A recent report by the European Commission paints a stark picture of the stress, exhaustion and burnout endemic in the teaching profession across the EU. As indicated in a previous article, over 50% of EU teachers report feeling ‘quite a bit’ of 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 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.
Inevitably, the extent of the issue requires a mulit-faceted policy response that recognises the key factors contributing to excessive workloads, limited time to pursue training, lack of support mechanisms – all of which have been reported by educators and teachers in a wealth of existing research documenting issues faced by educators in the EU context.
In this article we consider a number of innovative – real-world – solutions that prioritise the wellbeing of educators and stamp out many of the triggers leading to the problem at hand.
Co-teaching: two is better than one
In French speaking Belgium, the beginning of the 2022 – 2023 school year will be marked by the launch of a new programme offering teachers additional in-class support: all primary 1st and 2nd classes will be able to benefit from co-teaching for four periods per week. Having been initially rolled out on a trial basis, the feedback provided by teachers was overwhelmingly positive – both in terms of teaching quality and wellbeing.
Among the benefits it was reported that the additional support afforded teachers time to meet the heterogeneity of the class, to more attentively follow the rhythm and needs of each pupil and to differentiate learning effectively. In other words, teachers reported having more time to focus on the learning needs of their class, and as the expression goes: many hands make light work.
Collaborative work culture
A wealth of empirical evidence shows that teachers who reported working in a collaborative school culture characterised by mutual support were more likely to report higher levels of well-being. Policies aimed at enhancing the well-being of educators could, therefore, seek to reinforce the role of teamwork and collaboration within the learning environment, as well as supporting teachers in developing social and interpersonal competences.
Working conditions: working hours matter
Another key factor determining the wellbeing of educators revolves around working hours. A recent report by the European Commission reporting on the issue clearly indicates that the likelihood of educators experiencing high levels of stress and exhaustion increases significantly if their working hours are longer. This correlation is statistically significant in all 27 education systems analysed in the report.
Although a lack of comparative data exists on the benefits of reducing the working hours of educators; recent trials held in UK schools provide a snapshot of the outcomes that can transpire. A key outcome that improved as hours were reduced was the wellbeing of educators – and, importantly, the perceived quality of their teaching. Having completed the trial period, 98% of those affirmed their preference for a shorter working week. In addition, 69% said that they would be much more likely or somewhat more likely to stay in the profession if the trial period became the new normal – highlighting the wide-reaching policy impact of the tool.