My previous blog provided evidence that teachers’ well-being is subject to ongoing challenge from many areas. While we all have a role in maintaining our health, I remain adamant that it is not the individual’s sole responsibility to manage their well-being: employing organisations at all levels of leadership need to be active in developing supportive workplace practices.
Increasing reports of teacher stress have prompted a range of interventions for both individuals and systems. The Education Review held a Managing Student and Staff Well-being in Schools seminar earlier this year. Speakers included teachers and principals who shared their advice with respect to prioritising their mental health. A former principal emphasised that teacher well-being is a systemic not an individual problem; however, she urged teachers to engage in self-support strategies. Suggestions included:
– maintaining physical well-being;
– setting work/life boundaries (e.g., no answering emails on weekends);
– making to-do lists; and
– fostering small, positive habits, such as walking a dog each day.
Other speakers at the Education Review conference commented on the importance of belonging, autonomy and competence, and adaptability as key focal points in driving well-being. As teaching is inherently relational (I emphasised this when noting that AI will not replace teachers), a sense of belonging is essential to well-being, with studies demonstrating that connected teachers are more motivated, committed to their jobs, and have a greater sense of personal well-being. Developing positive, supportive networks is important to everyone, and can be particularly crucial to individual well-being in stressful environments.
Teachers report that external demands often affect autonomy and self-belief in their competence. Bahr, Graham, Ferreira, Lloyd and Waters (2018) noted that many teachers do not feel valued and commented on the negative impact of public opinion on teachers’ self-efficacy and well-being. Positive support networks and engaging in mindfulness are useful strategies. Resilience training to facilitate adaptability was suggested by another speaker at the conference. Another speaker emphasised the crucial role of sleep in fostering well-being and advised teachers to check in on their own sleep health.
The literature review on teacher well-being by Acton and Glasgow (2015) highlighted the following key strategies for schools and employing authorities in providing support to teachers:
– provision of additional training in effective emotional coping strategies to raise the awareness of the role of emotions in teaching and help support teachers to implement practices that develop and maintain well-being; and
– development and maintenance of positive professional relationships, including those with colleagues and within the broader school community.
These authors noted that although external systemic requirements (often politically and socially driven) provide challenging contexts, it is vital that these are adapted within local school contexts.
Acton and Glasgow acknowledged that despite pressure on schools from increasingly competitive external sources, proactive school leaders need to prioritise well-being, establish school relationships which include professional trust and respect, and support professional and emotional aspects of teachers’ work. That is, school leaders need to provide a multifaceted approach which facilitates teacher well-being in the multiple domains of emotions, relationships, and professional accomplishment.
To this end, the LeadingWell Queensland (leadingwellqld.com.au) website provides a range of resources to assist the development of positive and supportive workplace cultures. Importantly, the resources on this website focus on positive mental health, emphasising the importance of enhancing each individual’s potential to cope with life stresses, work productively and fruitfully, and make a contribution to her or his community. In addition, they provide a comprehensive approach to creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace by targeting many levels of a workplace including systems, policies, processes, culture and leadership.
Teachers and schools operate within numerous and increasingly changing systems, personal and professional, each with ongoing external threats and challenges. All elements of the system need to work in concert to continue to listen and act to ensure the ongoing well-being of its teachers, who are, in addition, key players in the well-being and productive outcomes of their students.
Paradoxically, the relational nature of teaching means this facet is also a contributor to well-being challenges for teachers. Commitment to their students means teachers often find it difficult to switch off from the caring function – it is important to remember that it is okay to take time out, and it is not selfish to take time to look after the self.
Acton, R., & Glasgow, P. (2015). Teacher wellbeing in neoliberal context: A review of the literature. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 40 (8), 99-114.
Bahr, N., Graham, A., Ferreira, J., Lloyd, M., & Waters, R. (2018). Promotion of the teaching profession in Queensland. Bilinga: Southern Cross University. Prepared for Queensland College of Teachers.