The Status of Teacher Wellbeing

Being a teacher can be stressful 

Did you know teachers can be involved in 1000 interpersonal connections a day? (Holmes 2005).

The quality of these interactions can either diminish or enhance wellbeing. In fact teachers are among those professionals with the highest levels of job stress and burnout across many countries.  (Stoeber, J., & Rennert, D, 2008). Growing research is showing that not only are beginning teachers struggling as they enter the profession but experienced teachers are increasingly becoming burned including that of Principals. In the recent Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey (2016) (https://www.principalhealth.org/au/reports.php) , the two leading causes of stress were;

  • Sheer Quantity of Work, and
  • Lack of Time to Focus on Teaching and Learning

In other studies, common stressors include school systems becoming increasingly more bureaucratic, greater service delivery demands in the form of heavy workloads with fewer resources. Teachers are expected to manage difficult student behaviour including violence and lack of student motivation. Teachers are stretched with a lack of planning time coupled with an increased emphasis on accountability (Jennifer Curry, 2012). The changing nature of society expects schools to address social justice, promote a sense of belonging, build resilience and keep abreast of mass media influences which fuels unrealistic expectations of teachers. (Mccallum & Price, 2010). A summary of the 10 main causes of teacher stress can be seen in the picture below.

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On a personal level, I know what it is like to repeat the same conversations with students each day, juggle curriculum to meet outcomes, manage individual staff and their diverse personalities, communicate with parents in helping them understand their children, all while running from meeting to meeting to document every decision made. While I was passionate about teaching, the area I had little time to focus on was planning engaging lessons with real-life experiences for my students.

When learning to be a teacher, we get taught great skills in how to plan curriculum, differentiate learning, asses and report, but we do not learn how to manage different personality types, how to coach, mentor or simply navigate our own emotions let alone manage those of others. As a result, we have to draw on our own social and emotional resources to remain resilient. The problem here is that if we do not have direct or solution focused strategies to manage our own stress, we may turn to destructive strategies that simply relieve the emotional stress such as food and alcohol, however these do not support our wellbeing as they do not address the specific issues (Parker, 2012).

If teachers have strategies to support their wellbeing, they will be better placed to manage every day stressors of the job to not only survive but flourish. In doing so, they become better role models and educators for our students. Teachers themselves recognise that focussing on their own wellbeing is crucial in supporting student wellbeing, (Sue Roffey, Wellbeing Australia, 2012), but are often unsure as to how to do this. The growing evidence coming from the field of Positive Psychology is showing how we can not only support student wellbeing but that of teacher wellbeing as well.

Successful teacher wellbeing interventions include;

  • Reflection strategies for insight into professional practice
  • Mindfulness training to manage stress
  • Emotional management strategies to restore
  • Coaching psychology to build learning communities
  • Growth Mindset approaches to solving problems
  • Self-care practices to restore when needed
  • Celebrate achievements and success to feel valued

“When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters-one represents danger, the other represents opportunity.”

John Fitzgerald Kennedy