Tags: positive psychology, teacher education, teacher wellbeing
Teacher stress is high; in fact teachers exhibit higher levels of stress than any other profession (Stoeber & Rennert, 2008). Whether this be day to day stress related to required tasks, or stress due to institutional stress factors, teachers are struggling (Curry & O’Brien, 2012). As teachers battle exhaustion, so does their ability to cope and remain buoyant in the face of the increasing social and emotional demands placed on them, which directly impacts wellbeing (Parker, Martin, Colmar, & Liem, 2012). How do I know this? Because I too am a teacher.
Supporting teacher wellbeing is crucial because:
“Teachers worn down by their work exhibit reduced work goals, lower responsibility for work outcomes, lower idealism, heightened emotional detachment, work alienation, and self-interest. 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.” (Richardson, Watt, & Devos, 2013, p. 231).
A study in the UK went one step further to show that teacher wellbeing had a direct impact on students’ SAT scores with a variance of 8%. This means teacher stress and wellbeing has a direct impact on student outcomes (Briner & Dewberry, 2007).
Wellbeing is a broad and complex area that, when discussed in a school arena, is typically centred on meeting student needs. Yet go into any staffroom and the topic of conversation will be centred around how tired, stressed and overwhelmed teachers feel. While burnout is high in experienced teachers, of greater concern is the attrition rate of beginning teachers who leave the profession because of a “lack of congruence between expectations for one’s career and the actual reality of the work” (Curry & O’Brien, 2012, p. 179). The one thing we do know is that in order for students to be well, teachers themselves must also be well (McCallum & Price, 2010). So, what are we doing to support teacher wellbeing? More specifically, what are we doing to better prepare pre-service teachers who are entering the profession?
Thankfully, we are now starting to see interventions that support teacher wellbeing beginning to feature alongside student wellbeing programs (Jones et al., 2013). A major contributor to this could be the rise of evidence based interventions coming from the field of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is a field of inquiry concerned with what makes communities and individuals thrive (Waters & White, 2015). Instead of exploring a deficit model of what is not working by asking questions such as ‘what is causing teacher stress?’, it looks at what is working by asking ‘what does teacher wellbeing look and sound like?’
This means sharing with existing and pre-service teachers about the numerous domains of wellbeing and their associated interventions. These may be in the form of Seligman’s 5 pillars known as PERMA (2011), the 6 domains of psychological wellbeing by Ryff and Keyes, (1995), or the ten items for flourishing by Huppert and So (2001) . By giving teachers evidence based tools to strengthen their wellbeing, we are not only building well teachers, we are preparing them for how to better teach wellbeing to young people with simple and practical strategies. These interventions can range from reflecting on being our best possible selves, keeping a gratitude journal, performing random acts of kindness, working with growth mindsets, setting and achieving goals, and identifying character strengths.
This does not mean we throw out the good work that is already being done in teacher education; it means we need to review what is working well and plan for ways we can more specifically address these positive interventions. Just as we explicitly teach wellbeing to young people, we must also explicitly plan ways to build a more sustainable workforce.
Briner, R., & Dewberry, C. (2007). Staff well-being is key to school success. London: Worklife Support Ltd/Hamilton House.
Curry, J. R. P., & O’Brien, E. R. P. (2012). Shifting to a Wellness Paradigm in Teacher Education: A Promising Practice for Fostering Teacher Stress Reduction, Burnout Resilience, and Promoting Retention. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 14(3), 178-191.
Howard, S., & Johnson, B. (2004). Resilient teachers: resisting stress and burnout. Social Psychology of Education: An International Journal, 7(4), 399-420. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11218-004-0975-0
McCallum, F., & Price, D. (2010). Well teachers, well students. The Journal of Student Wellbeing, 4(1), 19-34.
Parker, P. D., & Martin, A. J. (2009). Coping and buoyancy in the workplace: Understanding their effects on teachers’ work-related well-being and engagement. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(1), 68-75. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2008.06.009
Richardson, P. W., Watt, H. M., & Devos, C. (2013). Types of professional and emotional coping among beginning teachers. Emotion and school: Understanding how the hidden curriculum influences relationships, leadership, teaching, and learning, 229-253.
Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being: Simon and Schuster.
Stoeber, J., & Rennert, D. (2008). Perfectionism in school teachers: Relations with stress appraisals, coping styles, and burnout. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 21(1), 37-53.