Could wellbeing be the answer to retaining teachers? Monash Lens

Could wellbeing be the answer to retaining teachers? Monash Lens

From expected delays in receiving your child’s report card to uncertainty about the quality of education for future generations, the teacher shortage is still a topic of conversation.

Among the possible solutions is the focus on incentives for prospective teachers and raising the profile of the profession. While important, efforts to retain teachers are crucial to securing a future workforce. One potentially obvious, but evidence-based way to keep teachers on board is to support their wellbeing.

In our recent research, published in Teaching and Teacher Education, we looked at whether Australian teachers value certain aspects of workplace wellbeing over others.

Our research

Using a three-step analysis, we surveyed almost 1,000 primary and secondary school teachers across Australia. A representative sample of teachers participated, including government, independent and Catholic schools; regional, metropolitan and rural schools; and teachers with less than five to more than 21 years of experience.

In step 1, we asked teachers to list the characteristics of well-being. Then, we asked another group of teachers to determine which characteristics are important and which are less important. Finally, in step 3, teachers completed a cognitive task to confirm the most important characteristics of well-being.

Key discoveries

Our research shows that Australian teachers overwhelmingly emphasise five key aspects of wellbeing at work: feeling safe, supported, valued and trusted, and having a good work-life balance.

Here’s an overview:

Feel safe: Our findings suggest that teachers need a safe environment where they are free from harm or threat, whether physical or psychological. This means that they feel protected, both in their physical workplaces and in their professional interactions. Ensuring physical and psychological safety is a role for everyone – leadership, students and parents.

Feeling supported: Our findings show that teachers value having access to resources, emotional support, and practical help from colleagues and administration. Support also means having someone who listens and responds effectively when they need help or guidance. We often talk about students having that one significant adult, but teachers need that too.

Feeling valued: Our study highlights the importance of teachers feeling that their contributions are valued and that they are recognized and respected as important members of the school community. This includes receiving positive feedback and recognition for their hard work and achievements. Feeling valued is the backbone of a teacher’s sense of belonging. We know that teachers have a strong sense of belonging to the profession. How can we maintain that?

Feeling familiar: Our findings indicate that trust involves teachers having confidence that others believe in their professional judgment and abilities. This means that they are given autonomy to make decisions about their teaching and are trusted to manage their responsibilities effectively. Simply put, when teachers are trusted, they are empowered to teach at their best.

Achieving work-life balance: Our research confirms that teachers need to manage their professional responsibilities while also having enough time and energy for their private lives. This balance is crucial to prevent burnout and to remain committed to their profession in the long term. It is an age-old problem that extends beyond the teaching profession, but pursuing work-life balance, especially for teachers, has never been more important.

Significantly, our research shows that Australian teachers consistently rate these five characteristics as more important to their wellbeing than anything else. Furthermore, these findings highlight the crucial role of social relationships in how teachers think about wellbeing in the workplace.

What schools and policymakers can do to support teacher well-being

Schools, policymakers, and other stakeholders may want to focus on these five features when creating programs to support teacher well-being. For example, schools may want to review current programs and update them to include these important features. This may mean making changes to the way professional development programs are delivered, how teachers are trained, and what school policies are in place.

Read more What’s behind the numbers for school principals in Australia?

Additionally, efforts to improve teacher well-being can benefit from creating a positive and supportive work environment where teachers feel safe and secure. Recognizing teachers’ efforts and achievements, providing mentorship, and offering professional development opportunities can help teachers feel valued and supported. It is also important to consider offering flexible work schedules, workload management strategies, and initiatives that promote a balanced lifestyle.

Understanding how teachers think about and experience well-being can help schools and policymakers create programs and policies to ensure all teachers thrive in their work environments. In doing so, we can improve teacher retention efforts, retain our current teachers, and create an attractive work environment for future teachers.