As I write this we are in the last days of the end of the second term of the year, in the middle of winter where it is cold and miserable and the flu/bug season seems to be incessant. Many schools have mid-year reporting happening, so there is the added stress and it shows for many of us.
Let’s be honest though, teaching as a profession is inherently stressful. We are working with people all day and human beings are complex, sometimes tricky even. And relating to people is only the start of what a teacher is doing as you all know, but I am not going to spend time talking about what stresses us for two reasons; 1. There is plenty of research and anecdotal data to confirm that teaching is stressful and 2. Spending energy on talking about what stresses us often feeds the problem and doesn’t necessarily provide any solution to it.
In the last year I have conducted a small study as part of my masters in education qualification exploring positive wellbeing for primary teachers in their mid-career. I propose that the findings are likely to be relatively generic although to confirm that I would obviously need to conduct a much larger study. I do think however it is worth sharing some of the findings here as food for thought and a possible contribution to the important conversation about teacher wellbeing. Don’t think for a second that teacher wellbeing isn’t important either, there is plenty of research to support the notion that happy healthy teachers have happier healthier classrooms with happier healthier learners who appear to achieve better- simply put, your wellbeing is important to the learners in your care.
So here’s some of what I found out about what may contribute to positive teacher wellbeing in our current educational climate:
1. People-centred leadership practices.
How the school leaders work with their staff in the school can make an appreciable difference to teacher wellbeing. In my research it was noted that it was the small acts of kindness and appreciation that really mattered such as a sincere thank you, a surprise coffee or chocolate treat (or appropriate healthier option), noticing when workload increased and doing what they could to alleviate the stress in small ways. It really centred around relationships and ethical behaviour.
Consider: How do you enhance your relationships with your staff if you are in a leadership position? What are the small acts of kindness that you know will be appreciated by members of your team? How can you build relationships with the leaders in your school?
2. Supportive relationships.
It is said that teaching is about the three R’s, relationships, relationships, relationships. The relationships teachers have are numerous; students, colleagues, parents/caregivers, leadership, school management/parent committees, community members, PLD staff etc. The reciprocal nature of student teacher relationships is really interesting, when teachers are doing well their students tend to follow suit, and when students are succeeding that tends to support teacher wellbeing as well. Our relationships with our colleagues can be protective too, it appears that where teachers work in a collaborative, supportive environment that still allows for autonomy and individuality they thrive.
Consider: How do you build and maintain relationships with your students? What is it about your classroom environment that enhances wellbeing for all? How do you acknowledge your colleagues positively? What do you do to create a positive working environment at your school?
3. Strong sense of purpose.
For the people in my research making a difference to the learners in their care was clearly a motivating factor and something they returned to time and time again when speaking about what ‘filled them up”. Having clear beliefs about teaching and learning, then following them as well as sharing school values can be empowering for teachers.
Consider: Why did you become a teacher? What do you believe about teaching and learning? Do you share your school values?
4. Self Efficacy
Adopting an “I choose…” mindset appeared to have a positive impact for the teachers in my research. They acknowledged they didn’t achieve true balance much of the time, if at all, but they all stated that the way they worked/lived was a choice they had made. This seemed to be empowering, they were in control of what they could control and owned it. They were also clear about what was out of their control and found ways to shift their focus. Think about a time that was challenging for you, what lessons can you draw from it? This is one way to reframe negative experiences that appears to help stop these events eating away at your self esteem. Another way to build self efficacy is to be self aware, knowing your strengths and weaknesses as well as addressing your health and wellbeing needs. The teachers I talked to weren’t afraid to ask for help and could track how they steadily shifted and changed their teaching practice to meet learner needs and improve management of their own personal resources.
|Happy healthy teachers have |
happier healthier classrooms with
happier healthier learners who
appear to achieve better.
Consider: What choices do you make around how you work and why? Are these choices working for you or do you want to change anything? If so what? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What can you share with others to help them improve their practice? Who can you ask for help when you need it?
Basically teachers, like most people I would suggest, need belongingness, connection, a sense of identity. This, for me, is like our essence that we can come back to when we are decision making, when we are under stress, when something doesn’t go right. The people around us can have a huge impact on how we feel, as can the stories we tell ourselves.
As I stated earlier, your wellbeing is important to the learners in your care so I hope that you will do what you can to help yourself to be the happy healthy teacher you know your learners deserve.
If you would like to read more from my research I am happy to forward a PDF copy to you, please just let me know in the comments and I will make arrangements with you personally.