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 burnt out including that of Principals. In the recent Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey (2016) ( , 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. Want more research? Download the Teacher Stress & Wellbeing Literature Review 2015 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, assess 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 wellbeing
  • Coaching psychology to build learning communities
  • Growth Mindset approaches to solving problems
  • Self-care practices to restore wellbeing 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

Access the lastest research with these Australian and International reports of the nature of Teacher stress and Wellbeing; NSW AIS – Teacher Wellbeing a review 2017 UK Education Support – Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018

Research on what works

Positive Psychology & Education 

Positive psychology is the study of what makes life worth living and is commonly known as the science of wellbeing. Positive Psychology is not a program or a theory but an umbrella term that incorporates many fields of psychology.  It encompasses many fields of research such as  Mindfulness, Character development, Social and Emotional learning, Growth Mindsets, Goal-setting theory, Hope-Theory, Flow-Theory, Learned Optimism, Self-Determination Theory and more.

Positive education is the application of positive psychology in a school setting. It involves educating the head and the heart. Positive education sees the explicit and implicit teaching a wellbeing sitting alongside that of academics. The two are intertwined and interconnected.

Social and Emotional Competence 

Teaching is an emotional vocation and if we don’t have the social and emotional skills to manage these emotions we increase our risk of burnout. In fact teachers who have difficulty regulating their emotions (and their classrooms) tend to have students who experience more negative emotions in class e.g., sadness, shame, and guilt (Sutton,2003).

Given the high stress rates within the teaching profession it is crucial that teachers have social and emotional competence to manage this state. People who are deficient in these skills have been linked to high alcohol and tobacco use as well as anxiety and depression (Zeman 2002).

Emotional skills training for teachers can create a more stable, supportive, and productive learning environment – one that encourages positive social interaction, active engagement, and academic achievement among students (Brackett and Katulak 2006)

People high in emotional intelligence will build a real social fabric within an organization, between an organization and those it serves, whereas those low in EI may tend to create problems for the organization through their individual behaviours.(Mayer & Caruso).

If teachers are going to teach Social-Emotional Learning programs in schools, teachers must be trained in how to do so as well as how to model such competencies (Bracket, Alister, Wolfe, Katulak, Fale, 2007).

More research:

Mental Toughness 

Mental Toughness is a personality trait that determines your ability to perform consistently under stress and pressure, and is closely related to qualities such as character, resilience, grit and perseverance. Basically, it is a personality trait of how people respond to challenge, stress and pressure, irrespective of their circumstances.

In order to develop mental toughness, Professor Peter Clough, Professor of Applied Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University a pioneer on research into Mental Toughness explains the 4 C’s – Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence. By developing the 4 C’s, we not only increase our social and emotional competence, but we also develop a Growth Mindset.

You can read more about the Mental Toughness and the 4C’s in the book – Developing Mental toughness in young people

Mindfulness in Education 

Mindfulness in education can support and improve both student and teacher wellbeing. While mindfulness has existed for centuries, research in the area first began in 1979, when Jon Kabat-Zinn recruited chronically ill patients, not responding well to traditional treatments, to participate in his newly formed eight-week stress-reduction program, which we was called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Since then, substantial research has mounted demonstrating how mindfulness-based interventions improve wellbeing.

The Mindfulness in Schools Project, has extensive research highlighting the impact mindfulness training can have on both staff and students in schools.

More research:

Coaching In Education 

While mentoring has existed in education for many years, coaching is relatively new. Mentoring tends to be predominantly focussed on the development of a person, typically with an expert and an apprentice, however coaching tends to be more strategy and task focussed working towards specific goals with distinct measures and evidence for. Coaching is defined as “Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.  It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” (Whitmore 2003).

Christian van Nieuwerburgh, a leader in the field of coaching in education says educational leaders need to be “lead learners” (2012). This involves educational leaders having the skills to know when to support someone through non-directive coaching as opposed to a more directive approach. This shift in approach requires new methods in professional development. Researchers are calling for professional development programs for mentors in order to improve the mentoring ability and support teachers as learners (Hudson & Hudson, 2010).

Jim Knight, the founder of instructional coaching for teachers, goes further to say that professional development needs to move away from lecture style presentations and move more towards one-on-one coaching (2012). This is where the role of the mentor using a coach approach can be of most benefit to the pre-service teacher. Instructional coaching uses tools in modelling best practice, observing teaching practice, collecting data from lessons and establishing collaborative dialogue between professionals. The results of schools who use instructional coaches have seen improvements in teacher performance as well as student achievement (2007).

More research:

  • AITSL has put together an overview of coaching and the benefits it can have for educators.
  • Watch Christian discuss Coaching in Education:

Impact on students

Did you know ….Teacher stress can have up to an 8% variance on student academic performance (Teacher Support Network, UK, 2007).  In fact, John Hattie also links teacher motivation to student achievement;

“When teachers become burned out, or worn out, their students’ achievement outcomes are likely to suffer because they are more concerned with their personal survival.”
(Hattie, 2013)

The primary business of schools is education of its students. Achievement and wellbeing lie at the heart of this with. The DEC Wellbeing Framework for schools states, “wellbeing, or the lack of it, can affect a student’s engagement and success in learning. Educators need to understand the potential wellbeing has to bring about positive change, what is required to foster wellbeing, and how it can become a powerful force in students’ learning and development.”

In order to do this, teachers themselves must be well (Roffey, 2010). This means teachers must be able to not only teach the various domains of wellbeing, but model competence within these domains. These domains described by the DEC Wellbeing Framework include;

  • Cognitive wellbeing is associated with achievement and success and is informed by motivation and persistence to achieve. This has strong links to growth mindset
  • Emotional wellbeing relates to self-awareness and emotional regulation. It includes how well we cope, and is often reflected by the level of a person’s resilience. Mindfulness is one way we can learn to regulate our emotions
  • Social wellbeing includes the extent to which we experience positive relationships and connectedness to others. Through strength based conversations we can develop greater empathy for others and feel better connected.
  • Physical wellbeing is associated with the extent to which we feel physically safe and healthy. It includes nutrition, preventative health care, physical activity and physical safety and security. Physical wellbeing enables positive health outcomes.
  • Spiritual wellbeing relates to our sense of meaning and purpose. It can include our connection to culture, religion or community and includes the beliefs, values and ethics we hold.

More research:


Coaching in Education


Positive psychology