Five ways to promote educator wellbeing

Five ways to promote educator wellbeing

Beyond Blue

A team of Monash researchers have partnered with Beyond Blue to research educator wellbeing. Here are some of the findings.

A team of Monash researchers have partnered with Beyond Blue to research educator  wellbeing. Here are some of the findings.

In Australia, six in every 10 educators report feeling ‘quite a bit of stress’ from work. How educators feel influences their interactions with colleagues, children and the quality of their teaching.

Educators have numerous stresses – too many things to do with too little time, managing multiple perspectives and expectations, the emotional labour of supporting families facing complex challenges and the emotional toll of helping children and young people with additional needs. Conflict with colleagues and what some describe as “toxic” staff rooms can be other sources of stress.

During COVID-19, there have been even more demands made on educators as they pivot between online and face-to-face teaching, or having to attend work despite concerns for their health and navigating their own family responsibilities.

Happy young students reading with their teacher
Educator wellbeing will impact how they teach, and interact with their colleagues.

This year, we partnered with Beyond Blue to find out how best to promote educator wellbeing.

We conducted a series of focus groups with different educator groups including primary, secondary, early childhood and specialist educators as well as education leaders. We also conducted a systematic review to identify interventions with the best evidence base to promote educator wellbeing.

Another project asked researchers and practitioners –  considered experts in this field – how they thought educator wellbeing might be promoted.

We found five different ways to promote educator wellbeing:

1. A shift in thinking about stress

Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress. It involves being fully present and aware of what you are thinking and feeling, without judgement or distraction. It’s about accepting what you are sensing and feeling, at any given place and time. Keeping active, eating well and creating boundaries between home and work are other strategies that can promote personal wellbeing.

However our research showed that many of the stressors educators experience arise from their environment and it’s the environment that needs to change, not them. This means that educators should not believe the stress they experience is a result of a personal deficit or a lack of adequate coping.

Strategies – like mindfulness – can help people respond to stressors, but it’s important to know educator wellbeing is often more than self-care.

2. Positive relationships with colleagues and leaders are essential to promote wellbeing

The educators we interviewed highlighted the importance of small acts of kindness received from leaders and colleagues, such as personal hand-written cards, covering someone’s yard duty and bringing in morning tea. Checking in on each other, celebrating each other’s successes and encouraging each other to take lunch breaks were other ways to sustain educators' wellbeing and again, point to the importance of a culture that nurtures collegial relationships.

3. Unique challenges for diverse teachers

We found that educators who identify as Indigenous, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse, and LGBTQIA+ experience specific wellbeing challenges, often in relation to discrimination. Having allies in the workplace, and being able to express themselves at work, were all needed to have inclusive, accepting environments. Recognising that social justice work is the responsibility of all educators – not just some – was another element of tackling discrimination.

Early career educators identified a need for effective induction programs and support, including mentors and a reduced workload. Educators on contracts reported concealing work-related difficulties and avoided seeking support, in order to secure future employment.  A help seeking environment, where staff identify their own professional development needs, is important.

4. Supportive leaders positively contribute to educator wellbeing

Supportive leaders are those who promote an inclusive environment and where staff have input to the decision making of their schools or early childhood centres.  They provide staff with clear directions about their expectations, check in with staff regularly to support their professional development and mental health and give choices, where possible, about their work options (e.g. what days part-time staff work).

Leaders are role models for self-care – for example by leaving work at a reasonable time. In the interviews we conducted, one leader encouraged staff to “leave noisily”, effectively breaking down the myth that staff should feel guilty when going home at the end of the day.

Leaders also pointed out that they have their unique wellbeing needs, and need to have access to resources, professional development and support in their management and leadership roles.  When leaders visibly seek help and support, they normalise and promote a help seeking culture in the school or early childhood centre.

Staff in a meeting
Supportive leaders provide staff with clear directions about their expectations and check in with staff regularly to support their professional development and mental health.

5. A systems-wide approach is needed to promote and sustain educator wellbeing

Taking a systems-wide approach means offering individual support to educators (such as might occur through Employee Assistance Programs and mindfulness programs) and also addressing the demands made on educators.

One-off wellbeing sessions or programs do little to promote educator wellbeing. Instead what is needed is a culture that prioritises wellbeing through policy, supportive leadership, being transparent about decisions regarding work demands and increasing resources.  Ongoing surveys of staff wellbeing are needed to continually monitor wellbeing, and set targets.

Wellbeing workplace champions might be created in schools or early childhood centres, to ensure teacher wellbeing remains on the agenda and is embedded across different workplace  activities.  Educators need to be involved in the creation of workplace wellbeing policies, with policies for example, around when to send work emails.

Monash researchers Emily Berger, Zane Diamond, Marie Hammer, Rochelle Hine, Zoe Morris, Pamela Patrick and Dianne Summers also contributed to this article.

Research with Beyond Blue was supported by the Commonwealth of Australia represented by the Department of Health, Mental Health in Education initiative, Be You.

References

Herman, K. C., Hickmon-Rosa, J. E., & Reinke, W. M. (2018). Empirically derived profiles of teacher stress, burnout, self-efficacy, and coping and associated student outcomes. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 20(2), 90-100.

Thomson, S., & Hillman, K. (2020). The Teaching and Learning International Survey 2018. Australian Report Volume 2: Teachers and School Leaders as Valued Professionals. Australian Government Department of Education.