6 Principles for Building Teacher Wellbeing

I recently had the pleasure of presenting at the PESA (Positive Education Schools Association), at Ravenswood School in Sydney. Over the two days I also had the privilege of listening and learning from leaders in the field such as Professor Lea Waters, Dr Suzy Green, Matthew White, Charlie Scudamore, & Felicia Huppert about what is happening to better support wellbeing in schools.

It was also a pleasant surprise to see and hear so many schools prioritizing teacher wellbeing. We know the research tells us that effective change in schools begins with teacher training and that teachers are the person who have the greatest impact in the classroom, but often schools are unsure as to HOW TO better support teacher wellbeing.

As a result, I thought I would give you the 6 Principles for Building Teacher Wellbeing that i shared with schools from across Australia in the workshop I ran.
The thing to keep in mind is that teacher wellbeing is not a program you buy and put in your schools, it comes from creating opportunities for teachers to form positive habits that are repeated over and over. Imagine for a moment you wanted to improve physical wellbeing….. you don’t get fit by going to the gym once, you have to take action over and over including planning ways to overcome barriers, motivation, interest and more. Even then physical wellbeing is not something that stays the same, we have to continually review, reflect, modify and assess where we are at be aware of the small decisions we make each day that may impact our desired goal. Psychological wellbeing is much the same where we need opportunities to learn, access and practice wellbeing initiatives on a regular basis – we need to build positive wellbeing habits.

These 6 principles to build teacher wellbeing lie at the foundation for you to consider when planning initiatives to support teacher wellbeing at your school.

  1. Understand the nature of wellbeing – it isn’t static or something you achieve, it is something you manage moment to moment along a continuum of emotions. It requires awareness of emotions and the decisions we make to manage these emotions.
  2. Acknowledge the challenges of teaching – teaching is tough and sometimes the rewards do not match the challenges. We need to allow time and space for debriefing with a ‘recreational whinge’, but we must not live there, we must express it and move it.
  3. Encourage social & emotional development – Teacher training is very good at giving us skills in planning, assessing and reporting yet falls short in preparing us with skills to better understand and manage the social and emotional energy we use on a daily basis. Staff training must incorporate personal development as much as it does professional development
  4. Track and celebrate the good stuff – Teachers will often tell you they feel undervalued and under-appreciated yet teachers are not very good at receiving positive feedback when it is given. We tend to shrug off positive feedback as ‘cheesy’ or not necessary, yet in order for us to feel valued and appreciated we need to track the good stuff and notice the small successes along the way. We need to acknowledge and recognise the differences we are making and legacy we are leaving with our students..
  5. Give effective feedback to colleagues – We learn many skills in  how to give effective feedback to students to improve learning, but what training do we have in giving feedback to staff about performance? Carol Dwecks work on growth mindset says we must praise both effort and process when giving feedback and John Hattie says teacher mindset is everything. Put these two things together and we need to be providing teachers with opportunities to share feedback with others that recognises the effort and processes teachers use to make learning happen. We need to go beyond just saying ‘thankyou’ and be more specific about what exactly we are thanking.
  6. Remind people of purpose & meaning – Teaching can be a thankless job at times and with growing demands and admin, it can be easy to forget why we are here and what we love about our jobs. Most of us enter teaching as a calling, so to keep this alive, practicing mindful moments can help us to reconnect to our purpose and savour the teachable moments where we see students shine.

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