Former teacher turned wellbeing advocate Kathryn Lovewell, adored her time as an educator. She notes how teaching is one of the most rewarding careers in the world, shaping the minds and planting the seeds for students to thrive (Lovewell, 2013). However, this passion and reward is too often overshadowed in schools by heavy workloads, stress and a neglect of teachers' mental and physical health. It is a dilemma that requires urgent change, in order to prioritise the wellbeing of educators so they can effectively teach their students and nurture their wellbeing.
Empirical material collected by organisations highlight the issue of workplace stress in schools, which has marked an increase in mental health disorders among teachers. A survey carried out by the Health and Safety Executive found 70% of educators attributed their work to impaired health, placing teaching in the top five of stress inducing professions. From this data, it is not surprising that Australian teachers have reported disorders of depression and anxiety, at an alarmingly higher rate than the average Australian. In 2019, Bond University published a study finding that 18% of teachers met the criteria for depression and 62% for anxiety. The national average of around 10% of Australians experiencing depression and 13% of Australians experiencing anxiety over their lifetimes, denotes this contrast. With educators being over 4.7 times more likely to develop mental health disorders like anxiety, action needs to be taken to foster positive social and emotional wellbeing for our teachers.
What Is Causing It?
Multiple factors contribute to teacher’s wellbeing includes the workplace environment and relationships, overbearing workloads, and a lack of time to focus on students. In an inquiry into the workplace environment of schools, almost all (99.6%) Australian teachers from the survey group had experienced bullying from parents, other teachers or executives (Allen & Chilcott, 2009; Davis, 2007; McDougall, 2007, as cited in Dabrowski 2020). Such added stressors, on top of managing students and disruptive behaviour, are undoubtedly causes for adverse teacher health. Furthermore, the need for a positive and mindful work environment, as well as functioning relationships in schools is clear.
The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey (2019) identified the sheer quantity of work and a lack of time to prioritise teaching and learning, as the central sources of stress. More than one-in-four Australian teachers suffer from emotional exhaustion after starting their careers and expect to leave the profession within the first five years of teaching ("Let us teach," 2007; Marshal, 2013b; Milburn, 2011, as cited in Dabrowski 2020). High employment turnover rates and understaffing, further contribute to increased workloads and hence, perpetuates mental health issues in teachers.
The Impact of COVID-19
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched teachers with more work, and the struggle of remote and disrupted learning environments. UNESCO (2020) reported that 70% of the world's students were affected by school closures, including Australia which has switched between online and face-to-face delivery. Additionally, schools and students have become hotspots for the transmission of the virus, imposing heightened anxiety on teachers (Stein-Zamir et al., 2020). The exacerbation of these issues re-centres teacher wellbeing as a priority, especially during and beyond the pandemic (Dabrowski, 2020).
Professional Development: What Is It? Does It Work?
Professional development is a relatively new practice, whereby teachers upskill and learn positive educational and wellbeing techniques, which can improve learning outcomes of students. Such programs are essential, as teacher wellbeing has a direct positive correlation with both student achievement and social-emotional intelligence (Split et al., 2011). Australian schools and products have primarily focused on student wellbeing and neglected educators, with programs only recently entering the market (Dabrowski, 2020). Professional development is aimed at fostering a teacher's ability to self-regulate, be resilient, and purport leadership skills, all of which are foundational for positive wellbeing. However, some of these products have proven tokenistic, present-focused and not reflective of real teaching experiences and their diversity (Dabrowski, 2020). They focus on individual wellbeing, abandoning whole-school approaches and the unique context of schools, which ultimately fail to establish effective wellbeing practice.
Teacher professional development is most effective when implemented within a larger whole-school wellbeing framework. By partnering with schools to understand the school context and values, Life Skills Group delivers professional development that is relevant and applicable, that educators can take back to their classroom. Life Skills Group Professional Development is delivered by CEO and Founder Nikki Bonus. Nikki is a change agent on a global frontier aiming to enhance the vital skills of our future leaders and support educators’ wellbeing. She is an accomplished Keynote Speaker and trainer with more than 20 years experience in the development and delivery of mindfulness, leaders and social-emotional literacy programs that not only explicitly teach, but also measure the wellbeing of each and every student. She has delivered over 800 professional development programs for school communities across the globe, working with networks of principals to deliver professional development that aligns with the school context and their approaches to whole-school wellbeing.
At Life Skills Group, It is our vision that every child has access to an effective, measurable and affordable social, emotional and physical education. It is crucial that we look after our educators and their wellbeing so that they are ideally positioned to support their students to thrive in their academic, personal and professional lives. The consistent delivery of an effective whole-school wellbeing program, we are best placed to support our educators and our students on their learning journey within school and beyond.
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Dabrowski, A. (2020). Teacher Wellbeing During a Pandemic: Surviving or Thriving?. Social Education Research, 2(1), 35-40.
Lovewell, K. (2013). Why is Well-being for Teachers Important?. Teacher Development Trust. Available at: https://tdtrust.org/2013/03/24/why-is-well-being-for-teachers-important/
Spilt, J. L., Koomen, H. M., & Thijs, J. T. (2011). Teacher wellbeing: The importance of teacher-student relationships. Educational Psychology Review, 23(4), 457-477.
Stein-Zamir, C., Abramson, N., Shoob, H., Libal, E., Bitan, M., Cardash, T., Cayam, R., & Miskin, I. (2020). A Large COVID-19 Outbreak in a High School 10 Days After Schools’ Reopening, Israel, May 2020. Eurosurveillance, 25(29).
UNESCO. (2020, March 19). Half of World’s Student Population not Attending School: UNESCO Launches Global Coalition to Accelerate Deployment of Remote Learning Solutions. Available at:https://en.unesco.org/news/half-worlds-studentpopulation-not-attending-school-unesco-launches-global-coalition-accelerate.