concept (1992), it is declared that the aim of education is laying
the ground for a dynamically self-renewing society, an open and critical social consciousness,
instead of justifying and establishing the existing social and ideological structures.
The above-mentioned document commits to establishing democracy at school, which means
following the deeply embedded democratic values, establishing and following democratic
relations in education, and providing universal accessibility. In other words, it is important
educate individuals prepared for professional career, able to adapt, make decisions and act
independently, to help them discover common human values and to build their life based on
them. School should help individuals to unfold in the social and cultural space, to nurture
cultural self-consciousness and understanding that they are not only the users of native language,
but also its creators, responsible for its evolution and preservation of identity.
Educational laws have established general educational aims, in particular – education of a
socially active individual. Only rational people can create democratic society. An important
condition for learning democracy is students’ self-confidence and critical thinking. Their
development requires atmosphere of freedom. Free school teaches socialisation not according to
a certain formula, but by involving a student into social dialogue. This dialogue is a precondition
for liberating the thoughts and actions and for personal autonomy, which are important for
democracy. Meanwhile the National Examination Centre places completely different emphasis,
first of all requiring reproduction of the formal knowledge. It is not the school, which sets this
requirement; it has to comply with it disregarding students’ situation. Which priority should the
school follow: thoughtlessly abide by educational laws or seek education of the whole child
and encourage his self-expression?
Since school follows the National Curriculum, stress for students comes from outside. Students
have to behave at school, as school requires, i.e. student’s role is unchanging, while he may
violate the rules defining this role. Students cause stress and fear for themselves by inadequate
behaviour. Based on the national educational documents and society expectations towards
school, it can be argued that overcoming student stress and fear is an urgent issue on the way
to creating an open, democratic society.
Is school itself capable of eliminating the reasons of student stress and school fear? The
answer is yes in case of internal reasons, however school is not capable of eliminating the
external reasons. It is restrained by bad decisions made at the macro level. Fear manifests itself
at school but its roots are in the wrong educational policy.
Stress and fear emerge not only at school; this is not only an educational problem, but also a
social phenomenon. What causes stress and school fear outside the school? These reasons are
rooted in society and can be eliminated only by effort of the whole society. Stress may be
experienced in family, and a child may bring it to school. Fear may be caused by change of
school, strict teacher, difficult tests, but this is only a part of the problem. Often school fear
embodies other problems of a child and her family – shyness, strong attachment to parents,
parting anxiety, parents’ conflicts, or alcoholism.
Child’s educational experience is to a great extent determined by family and parents. Parents’
duty is to ensure that their children become a rationally autonomous individuals and democratic
citizens. According to Almond (1981), today’s schools are tomorrow’s societies; therefore
formation of the education system determines the formation of the future political and social
order. How are parents to be granted the rights not for social control, but for promotion of
critical decisions leading to autonomy? Moral and legal parents’ rights should be matched with
their duties to society.
Problems of asocial families should be concern of the whole society because it has to protect
children from negative phenomena and to take care of its social environment. Children should be
protected from stress dangers by law. Here social care institutions should play a certain role.
Most of the crimes are committed outside the school, however it should not completely withdraw

from this problem: school has to influence the young generation. Immature person is not
autonomous and he or she is not able to resist the outside impact. It should be admitted that
children do not become autonomous in vacuum; this process requires relevant educational
Although educational research has an independent object, one can easily notice in it several
aspects – philosophical, psychological and sociological. It is obvious that educational reality is
addressed from different perspectives. However, it must be admitted that only educational
research analyses education in a syncretic way, as a system created by people and serving them.
Hence, both educational researchers and practitioners should analyse their work from
philosophical, psychological and sociological perspectives, rethinking the educational realities
through reflection and double-loop learning. Philosophical approach is reflected in the
development of intellectual autonomy and cultivation of critical discussion.
From the perspective of philosophy of education, there is no better way of addressing the
problems as critical and reflective thinking. Philosophical perspective on education emphasises
search for alternative thinking, raising educational and social questions, discovering the
intellectual potential possessed by society. It is believed that philosophy can help to create a
more effective educational theory because philosophy helps to discover the aims and methods
and to critically analyse the cultural preconditions of education. Philosophy provides us with
general perspective a broader approach. Obviously, educational theory covers more than
philosophy, using the input of many areas. Interface of philosophy and other sciences in
education helps to organise educational process and makes it clearer.
During the 20th century, Lithuanian school was following the traditional educational paradigm,
which sees education as transmission of generalised social experience to students. According to
the new paradigm of liberal education which is aimed at nurturing child’s natural abilities, only
education responding to the current needs of individual and society can meet the requirements of
the knowledge society. Establishment of the new paradigm first of all requires a large number of
its adherents among teachers. A contrast between educational reality and the effort emerges:
many teachers try to apply principles and technologies of liberal education and to propagate the
unfolding of student personality, self-consciousness, creation of favourable educational
environment, and teaching to solve problems. However, educational reality is laden with
pedagogical conservatism and academic character of teaching. It can be expected that change of
the educational paradigm will take a few decades and will be related to the new educational
thinking. Type of the paradigm is also related to the state education system: traditional paradigm
dominates in centralised system, whereas decentralisation is accompanies by emphasis on
education of free individual. In other words, paradigm change and the political, social and
educational evolution of society are synchronic, conditioning each other phenomena, thus
democratic society reinforces the paradigm of liberal education, whereas educating free
individual facilitates the development of democratic society. So, education involves search for
methods, forms and learning environments, which integrates philosophical and educational
As pointed out by McLaughlin, all personal dimensions are interrelated both logically and
psychologically. Personal beliefs are in a complex way related to attitudes, emotions and
motivations. Emotions are made of cognitive forms, which allow assessing many aspects of
situations. Feeling fear means assessing situation as threatening, feeling guilt means admitting
unmet commitments and responsibilities. To properly understand an individual we need a holistic
approach. Education is holistic in terms of its effects. Introducing to a child new learning subject
means not only opening a possibility for cognitive and intellectual development, but also
initiation of new attitudes, emotions and motivations.
According to Galston (1991), truth and critical inquiry are subject to the same goal – to develop
individuals able to effectively manage their lives and to support their communities. Broad
critical understanding and the development of attitudes and values based on liberal

education promote not only personal autonomy and citizenship, but also the establishment
of the new paradigm.
Osterloh (1991) notes that individuality is based on the assumption that human being is a
creature of heterogeneous nature (with individual physiological peculiarities) and social
evolution (with interests, attitudes and values). Human individuality calls for education, which
takes place in society with many different members. One of the conclusions of social psychology
is that only those communities are stable which unite different individuals. In such communities,
social roles are distributed naturally, their members complement each other, and everybody
needs other person’s work and its outcomes. When society formulates a unanimous ideal of
individual for all its members, even if very attractive, it is impossible to achieve good results
with regard to not only a single individual, but also to the needs of entire society. In this way, the
problem of individualisation is not only related to education, but transcends into social and
philosophical level. Emergence of school fear situations can be regarded as discrimination
targeted at children with certain thinking and sensing patterns.
According to Schnabel (1998), the choice of realistic model of a lesson is made based on an
assumption that child is not an abstract executor, unaffected by environment. Teacher training,
from primary to end of the career, should be based on the lifelong learning concept. Is this
teacher training paradigm already dominating?
Child may bring low self-esteem from his family, and the school may contribute to further
destroying his self-respect. Teacher’s task is to ensure children feel safe and know their worth,
and to prevent fear and anxiety, which hinder acceptance of new experiences.
Hurrelmann (1998) argues that an emotionally charged instruction material attracts children,
stimulates their wish to learn, and causes positive emotions during the learning process and joy
of accomplishment at the end. Intensity of the lesson changes taking into account the topic,
however it also depends on the way of teaching. Best learning results are achieved by unblocked,
open to new experience children who are presented with an emotionally charged material.
Teacher could ask oneself, ‘How a student feels when listening to what I teach? Is there a way to
relate the content of the subject to child’s life?’
Accepting the proposition of humanistic philosophy about individual’s inherent need to create
instead of destroy, we should look for reasons of destructive behaviour, fear and stress not in the
vicious nature, but in the environment which fails to meet certain needs of an individual and to
allow him to express his feelings.
When human being is deprived of freedom, the empty space gets filled with something else –
fear and resentment. As noted by Brown (1990), a proponent of convergent education, school
educates people who will be changing and improving the society. It is important how today’s
students understand freedom, responsibility and democracy because this understanding will
determine the kind of society they will live in after a few decades. An autonomous individual
consciously chooses discipline as personal responsibility, respect for law and order because such
individual has consciously chosen democracy. Teaching is aimed at achieving the balance
between the cognitive and emotional aspects, and at the same time between freedom and
responsibility. One of the ways to this aim is allowing students to feel that they are able to
account for their behaviour.

Humanistic Education and School Fear Problem

Humanistic education, which has its roots in psychology, treats individual as a holistic
phenomenon in the process of self-development. According to Maslow, one of the key features
of individual is striving to realise one’s capabilities. Humanistic education laid the ground for the
concept of convergent education emphasising the unity of intellectual and emotional components
and close relationship of school with its social environment. When feeling insecurity, anxiety and
threat of humiliation, children get ‘blocked’, which significantly reduces their ability to learn.

The aim of the humanistic education is educating andadequate’ individual who has the following
features: positive self-evaluation, self-identification comparing oneself to others, openness to
new experience, and mastering the senses acquired at school and from other informal sources.
Through this kind of education school creates conditions for individual’s emancipation.
Proponents of humanistic education devote a lot of attention to children’s emotional freedom and
accumulation of subjective experience, which enable self-expression, and development of
humanistic morality. The latter in turn leads to gradual harmonisation of social relations.
Paradigm of liberal education, which is emphasising methods of humanistic education, involves
autonomy development, stress on general knowledge and development of critical thinking.
According to humanistic education, students learn what they need and want to know, wish and
ability to learn is more important than factual knowledge; it is important to learn to feel; students
lean only when they do not feel fear. Humanistic education brings responsibility to the top of the
value hierarchy. An autonomous individual actively resists the unification of value-based
attitudes and their indoctrination. Individual is a value, which should not be subordinated to
sociocentric values. Human being is free, however not from something but for something, free
from any restrains (especially with regard to freedom), free to choose. Being able to choose a
value system complies to the idea of humanism. The chosen system should include the main
moral dilemmas and their solutions as well as freely chosen cultural values of the community to
which a student belongs. Free choice is inseparable from the development of critical thinking and
ability to assess political and economic reality, which affects individual’s life. An autonomous
individual commits to look for ways of better managing one’s personality development and
creation of human relations in society. Achieving this ideal requires creating favourable
educational environment which helps students to understand themselves and to reveal their own
needs and those of the others in order to reconcile the contradicting needs, if there are any. It is
important to teach students to make a distinction between real needs and spontaneous desires
which need to be controlled. Receiving this kind of education students are able to critically
assess their values, they develop value priorities; distinguish between personal and public values.
Shiflett (1975) believes that fear is the key barrier to learning, pointing out that good soldiers
learn to control their fear and to live with it. However, there is a big difference between soldier
and student: when the latter has got accustomed to fear, it disrupts his/her intelligence and
abilities, makes them unproductive. While scared soldier can be a good fighter, a scared child
will never be a good student. According to convergent education, we should use in class methods
based on the principles of partnership, democratic style, tolerance, and aspiration to help each
other, communitarian education and social responsibility.
Brown (1990) points out that any intellectual learning is accompanied by certain emotions and
involves mind. Emotions affect body and mind; therefore they can stimulate or suppress a wish
to learn better. In educational process, students have to overcome learning barriers: anxiety,
fear, threat of humiliation and low self-esteem. The best kind of learning is the one rising from
within oneself, resulting in convergence of cognition, emotions, will and senses. Thus,
converging education positively affects student’s emotions, encourages positive evaluation of
oneself and overcoming of fear and helps to create conditions, which eliminate emergence of
stress, an fear. A clear symptom of meaningful learning is responsibility for one’s state, emotions
and actions in the learning process. The meaningful learning can be more easily organised by the
teachers who have been trained according to the new paradigm, i.e. who are open, responsible,
free, and with relevant personal experience. Teachers of this kind are capable of creating the
learning situations in which children are not able to make mistakes.
According to Glassner (1975), fear of mistake has become one of the dominating features of
school life. Competition and unethical comparison of grades impedes successful learning. Strict
discipline becomes unnecessary when children are willing to learn. An important part of learning
is discovering values through expression of one’s inner powers. When students are helped to
perceive what is good in them, what gives them the sense of inner harmony and encourages to

constantly developing, this strengthens their feeling of self-worth as well as initiative and
Mood (1970) has expressed the following view regarding student and teacher relationship and
psychological cruelty and fear: ‘A new approach is developing to what constitutes civilised
behaviour. This approach is much softer and more acceptable than the one we are used.
However, it is not easy for us to accept it because life is full of examples of cruelty, stress and
fear. A key element of the new norms of civilized behaviour is a proposition that psychological
cruelty resulting in stress and fear is no more acceptable than physical aggression.’ Stress
among students can be caused by inappropriate behaviour of the teacher. Insensitive teacher
often only urges to study, forgetting those human actions, which evoke feelings and imagination.
The key difference between humanistic and traditional education is that, besides transmission of
new knowledge and experience, the former also emphasises effort to make students understand
the meaning, which this knowledge and skills may have personally for them. In traditional lesson,
students may experience failure not because of poorly presented information, but because they
are not given an opportunity to realise and understand personal significance of knowledge,
events and objects. Can it be argued that most of the teachers admit the importance of personal
significance of learning instead of that of knowledge transmission?
The key aims of the humanistic education are to promote students’ self-governance and self-
management, creativity, interest in art and curiosity. Emphasis of these aims is based on the
conviction that traditional teaching disrupts the inherent creativity of children. According to
humanistic education, students should be allowed to choose what to study; they should be given
more opportunities to learn how to study instead of learning the content of a certain subject.
Students’ self-evaluation is more important than evaluation by others; ability to express,
understand and control emotions is as important as learning facts, concepts and principles and
development of intellectual skills. Living and learning is better in the environment where
students do not feel fear and tension, where there is no competitive spirit and standards
imposed by other people. Can it be argued that humanistic education provides one of the
solutions to the problem of stress and fear at school?

Manifestation of Student Stress and Fear and their Features at School

According to Singer (1998) and Klippert (2000), the examination related stress evokes
physiological and mental ailments to some students, whereas study related tension might lead to
permanent headaches. Long journey to school, wrong school schedule, or transfer to another
class or school can also cause various ailments. Family and society can also cause the above
symptoms, especially by common cases of sneer by other children, although complexes of fear
are often caused by factors at all three levels. This essay is focused on the processes, which take
place in school community, the environments affecting students, and the people students meet
every day. It is important to recognise the very syndrome of school fear, distinguishing it from
such cases as lack of motivation and abilities, since this phenomenon has a lot of faces and
symptoms. These symptoms should be interpreted correctly, understanding whether a problem is
caused by family or by violence at school.
Until recently it was believed about children who do not like school, teachers and learning
process, who do not get involved in school activities, that it is their own fault. It was thought that
are not capable of attending common school and therefore should be educated in special
institutions. Contemporary achievements in psychology and education lead to exploring such
phenomenon as school stress and fear. An important educational mission is timely recognition
of stress symptoms in students, before it results depression, aggression or inclination to
suicide. In other words, an important issue is stress management, which in educational practice is
related to social support and effective communication. Close relationships between students,
parents and teachers are possible not in every in educational institution. Only favourable
organisational culture can involve every member into development of environments favourable

for every individual. Stress leads to such negative emotion as fear. In this context, we are
talking about fear of school felt by students. Fear is a part of life manifesting itself in functioning
of every organism. Children without fears do not have natural warning systems and therefore
have difficulties in overcoming risk factors. Fear is an emotion of adaptation, however when it
continues for a long time, it starts traumatizing an individual and may become a serious problem
for students.
School fear is classified into fear of exams, fear of teachers, fear of answering teacher’s
questions, fear of failure, fair of being laughed at, and fear of punishment for low marks. A
child experiencing any of these fears may start changing: become reserved, angry, or aggressive.
Are teachers ready to recognize the symptoms of student stress and school fear, to deal with their
outcomes and to prevent them?
In research on school fear and stress, German researchers in education and pedagogical
psychology have achieved good results. Broad theoretical and practical studies conducted in
Germany can be helpful to Lithuanian scholars in education that are involved in research on this
topic and are searching for practical advice to those experiencing this problem. What is wrong in
educational ideas if such phenomena as stress and fear emerge?
Psychological studies conducted by Singer (1998) in the last three years produced the following
results: one fifth of the students are experiencing constant school fear. Regarding the
physiological state, it has been found that from twenty to fifty percent of students are
complaining about various physical pains. From thirty to fifty percent of parents give their
children sedatives. Are not these numbers a cry for help from the students and a signal of danger
for adults? Not only doctors, but also educators know that a physiological state of individual is
closely related to psychological and mental health. These categories affect each other, therefore
symptoms of stress and fears should be analysed in relation to each other.
Hurrelmann (1994) notes that school fear in children may be caused by offences and injustice
from teachers and other students. Reasons of school fear should be analysed by specialists of
medicine, psychology and education, in some cases separately, however the most effective
results would be achieved by integrating knowledge and experience of these specialists.
Research results confirm the hypothesis that today students spend most time in closed spaces
(school, library, home), or in rather isolated spaces (in yard with friends), and only a few hours in
nature, outside town, in a different environment. Such limited change of environment harms
children’s physiological and psychological development, makes them to spend most of their time
with the same people. Thus, creation of environments positively influencing individuals is one of
the conditions for safe and effective learning and functioning in a socium.

School Level Categories, Student Stress and School Fear

(Educational Forms and Methods Influencing Self-expression of a Free Individual)

Personal development is individual’s self-expression through relationship with the environment

and things. According to Fullan (1998), lesson is expression of the world and of the soul.
Proponents of teaching differentiation argue that students have right to choose learning space.
McLaughlin argues that having carefully determined the individual values, beliefs and reactions
of every student; educator should use this knowledge for further expansion of student’s horizon.
Democratic attitude towards class discussions developing students’ autonomy, encouraging
mutual understanding and respect to minority opinion helps to create sociocultural conditions of
cognition, when only by understanding and participating in discussions students construct
individual knowing. According to contemporary education, learning should be based on student’s
skills, values and personal traits. In the educational process, teachers help students to express
their views, to understand erroneous attitudes and to replace them by new ones, which encourage
personal growth. In this context, an important role is played by holistic education arising from
fundamental needs of a spiritual person, his/her inner incentives. Bitinas (2000) argues that one

of today’s requirements for the education system is to create conditions enabling the students to
develop products, which are personally important for them. In this way, students get involved in
the lifelong learning. This raises the problem of finding the right educational forms and methods
influencing the expression of a free individual. Can a student who is feeling fear express oneself
as a free person?
Brian (1997) notes that in the US about 1.3 million children are subjected to home schooling.
According to him, home schooling has a number of advantages: academic, emotional, spiritual
and communicative. McLaughlin suggests that children experiencing constant school fear could
be offered a number of alternatives, e.g. search for various methods of conducting a lesson and
their integration into comprehensive education, educating such students in separate classes and
even schools, or educating them at home. The last option should not be rejected but it could be
used as a temporary therapy or only for those children who have strong and hardly surmountable
fear, or are hyperactive. In Lithuania, home schooling at present is more common among
children with physical problems, and only rarely it is suggested for students with various
psychological problems. No research has been conducted on the percentage of children among
them who are experiencing stress and school fear. It is believed that home schooling helps to
develop autonomy due to the absence of pressure from other children and fear to be ridiculed and
because individual feels responsible for his decisions. When studying at home, child
communicates less with her contemporaries, however associates with a greater number of people
of different ages. Home schooling has a lot of academic advantages: small number of students,
time saving, a better opportunity for differentiation and individualization of the educational
process, and especially – less external hindrances. One of the requirements to the educational
community could be formulating educational ideas and developing learning environments in
such ways that every student have a possibility to express his/her individuality. A special
emphasis should be placed on the comprehensive schools which are at the basis of the Lithuanian
education system and which educate students from a broad range of social groups and layers. It
is necessary to find relevant educational forms and methods and to train teachers who are able to
create favourable learning environments, so that every student in a comprehensive school feel
safe and can grow as an autonomous, creative individual.
Hurrelmann (1994) notes that comprehensive schools develop respectful attitudes towards
different views and diversity of values, and consequently positive attitude towards diversity
among students. Civic moral tolerance promotes respect and tolerance in attitude towards one’s
classmates. Naturally, education for citizenship helps to develop positive attitude towards every
individual, including somewhat different people with certain physical and mental defects or
various temporary ailments, such as stress and fear. School ethos has a broad impact on the
functioning of the entire school as organization and on the life of every individual. Moral
education shapes people through acquisition and application of knowledge, skill and values. The
philosophical theory of liberalism raises the question: how can persons live together as free
and equal democratic citizens in a stable and just society, in which deeply rooted different
attitudes regarding the fundamental issues exist? Undoubtedly, such category as tolerance
should be understood and applied by every individual. Tolerance development is a basis for the
development of individual’s value system to make him understand positions, expectations and
exceptionality of every surrounding person.
Klippert (2002) has declared a war to school fear by expressing the following vision: energetic
teachers, motivated students, and lessons centred on the joy of learning. Travelling from one
German region to another, this scholar is spreading his method, which eliminates accumulation
of stress situations in the educational process. Klippert argues that most of the student failures
are embedded in teacher training faults, lack of competence and flexibility. While emphasizing
the notion of open school and the system of open education, humanistic education also places a
special emphasis on open lessons, which Klippert addressed on his research. Such lessons
confirm Rogers’ claim that teacher’s function is not teaching but developing a personal
learning process for a student, creating an individualised learning atmosphere deprived of

tension and rush. Open lesson is learning through action, when key attention is given to
student’s interests. Instead of learning by heart, such learning can be regarded as experiential
because students constantly need already existing knowledge and experience to compare and
identify differences. According to research, lessons of this kind reduce the number of various
ailments. Individualisation and differentiation of the educational process reduces fear because it
gives an opportunity to modify the curriculum by reducing or increasing the workload, speed
and time. Working in groups helps to develop the collaboration method and team-based problem
solving; it encourages the need to coordinate one’s thinking and actions with those of other
group members. Thus, by emphasising learning which includes thinking, emotions, feelings and
takes into account students’ needs, the intellectual and problem solving skills, independent
thinking and an autonomous individual are developed. The above research has resulted in the
following conclusions: everyone is learning at the most acceptable speed, every student has as
much time as he or she needs. A teacher observes learning progress and gives students a greater
joy of learning. A closer contact with teacher enhances her function as an assistant and consultant
to students, and as a result this eliminates feeling of fear and gives students greater courage.
Experiential learning gives greater meaning to learning as a process; instead of acting as
competing rivals, students get involved in the collaboration process, actively giving and
receiving support. Work in groups, work with a chosen partner and the ability to work in the
context of the entire class today becomes a usual phenomenon. Naturally, student’s mental and
physical states are influenced by values, which are prioritised in the specific educational
institution. A special emphasis on values is placed in schools having their own philosophy, e.g.
those using Montessori or Waldorf methods. The aims of these educational systems are
integration, individualisation and help to disabled children. For example, the Montessori method
emphasises activities according to every person’s physical and mental abilities as well as respect
to child’s rights and personal autonomy. This method allows and even encourages children to
make mistakes, find and correct them, in this way developing one’s personality. The Montessori
method was one of the first to emphasise the importance of silence and concentration exercises
for the holistic education of a child. This method aims to develop the sensitive phases in child’s
development, grasping the moments when child is especially capable of perceiving certain
phenomena. Noting child’s capabilities at certain moments helps to change his/her relationship
with educational means, educators and the self. Can and should comprehensive school also
follow the values and philosophy, which encourage individual’s self-expression?
A number of educational institutions with their own distinctive philosophy are not large, so it is
worth discussing the schools, which are attended by majority of students. It would be wrong to
believe that it is impossible for comprehensive schools to give the priority to physical and mental
health of children. An overall security and self-expression of the child is affected by the school
culture (accepted values, teacher and student relationships, traditions, physical environment),
climate (proper assessment, acknowledgement of individual’s worth), philosophy (emphasis on
humanistic principles and on student’s importance in the educational system), group and
individual goals (congruence of teachers’, students’, parents’ and school management goals).
Every member of organisation contributes to creation of school climate, which can be favourable
or unfavourable for achieving the aims of the school and at the same time for students’ self-
As noted by Juceviciene (1994), organisational climate is that human environment in which
employees do their work; it is invisible, intangible but it is ‘in the air’. Unfavourable climate,
complicated communication between organisation members, tense relationships between
students and teachers, poor management and ineffective communication cause aggression, fears
and stress. It can be assumed that reasons behind school non-attendance and decreasing learning
motivation are related to the entire school as organisation. In organisation with unfavourable
climate, there are more cases of stress as compared to organizations with commonly accepted
values and good climate. It can be argued that by eliminating stress and factors causing fear and
by introducing a positive, acceptable culture into the school life, one can reduce such problems

as non-attendance. Juceviciene argues that the fewer students are satisfied with study, the more
frequently they skip lessons, using any opportunities. Of course, developing and maintaining
school ethos is a duty of all individuals interacting with educational environments.

Students do not feel fear in the school environment (the impact of educational environment
and social partners on elimination of the school fear)

Interaction of teacher and student is seen as interaction of two individuals ‘I – you’; it is similar
to a therapeutic encounter (Siauciukeniene). In this interaction, educator is an expert helping the
student to understand his/her possibilities. It is important to involve into educational dialogue
parents and social partners, i.e. society, and to discuss together the educational issues; to
participate in the education related activities. Although discussions about education are taking
place in society, they more resemble talks given by different groups, speaking one after another.
A mission of education is to decide whom to involve into collaboration dialogue and what
approach to follow, taking into account the requirements of curriculum, time and environment.
This implies that teacher has to understand students’ needs and their worldview. Choice and
reorganisation of the educational programme is related to a moral dilemma: teacher has to
analyse it and to assess its impact on students’ life. Thus, it is important to have an educational
insight – to leave the students enough freedom to enable them to integrate their perceived
possibilities with their activities and to get involved into community.
Miller (1995) notes that education and various educational methods are realized not abstractly,
but in certain environments. Search for and establishment of effective learning environments
leads to a collaboration model and partnership-based relationships. Communitarian relationships,
which are initiated at school and maintained in families and in students’ interactions, are related
to the categories of autonomy, democratic society and liberal education.
Search for the most effective teaching methods and forms enable the holistic education of a
child. According to McLaughlin, we have to teach children instead of teaching subjects; process
is more important than content. These educational propositions can be detected in the above-
described lessons, which eliminate stress and fear. Educational methods which are focused on
learning by heart without developing an ability to ask critical questions, which do not warrant
involvement in the educational process and understanding it, involve only some of the students,
whereas for others (both gifted and not, motivated and not) this kind of learning causes more
difficulties than advantages. Every teacher should ask himself: what kind of individual am I
attempting to educate – knowing a lot of material but being afraid to ask, doubt and judge, or
the one with personal views, values and civic position? A person with the own value system and
an active citizen will be much less affected by stress, whereas a spiritual individual will get less
quickly overcome by fears. Thus, we can see an obvious link between learning methods,
educational environments, school ethos and development of personal autonomy which allows to
more successfully overcome stress and fears or to avoid them in the first place.
According to Schnabel (1998), we have to talk about recognising the identity of a particular
individual in the specific situation. In this situation, important is the emergence of dialogue
leading to discussion. Emergence of dialogue depends on the effectiveness of interaction
between parents and teachers. Recognising the uniqueness of every person, giving priority to
positive evaluation, properly organising the educational process and involving into it individuals
with certain elements of autonomy, we can hope to create the educational environments meeting
students’ needs of safety and recognition. It is especially important to overcome stress for
children from disharmonious families since they do not have many opportunities for talking and
getting consolation. In this case, the stress experienced at school is not eliminated at home.
Social institutions should give special support to these children to prevent them from being
afraid to go to school due to material problems. Do school and family collaborate sufficiently
and what factors could make this collaboration more efficient?

One of the principles of humanistic education states that it the easiest, most meaningful and
efficient learning takes place in the environment free of fear. For many children school is the
place where they experience humiliation, are ridiculed, disdained and encounter injustice.
According to Rogers (1969), it creates danger to individuals and their self-perception, which
makes it difficult for students to study.
Bitinas (2000) points out a particular importance of the teacher-training paradigm. Teachers,
even if inadvertently, can create a fear-evoking environment. It is important for every teacher
to develop an individual working system aimed at encouraging responsibility and democratic
atmosphere in the class. In such atmosphere, instead of attacking each other, children collaborate,
instead of fighting for survival, work in groups, using the methods which are crucial for every
individual in modern society. When child’s motivation is dominated by fear, his behaviour is
non-adaptive, he does not want to try to do something new and reacts only when it is safe, then
he does not make full use of all his possibilities. School gains a new meaning and importance
when students want to study and get immersed into the new areas because they feel that nothing
threatens their self-esteem. Has teacher training and qualification adopted the philosophy of the
new paradigm and how can this be tested?
Studies by psychotherapists and psychologists (Horeney, 2002) have highlighted the attributes of
personality, which help to maintain good physical and mental state of the students in the
educational process. Such state enhances student’s self-expression protecting him from stress:
relationships promoting trust: trust in parents and teachers is a harbour for students looking for
confidence and strength; trust, challenges and courage: ability to solve problem situations;
conscious participation in conflict solving strengthens student’s position in society and gives
him/her others’ recognition; optimistic outlook on life, things and phenomena: it has been
proved by research that optimists get ill less frequently than pessimists; pessimism encourages
fears, disappointment and doubts which wear out human body and lead to physical and mental
illness; active position in life, confidence in self and in outcomes of one’s work, conviction that
a lot depends on oneself strengthens human body and soul; positive evaluation of oneself and
others: it is important to be convinced that one is valuable and can accomplish a lot, that one
determines the outcomes of one’s work and the feelings of other people; encouragement of the
moment of discovery in the educational process: learning should be centred around the states
of joy and satisfaction with the learning process; fear is a bad teacher; active physical
involvement: it is natural for children to be free and to move a lot, which is often restrained at
school, emphasising silence and peace. Being both mentally and physically active, children
express their inherent creativity; it is developed instead of being restrained, and in this way both
physical and mental health is improved.
Doblhofer (1995) gives a number of recommendations to teachers:
 To create a trust-building atmosphere based on patience, tolerance and moderate criticism.
School is only a part of life, therefore we should not overemphasise bad marks and school
 To rise realistic requirements corresponding to children’s age, abilities and interests, instead
of assuming that they have to achieve what parents or teachers want. Too high expectations
and requirements can cause more harm than benefit.
 To be emphatic, i.e. able to emphasise with students. Upon noticing the symptoms of stress
and fear in a child, to be able start learning together trying to understand the complexity of
the subject. It is important for teachers to participate in courses and to play student roles,
testing the situations evoking stress and fear.
 Help is an important element, however it should not be overused (e.g. by doing homework
instead of a child, allowing skipping the school or an assignment).
 Hygiene factors (breaks between lessons, proper food, a moderate use of TV and computer)
are especially important.
 Development of socialisation skills is important for every individual.

Personal Autonomy as a Tool for Reducing Stress and Fear

According to the ‘Dictionary of International Terms’, autonomy means independence, right of

self-order and of making decisions; independence from external ethical norms, as opposed to
one’s own conscience (moral autonomy).
Dictionary of Psychology (1993) defines personal autonomy as independence from
circumstances, ability to decide independently, to rely on one’s senses, mind, life goal and ideals.
Only a pro-social individual can be regarded as autonomous; individuals who are dependent on
socially unacceptable factors are not regarded as autonomous. So, autonomy is the highest
expression of the personal freedom: the more complex is person’s inner world, the better he
knows himself, the better possibilities he has to rely on oneself and to make choices.
Autonomy is manifested by free will, spontaneous behaviour, creative flight and conscious
attempts to maintain and increase one’s independence. An autonomous individual regulates his/
her behaviour relying on conscience. The more complex is individual’s inner world, the more he
can rely on himself, and the better he knows himself, the bigger choices he has and the greater is
his autonomy. Perception of one’s autonomy gives joy and helps to feel the meaning of life.
According to Gray (1992), a free person is the one who has rights and privileges, which are
needed to be able to think and act autonomously instead of being controlled by others.
Emancipation means liberation from institutional and environmental forces which limit
individual’s choices and possibilities to manage one’s life in rational way.
Schools operate in the social, cultural and political context, which is complex and changing
(McLaughlin). Personality is a unanimous whole that’s inherent and acquired (social) qualities
are not only closely related, but also affect each other. Therefore it is important to get to know
the entirety of the student’s personal qualities and their differences in the process of his/her
becoming. Soloists emphasise that the features of a part are mostly determined by the whole to
which it belongs and that to understand the parts it is important to understand their interrelations.
According to the holistic view, human being is a whole, integral, complex personality. In
existential sense, individual is organically related to the surrounding world; his/her being is
contextually determined. An individual phenomenon can be understood and recognised only as a
context of the broader system of phenomena.
Conditions for developing personal autonomy are created by allowing choosing learning
environments, to realize one’s dispositions, interests and abilities in the educational process. Paul
(1993) points out that development of the autonomous thinking is influenced by the development
of critical thinking skills. Thus, an autonomous person is characterized by free, rational and
critical thinking. An autonomous individual is capable of analyzing and assessing information,
seeks to collect and understand it. The educational process should be organized to make the
students look for the ways of decision analysis, using different sources.
An autonomous individual takes in the essential information, participates in different areas of
school life and promotes citizenship. Aspiration to implant in students various public values,
understanding of traditions and certain commitments promotes debate, diversity of opinions and
critical action. Liberal education strives to liberate a student, to broaden the horizons, to
strengthen the sense of freedom of choice, to reveal the prejudices and superstitions. According
to Bailey (1984), intellectual and moral autonomy is a possibility to become free when
choosing what to do and whom to believe.
Important features of an autonomous individual are constant dialogue with oneself, overall
reflection, critical view of oneself and one’s life style. Individuality is inseparable from self-
consciousness – comparison and assessment of different ‘I’m’ – and the result of this assessment
– auto conception. An autonomous individual constantly compares the requirements of the auto
conception and the actual behaviour. In other words, auto conception is a kind of the individual
programme raising strict requirements to an individual. The greater is disintegration of

individual’s inner life and dissatisfaction with oneself, the bigger is an emotional discomfort,
which often turns into a mental disorder. An outcome of the disintegrated self-image is
dissatisfaction and intolerance towards oneself. One of the key functions of the educator is to
help a student to develop a self-image and to implement it in life. Search for autonomy can be
called search for wisdom. Thus, autonomy development is related to seeing and searching for
the opportunities instead of achieving a finite knowing. An autonomous individual aspires to
understand and cover various details of the world and to put them into an orderly whole. Do
schools develop personal autonomy? Can teachers trained in the old paradigm develop students’
autonomy as a right of independently making free choices? If not, how does lack of autonomy
influences the emergence of school fear?
Freedom as an educational aim is realized following the paradigm of education as collaboration
with student’s nature. According to this paradigm, child is an active educational subject who,
with help of educator, expresses himself through communication and activity. Helped by teacher,
student perceives his/her development, learns to realize it and to make decisions, enters the life
as an autonomous individuality, independent of random circumstances.
According to Becker (1994), if a person since early childhood starts developing himself as an
individual with his own value system resistant to unfavourable impacts, it will be easier for such
student to fight the external threats, such as stress, fear, or aggression. Values are one of the key
issues in education. In this aspect, teachers and parents are the key developers of the learning
environments and collaborative culture. According to McLaughlin, the concept of liberal
education emphasises students’ independent thinking and achievement of a certain personal
autonomy. In case of the school fear, the issue of autonomy is particularly important because an
autonomous person is less easily affected by environment: his/ her strong values provide strength
in various stress situations. An autonomous individual is flexible, capable of critical analysis and
global thinking, aspires to look for the right propositions and to constructively solve conflicts. In
contrast, a person lacking autonomy looks at the world with fear resists change and withdraws
into oneself. The concept of autonomy is also analysed by so-called anti-pedagogy representing
the paradigm of free education and offering a postulate of childhood autonomy: children have as
many rights as adults, they can part from their parents, choose an educational institution, the
content and forms of education, and to own property. Child rights are not a privilege but a
necessary condition for the development of free personality. The notion of child autonomy is
based on the interaction between adults and children and the equal rights realized through
dialogue. The developed sense of autonomy overcomes the gap between generations, parents,
children and educators. The control system dominating in the education system traumatizes
children, causes stress and fear, so a new one, aimed at the development of natural abilities and
self-expression, should replace it. This concept of humanistic education develops child’s
autonomy, and the autonomous individual finds more strength (inner and outer) to
overcome situations laden with stress and fear. This direction in education argues that an
autonomous person can more easily develop skills required for living in the rapidly changing
society. One can disagree with anti-pedagogy suggesting giving up schools, however the idea of
non-traditional forms of education is worth considering since it can be implemented in traditional
schools. When educating an autonomous individual, it is important not to overemphasise the
common stereotypes regarding male and female functions in society as well as educational
means, forms and methods.
Attention to individual and his mental and spiritual qualities shows how much effort school
devotes to the development of personal autonomy. When developing autonomy, individual’s
character is being perfected. According to Rousseau, people are inherently good, energetic and
aspiring to know. It should be kept in mind that learning should not bet forced; it should be
pleasant and attractive, following the notion of school as ‘home of joy’. There should be space
for learning through discovery discussed by Dewey. When learning important things, research
skills and independence are developed, and they should be useful in the future.

According to study by Helmke (1983), a student experiencing stress and school fear can be
called an exceptional student who needs special teaching corresponding taking into account his
mental and physical qualities, social behaviour, communication skills and various ailments.
Some students need special attention because a unique combination of their qualities does not
allow them to learn in traditional ways. It can be that a student is not able to learn and that co-
operation with specialists is needed to find special methods meeting such student’s needs. On the
other hand, a student can have exceptional intellectual ability, which requires developing a
broader educational programme. An autonomous person in any circumstances of his/her
development is able to remain independent, with his/her own life vision and civic position, so
it is less easily affected by stress. For an autonomous individual, school fear is not an
emotion, which could impede achieving the learning efficiency.


Solution to the problem of student stress and school fear is a complex process requiring the
interaction of various institutions and persons. This process is complicated, however it should be
noted that the Lithuanian education system and its schools have favourable conditions for
solving this problem. Finding solutions to the problem of school fear requires medical,
psychological and educational competence, thus it involves into collaboration process the
specialists of these areas and the family. This essay emphasises educational competence and
educational means which enable the students to acquire competencies and to integrate into
society as autonomous, tolerant and free individuals.
It can be argued that creation of positive learning environments affecting students’ needs for
security and eliminating stress situations which lead to fear of different kinds, is influenced by
the external, internal and educational factors:
 External: legal, economic, political, technological, cultural.
 Internal: values, culture, philosophy, human resources, communication, and qualification.
 Factors related to the educational process: educational aims, content, methods, means, and
interaction in the educational process.
Resolving the problem of school fear requires certain advance conditions: harmonization of the
education system (curricula, assessment system, examination requirements, terms, time for
assignment marking); establishment of various alternative schools; promoting school initiative in
searching for new educational forms and methods and in choosing individual curricula;
effectiveness of the school ethos (creating and changing, if needed, the culture of school as a
specific educational organization taking into account both specific individuals and school as a
community); creating favourable educational environment in which students, teachers and
parents effectively interact; teachers’ educational competence. These conditions could be more
easily created by following means: enhancing the educational environment and climate which
shapes students’ roles, status and expectations; replacing the traditional, teacher-oriented
educational forms and methods with active teaching methods; search for effective
communication and its application in the educational process; creating conditions for the
unfolding of personal autonomy; using art, music and therapeutic measures.
Having met these conditions, it can be hoped that: autonomous, critically thinking individuals
will integrate in the civic society; comprehensive secondary education will enable every citizen
to get education meeting his/her dispositions and abilities; drop-out students will return to
educational institutions, ready to accept them; harmful habits which are regarded as one the
means of fighting stress and depression will become not only unacceptable, but also intolerable;
society will increase its tolerance towards individuals with diverse needs and abilities.


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