A healthy environment promotes healthy interpersonal interactions and a more productive workplace. This is equally true for schools. When a teacher is resilient, confident and mindful, it models good behaviour for children and creates a positive environment. This is not to say teachers are entirely responsible for a child’s outlook or behaviour. However, by showing students that they are responsible for their own emotions and behaviours they can become more self-aware and better critical thinkers in the classroom and in their community.
For this reason, professional development and investment into teacher wellbeing is paramount. It’s no secret that teaching is one of the most stressful forms of employment. In fact, a study by the Pennsylvania State University reports that teacher stress is now at an all-time high, affecting teachers’ physical health: “The majority of teachers report feeling under great stress at least several days a week, a significant increase from 1985. According to a national survey, 46 percent of teachers report high daily stress during the school year. This is the highest rate of daily stress among all occupational groups, tied with nurses (also at 46 percent), and higher than physicians, at 45 percent,” (Greenberg MT, Brown JL, and Abenavoli RM, Teacher Stress and Health: Effects on Teachers, Students, and Schools, 2016). While this study is U.S. based, the trend is the same in Australia. Australian teachers report the highest levels of occupational stress in Australia, the United Kingdom and America (Bailey, 2013; Education, 2014; Milburn, 2011) with 41% of teachers reporting high levels of occupational stress (Milburn, 2011) and teachers making more mental stress claims than any other industry (WorkCover, 2014).
These stress levels and dissatisfaction are bound to have a profound impact on the school community and with it, the students. Teachers often cite their main stresses as being excessive workload and working hours, negative student behaviours, management strategies and leadership, and aggression from students and parents. With all of these factors contributing to the wellbeing of the very people responsible for teaching children how to be global citizens, it is crucial that teachers and school staff are appropriately supported.
Practical, useful, teacher-centred professional development is at the heart of improving teacher wellbeing, along with a supportive leadership team and consistent school values. Giving teachers an opportunity to learn techniques to manage their stress can also make a difference in their day-to-day management of the classroom and their interactions with students, staff and families, thus increasing resilience and productivity. This is how investing in professional development programs to help teachers create focused, harmonious, positive learning environments can help to develop better students.