How boosting teacher wellbeing can help combat burnout - Education Matters Magazine
All Topics, Health and Wellness, Hot Topic, Latest News

How boosting teacher wellbeing can help combat burnout

Supporting teacher wellbeing at the start of term is integral to sustaining their wellbeing long-term, according to a UNSW educational psychology researcher.

Scientia Associate Professor Rebecca Collie from UNSW’s School of Education said understanding how to better support teacher wellbeing, and how it changes over time, will help reduce the current high burnout and attrition rates.

“Teacher wellbeing is of critical importance to healthy functioning at work and to students’ academic development,” Professor Collie said.

“Our research found teachers’ levels of wellbeing at these starting points, as well as the perceived quality of their connection with students, are significant in shaping subsequent patterns of wellbeing.”

A study published in late 2023, conducted with Scientia Professor Andrew Martin from UNSW, examined how teacher wellbeing changes over one school term, and the role of teacher-student relationships in how these changes unfold.

It followed 401 primary (56 per cent), secondary (38 per cent), and kindergarten to year 12 (6 per cent) schoolteachers from all Australian states and territories, during Term 3 in 2021.

Teachers reported on their wellbeing and their sense of connection with students in weeks two, five and eight of the 10-week term. Teachers reported declines in wellbeing over the term, the research found.

“Importantly though, teachers who reported more positive teacher-student relationships at the start of term ended the term with higher [rates of] wellbeing than those teachers who started the term with less positive teacher-student relationships,” Professor Collie said.

“Our findings highlight the interconnectedness of teacher wellbeing and teacher-student relationships and underscore the importance of introducing efforts to bolster both.”

Teacher wellbeing can be understood as a combination of feeling good and functioning effectively at work, she said.

“The ‘feeling good’ part is captured by factors, such as job satisfaction, a sense of vitality, and low stress or burnout at work. In contrast, the ‘functioning effectively’ part of the definition is captured by factors like work engagement and occupational commitment.”

These emotional, cognitive and behavioural elements of wellbeing were examined in the study using the Tripartite Occupational Wellbeing Scale, developed by Professor Collie.

The scale identifies three types of wellbeing as key to teachers’ healthy and effective functioning: vitality – the energy and vibrancy that teachers feel in their work; engagement – the dedication and exertion that teachers channel into their job; and professional growth – teachers’ commitment to enhancing their expertise and competencies.

The research found all three types of wellbeing declined over the course of the term.

“This applied to all different types of teachers [regardless of age, gender and experience], highlighting the need for ongoing efforts to support teacher wellbeing,” Professor Collie said.

The research did, however, reveal some interesting minor variations. For example, female teachers started the term with lower vitality, but higher engagement than male teachers. More experienced teachers started the term with higher engagement than less experienced teachers. These insights will help guide further research to help tailor responses to improve teacher wellbeing, she said.

Teachers report some of the highest rates of psychological stress. A national survey of more than 4,000 teachers, conducted by the Black Dog Institute in 2023, found 70 per cent reported having unmanageable workloads. In the survey, 52 per cent reported moderate to extremely severe symptoms of depression and 59.7 per cent reported feeling stressed (compared to 12.1 per cent and 11.4 per cent of the general population respectively).

Additionally, Australian schools are facing unprecedented teacher supply and retention challenges, only exacerbated by the pressures of the COVID pandemic. Modelling of teacher supply and demand has suggested shortages could worsen over the coming years, with the demand for secondary teachers to exceed the supply of new graduate teachers by around 4,100 between 2021 to 2025.

“Historically, teaching has had a high rate of early-career attrition – teaching is a very rewarding profession, but it can also be challenging – however, this has now grown in all career-stage categories,” Professor Collie said.

“The issue is sector-wide – affecting both public and private schools – and is a recognised problem internationally.”

Teacher shortage has a huge cost to schools and to society more broadly, she said. It is recognised as a critical risk to improving student outcomes, now and in the future. As such, teacher wellbeing is receiving increasing attention in current reviews of the education sector, including within the Australian Government’s National Teacher Workforce Action Plan and the Australian Teacher Workforce Data initiative, jointly funded by the Australian Government and state and territory governments.

How schools can sustain and support teacher wellbeing

Professor Collie’s research into factors that support teacher wellbeing is contributing to policy development as well as assisting school leadership with practical evidence-driven strategies for improving teacher wellbeing.

She has examined the relationship between social supports at work (job ‘resources’) and common challenges for teachers (job ‘demands’) with teacher wellbeing and their intentions to seek alternative employment (turnover intentions) – 426 Australian school teachers participated in the study.

“Time pressure, disruptive student behaviour and a lack of relevant professional learning opportunities are all common challenges for teachers,” she said.

“Conversely teachers who experience social supports, such as school leadership that encourages teacher agency and initiative at work – and positive relationships with both colleagues and students consistently demonstrated higher rates of wellbeing and lower intentions to leave teaching.”

Streamlining teachers’ work – reducing administrative tasks and face-to-face teaching time – is important, particularly at the start of term. Similarly, inviting teachers’ input in decisions and school policies and providing rationales for work tasks are some of the ways schools can support greater wellbeing, she said.

“Fostering collaborative relationships between staff also promotes higher wellbeing. Providing common planning time, establishing professional learning communities and peer-mentorships, developing a shared mission and cultivating a supportive staffroom are relevant strategies for this.”

These can help teachers experience greater wellbeing and interpersonal relationships in the workplace – leading to more optimal outcomes for both teachers and students.

Schools can promote high-quality student-teacher interactions through ongoing support and feedback as well as teachers’ professional learning and goal setting around improving particular student-relationships, she said.

“Schools can consider strategies, such as professional learning opportunities on high-quality teaching interactions, considering how content and teaching approaches might be better aligned to student interests, or providing resources and support for managing stress and workload.”

Send this to a friend