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APACS: Educator and teacher wellbeing: it starts with the staff

While teaching and working with young people is known to be rewarding and fulfilling in nature,1 teaching has also been ranked as one of the most stressful, complex and demanding jobs in modern society.2


Teaching is multi-faceted, and it is interpersonally and emotionally demanding.3,4 Research has shown that the profession is strongly connected with high levels of stress and burnout.5,6 In fact, it has been found that up to 30 per cent of teachers are impacted by psychological ill-being and/or burnout.3


Further common symptoms of teacher ill-being include physical and emotional distress, fatigue, reduced self-confidence, and reduced sense of self-worth.7,3 While the reasons cited for this are varied, it is thought that an excessive workload and challenging student behaviour are two of the main causes.5 These factors may further be attributed to why the current attrition rates in the profession are so high.6


It is well documented that teachers are the most critical in-school component contributing to students’ overall belonging, connection and success8: “Well teachers promote well students.”9 Studies have shown that teachers positively impact students by creating a sense of belonging and encouraging engagement, learning and achievement.10 Teacher wellbeing also directly affects student wellbeing and achievement and as a result, is critical not only for the future of our young people, but also for the future of education.



However, teacher and educator wellbeing should not be viewed solely as a means to achieving student wellbeing. Educator wellbeing is important in and of itself and needs to be seen as such.


Teachers are at the heart of our schools and school systems, teaching, mentoring and caring for children and young people. While it is well acknowledged in the literature that teachers are the most important factor contributing to student wellbeing, success and achievement,8 it is also known that teacher wellbeing is deeply connected to the quality of their work. Teacher wellbeing is linked with increased positive relationships and belonging and is therefore of critical importance to wellbeing in education.2


In Australia, there have been calls for action to enhance and build teacher wellbeing. In a recent study of almost 2,500 Australian teachers,11 over 50 per cent of the participating teachers indicated that they intended to leave teaching within the next 10 years — the majority citing high levels of stress and burnout as the key reasons.


With figures like this, it is easy to see that teacher wellbeing needs to be addressed to ensure the strength of Australia’s education system into the future.11 Similarly, the Parliament of Australia (2019) ‘Status of the Teaching Profession’ report recommended that attending to teacher wellbeing is vital to ensuring teachers are retained and professionally supported throughout their careers.12


Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are significant and ongoing global concerns about teacher supply for a steady and effective workforce. A survey of 25 OECD countries found that about half report serious concerns about maintaining an adequate supply of good quality teachers,13 and that retention, attrition and effectiveness are all factors to be considered when highlighting the critical nature of supporting educator wellbeing in schools.


Wellbeing interventions for educators

The most well-received wellbeing interventions for school staff are those that are meaningful embedded within whole school cultures of wellbeing. These cultures seek to minimise onerous workloads and maximise positives such as connection, relationships, feelings of autonomy and self-efficacy.14 Research indicates that the initiatives with the least impact were ‘Band-Aid’ approaches that responded to a perceived problem but did not aim to address the actual cause.


Overall, teachers have been found to favour practices, policies and cultures that were aimed to promote manageable and meaningful workloads, rather than one-off or limited-duration wellbeing interventions, such as staff massage sessions or a coffee van.14


Wellbeing promotion for staff ensures a school’s culture is characterised by common goals, collegial relationships, and meaningful engagement, all of which can positively impact staff wellbeing and work towards preventing ill-being. A systemic, multi-tiered and ecological approach16 can enhance staff wellbeing and mental health through building staff connectivity, relationships, school culture and school climate.


Educating the educators

Relationships and high-quality social connections are essential elements of wellbeing. Facilitating and encouraging a culture of healthy and respectful relationships between staff and students is linked to enhanced wellbeing for all.17


Prioritising resources to enhance and further create high-quality staff relationships, policies that focus on promoting staff wellbeing, and a positive school culture impact staff wellbeing and mental health,15 while engaging staff in meaningful and targeted training that seeks to enhance capabilities.


The training and professional development that endeavour to target teacher wellbeing should ideally target more than a reduction of the symptoms of excessive stress and burnout.18 Continued measurement and evaluation of whole-school interventions to identify strengths and needs to improve staff wellbeing is recommended, as well as a strong, ongoing staff voice.18



Where to from here?

There is no magic wand. No quick fix. What works for one educator and one school will not work for another. However, strategic, well-considered, evidence-based interventions need to be considered to positively impact staff wellbeing.


Wellbeing is an ongoing journey and process for organisations and individuals alike. Research has shown that several key factors will assist in creating impactful and meaningful change over time, including the following.


Educator voice. Consulting with educators is key. Their voices need to be heard, valued and acted upon when possible.


Using data. Schools and organisations need to be guided by data as it is critical for monitoring and supporting change. Measurement of wellbeing or the success of interventions may be considered using surveys, as well as existing school data such as staff retention and attrition rates, staff absenteeism, and more.


Improvement or change that is meaningful, not just tokenistic or for change's sake. Schools are ever-changing and complex landscapes, and they can be at the whim of legislation and government changes. Often changes are made swiftly without consultation with those whom they affect the most. Teachers have complex and demanding roles and need to know that any changes are not ‘Band-Aids’ but are going to lead to genuine and meaningful improvements.


A healthy workplace culture and environment. Strong, healthy and respectful relationships are key elements of wellbeing. This is critical to consider as schools need to be workplaces that are psychologically and physically safe, and have a supportive culture where wellbeing is embraced and championed.


Consider workloads. While this topic can be contentious, it is well understood that there are certain non-negotiables within the teaching role. However, considering and acknowledging the complex, often challenging and large workload is important. The most successful interventions have been the ones that seek to minimise onerous workloads and maximise positives, or ones that allow staff to craft their roles, use their strengths and allow them to experience meaning and purpose through their work.


Education and training. Capacity and capabilities need to be enhanced in multiple ways. Teachers and educators need both professional support and development in their role, engaging in relevant training that builds wellbeing literacy and enhances practical wellbeing skills knowledge. 


Ongoing and holistic interventions. One-off interventions, such as the coffee van or massages, can be helpful short-term boosts to wellbeing. However, they are not solutions and ideally would be a part of a bigger, meaningful, strategic approach to staff wellbeing.


Formal supports. Staff may benefit from enriching professional activities that foster relationships, such as professional learning support networks. Staff who are experiencing burnout, excessive stress or ill-being may need individual, specialised assistance and support through a medical professional or employee access program (EAP).


Overall, supporting and enhancing teacher and educator wellbeing is critical in education. We are living in a modern world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA), and we need to actively work to support, enhance and grow wellbeing in our schools.


Teachers need to be supported so that they remain in the profession and continue to be highly effective and well in their roles, which is important for the future of education as well as for our young people.


Research has found that when staff members are experiencing positive wellbeing across multiple domains, they are more committed to their work and school, and generally report feeling happier and more satisfied with their health and life,19 further strengthening the importance and significance of investing in teacher wellbeing.


References

1. Wong VW, Ruble LA, Yu Y, McGrew JH. Too Stressed to Teach? Teaching Quality, Student Engagement, and IEP Outcomes. Exceptional Children. 2017;83(4), 412 427. https://doi.org/10.1177/0014402917690729

2. McCallum F, D Price, A Graham, A Morrison. Teacher wellbeing: a review of the literature. AISNSW Education Research Council. 2017. Accessed December 10, 2023. https://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2017-10/apo-nid201816.pdf

3. Johnson S, Cooper C, Cartwright S, Donald I, Taylor P, Millet C. The experience of work-related stress across occupations. Journal of Managerial Psychology. 2005;20(2), 178–187. https://doi.org/10.1108/02683940510579803 

4. Pyhältö K, Pietarinen J, Haverinen K, Tikkanen L, Soini T. Teacher burnout profiles and proactive strategies. European Journal of Psychology of Education 36. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-020-00465-6 

5. Skaalvik EM, Skaalvik S. Teacher self-efficacy and teacher burnout: A study of relations. Teaching and Teacher Education. 2010;26(4):1059-1069. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2009.11.001 

6. Chirico F, Crescenzo P, Nowrouzi-Kia B, et al. Prevalence and predictors of burnout syndrome among schoolteachers during the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy: A cross-sectional survey. Journal of Health and Social Sciences. 2022;7:195-211. DOI:10.19204/2022/PRVL6 

7. García C, Marina M, Aguayo R. Burnout syndrome in secondary school teachers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Social Psychology of Education 22. 2019. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-018-9471-9.

8. CESE News. European Education. 2014;45(3):99-101. https://doi.org/10.2753/EUE1056-4934450307

9. McCallum F, Price D. Well teachers, well students. The Journal of Student Wellbeing. 2010;4(1). https://doi.org/10.21913/JSW.v4i1.599 

10. Hattie J, Yates G. Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. Routledge; 2014. 

11. Heffernan A, Longmuir F, Bright D, Kim M. Perceptions of teachers and teaching in Australia. Monash University. 2019. Accessed December 10, 2023. https://www.monash.edu/perceptions-of-teaching/docs/Perceptions-of-Teachers-and-Teaching-in-Australia-report-Nov-2019.pdf

12. Turner K, Thielking M, Prochazka N. Teacher wellbeing and social support: a phenomenological study. Educational Research. 2022;64(1):77-94. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131881.2021.2013126 

13. OECD and Statistical Office of the European Communities. Oslo Manual: Guidelines for Collecting and Interpreting Innovation Data, 3rd Edition. OECD Publishing. 2005. https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264013100-en 

14. Brady J, Wilson E. Teacher wellbeing in England: teacher responses to school-level initiatives. Cambridge Journal of Education. 2020;51(1):45-63. http://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2020.1775789.

15. Lester L, Cefai C, Cavioni V, Barnes A, Cross D. A Whole-School Approach to Promoting Staff Wellbeing. Australian Journal of Teacher Education. 2020;45(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2020v45n2.1

16. Bronfenbrenner U, Morris PA. The Bioecological Model of Human Development. In R. M. Lerner & W. Damon (Eds.). Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development. John Wiley & Sons Inc; 2006:793-828.

17. Spilt JL, Koomen HMY, Thijs JT. Teacher Wellbeing: The Importance of Teacher–Student Relationships. Educ Psychol Rev. 2011;23:457–477. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-011-9170-y 

18. Cook C, Miller F, Fiat A, et al. Promoting Secondary Teachers’ Well-Being and Intentions to Implement Evidence-Based Practices: Randomized Evaluation of the Achiever Resilience Curriculum. Psychology in the Schools. 2017;54(1):13-28. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.21980.

19. Kern M, Waters L, Adler A, White M. Assessing Employee Wellbeing in Schools Using a Multifaceted Approach: Associations with Physical Health, Life Satisfaction, and Professional Thriving. Psychology. 2014;5(6):500-513. https://doi.org/10.4236/psych.2014.56060 




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