It is that time of year again. The one that should be filled with magic moments and the spirit of joy and good will to all men (and women). In truth, Christmas can be a real time of stress for Early Years practitioners. There are often huge expectations for them to produce Christmas cards, salt dough decorations, crackers made out of an old loo roll and an all singing, all dancing production worthy of an Academy Award!
Whist we could debate at length the educational value to the children of all of the above activities, we need to seriously consider the impact of this extra pressure on the mental wellbeing and resilience of the practitioners.
The sad truth is that although the pressure can be magnified at Christmas, research shows that practitioners are feeling under increasing pressure all year round a poll by the National Education Union finding that around one in five teachers plans to leave the profession in less than two years.
Some interesting research points to the fact that,it is level of workload and management support that are key to your ability to cope with the demands of the profession. They have a much greater impact than your individual characteristics and resilience.
One of the researchers who carried out this research was Dr Steph Ainsworth.
Steph is one of my Doctorate tutors at University and was talking about the project and its findings during one of our lectures. I thought the results were worth sharing.
Dr Ainsworth from the Faculty of Education, and Dr Jeremy Oldfield, from the Faculty of Health, Psychology and Social Care , asked teachers to rate their levels of wellbeing, burnout and job satisfaction. The teachers rated this alongside individual factors such as empathy, self-belief and optimism, and environmental factors such as school culture, workload and relationships with management and colleagues.
Analysis of the results found that:
‘the resilience of teachers was influenced more by external factors – such as how a school is run and its culture – than internal and personal factors, such as lack of confidence.’
The findings were published in the journal of Teaching and Teacher Education, they have implications for all school leaders looking at the mental wellbeing of their staff and also policy makers who are trying to tackle teacher retention issues.
Thriving not surviving
Dr Ainsworth said: “The three outcome measures were chosen because high levels of wellbeing and job satisfaction, and low levels of burnout are indicators of positive adaptation in teachers. These outcomes reflect the degree to which teachers are either thriving, surviving, or leaving the profession.
‘If we are to support teachers in ‘thriving not just surviving’ we need to ensure that teachers are not only protected from burnout, but that they are also satisfied and well.’
Where teachers rated their levels of job satisfaction and wellbeing as high:
“Positive support from management was seen to be the biggest factor, while workload and school culture were also found to be very important.”
As Dr Ainsworth rightly says “The environmental factors impacting on levels of wellbeing, burnout and job satisfaction can all be manipulated at the school level and are essential to improve the lives of teachers, sustain motivation and provide an effective learning environment for their pupils.
“Positive adaptation to the workplace – or lack of – has an indirect effect on pupils, with satisfied and well teachers creating happier and more productive classrooms.”
Although, you could argue that it wouldn’t take a genius to work that out. The statistics around teachers leaving or intending to leave the profession show that this knowledge is not being acted upon.
It is not just about our own individual resilience or being given opportunities for us to attend yoga sessions! Also, it is clear that the responsibility for adaptation should not be placed solely at the feet of the teachers. While there might be a place for interventions or training designed to boost teachers’ ability to cope within the workplace, equal attention needs to be paid into the nature of the conditions which teachers are expected to work in.
“We hope that this research is viewed as an empowering message for school leaders to become more mindful about the workspace they create to improve the lives of teachers and the children in their care.”
The full paper, Quantifying teacher resilience: Context matters, can be found here.