Empowering educators at work has come into focus on the European and national policy agendas. The precedence is rather simple: where educators feel empowered, they tend to carry out their work with greater confidence, creativity and enthusiasm. A necessary, often overlooked, prerequisite for empowering educators, however, revolves around safeguarding their well-being at work.
As a recent report by the European Commission would indicate – the wellbeing of educators has a great influence on their job satisfaction, on the attractiveness of their profession, and subsequently on their retention in the profession. It is also an important factor correlating with their own motivation and with that of their learners. This begs the question: where does the wellbeing of educators in the EU currently lie?
Worryingly, data reveals that stress is hugely common among European educators with more than 50% reporting quite ‘a bit’ or ‘a lot’ of stress at work. In addition, 24 % and 22 % of educators report that their job has a negative impact on their mental and physical health respectively.
The implications of this are not difficult to decipher. Research clearly indicates that educators with greater levels of stress are more likely to leave the profession. Taking the figures highlighted above into account – it is no surprise that educator retention has become evermore of an issue with increasing turn-over levels reported across many EU Member States. This negatively influences the perception and desirability of the profession – further fuelling an already problematic teacher shortage. In addition, and of particular importance, high-stress levels severely compromise an educator’s capacity to carry out their work effectively.
The high-levels of stress and compromised well being reported by educators in the EU is by no means an inevitable aspect of the work. Indeed, much of key stress-factors reported by educators such as administrative work, having too much marking, having too much lesson preparation and long working hours are completely avoidable. On the other hand, what works is by no means rocket science. Research seems to indicate that the levels of stress reported by educators are lower in school environments that they perceive as collaborative, when they feel self-confident about motivating students, and when they feel they have autonomy in their work. Stress is also induced by a perceived lack of capacity to deal with diverse classrooms and navigate new technological resources effectively. And while training is an obvious answer to this issue – it remains the case that many educators report a lack of time as the key factor dissuading them from engaging with training.
If we are serious about empowering educators across the EU, then safeguarding their wellbeing is a crucial prerequisite that requires both a systemic and contextual policy response. Failure to do so will ensure that the idea of empowering educators across the EU is nothing short of a pipedream.