Teacher well-being

Published April 10, 2024
The writer is a teacher, educator, author, and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect those of her employer
The writer is a teacher, educator, author, and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect those of her employer

WITH overworked and underpaid professionals, the teaching profession has earned itself a bad name. Many schools have to contend with disgruntled employees who have to get by with a second job or rely on a spouse’s earnings. Teachers have to keep themselves motivated riding on the gratification they get from developing potential in their students and enabling their academic success. Things could change if schools were to take responsibility for their teachers’ well-being.

If we wish to create a ‘positive’ school culture where the pupils’ health, safety and emotional and social well-being are catered to, it is imperative that teachers learn the tools for self-care. Most teachers complain of a sub-optimal work-life balance but don’t take steps to rectify it. They have their own home lives, children and extended families, as well as pupils that they are responsible for. In this mix, well-being programmes are essential for teachers to remain motivated, sustain a healthy mindset and model the right behaviour in class.

A commitment to continuous professional development would lead to a focus-oriented approach to improve teacher capability and well-being. Supporting teachers’ work and helping them upgrade their pedagogical skills can strengthen school culture. The ultimate beneficiaries would be our students.

School leaders can establish a range of teacher well-being programmes, from orga­nising socialising opportunities outside of school to partnering with third parties to offer wellness sessions during the school we­­ek. Taking away some of the extra resp­onsibilities, such as substitution — or providing monetary compensation for it — can reduce the pressure. Many schools require extensive lesson plans that take up substantial time beyond school hours and, whilst lesson plans are important, free slots during the school day can be created for the purpose.

A transparent audit of stress factors is needed.

A critical aspect of well-being is teacher agency. The level of autonomy that teachers enjoy, the avenues to express their ideas and the communication channels provided by the school management are all important for the development of a healthy teaching and learning environment. Mentoring programmes, peer support groups for classroom management, assessment, workload management and parental engagement have been historically successful in keeping up teacher morale, resulting in lower teacher turnover.

The Perma model is an acronym for five core aspects of well-being — positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning in life, and accomplishments. It’s a useful reference tool for those who like to take regular stock of their well-being and identify areas that need attention.

School policies and administrative practices need to maintain a pulse on teacher well-being if they aim to establish a school culture of care, appreciation and motivation. This may begin with identifying the top teacher ‘stressors’ and developing a focused plan to address them. For example, teacher workload, student behaviour and difficult team relationships may be major stressors in one school, while in another, it may be lack of autonomy or communication or professional development opportunities.

A worthwhile well-being initiative requi­res a transparent audit of stress factors at least twice a year. It seems many school lea­ders cannot pinpoint the areas where support is required. Surveys, conversations, polls and opportunities for teachers to express their ideas and make suggestions are avenues for well-being. Some issues can be nipped in the bud, while others may require concerted effort over time. Often, the commitment by school management followed by a well-communicated action plan is suffic­ient to reassure tea­chers of support.

Networking with other professionals with similar experiences can help build a community of support, and many teachers now have access to digital spaces for this. Digital networking groups not only offer advice and support, they also provide new ideas and avenues to work on well-being, A teacher community on Facebook has brought teachers together for a weekly morning nature walk. Whether it’s enjoying physical fitness time, pursuing a new hobby, or simply planning homework assig­n­­ments, getting together in social groups can do wonders. These groups can be sprin­gboards for well-being plans, skill-building activities, or community initiatives.

A well-being programme must demonstrate that the school leadership cares enough to identify the root of the stress factors. Teachers feel appreciated when their input is taken into account and their well-being needs are addressed in a timely manner. When a structured plan is put in place, teacher motivation can improve by leaps and bounds.

The writer is a teacher, educator, author, and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect those of her employer.

neda.mulji@gmail.com

X: @nedamulji

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2024

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