Teacher well-being is an important topic, as it not only affects teachers' personal lives but also has significant implications for their work with students. However, low teacher well-being and high teacher turnover are persistent issues in many schools.
Pinpointing job supports linked with greater well-being and lower attrition among teachers is critical.
In my recent study, published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology, this was the focus.
The study examined the associations between various job supports and challenges, and different aspects of teacher well-being and turnover intentions.
The study found that positive interpersonal relationships were important for the outcomes, whereas time pressure was linked with poorer outcomes.
These results provide insights into how schools can support teachers to enhance well-being and ultimately improve the quality of schooling systems for teachers and students.
Job Supports and Job Challenges
Four factors appeared to play an important role in the study. Three of the factors are job supports, which help teachers to thrive at work, and are related to positive interpersonal relationships:
- Autonomy-supportive leadership refers to teachers’ perceptions that their principal encourages their self-initiative and self-empowerment
- Relatedness with colleagues reflects teachers’ sense of feeling connected with colleagues
- Relatedness with students reflects teachers’ sense of feeling close and connected to their students
The job challenge, which makes it harder for teacher to thrive at work, relates to teachers’ sense of time pressure:
- Time pressure (also called workload pressure) refers to the burden felt by teachers to complete tasks within a given timeframe
Alongside those job supports and challenges, three types of well-being were examined:
- Vitality refers to teachers' energy and enthusiasm for their work
- Engagement refers to the effort teachers put into their work tasks
- Professional growth refers to teachers’ investment in developing their professional skills and abilities
The final outcome is relevant to teacher attrition:
- Turnover intentions refer to teachers' intentions to leave their job
What Did the Study Find?
Among a sample of 426 Australian teachers, the study showed that autonomy-supportive leadership and relatedness with students were linked positively with all well-being factors.
Promoting teachers' self-initiative and self-empowerment, and fostering close and connected relationships with students appear crucial for teacher well-being.
Relatedness with colleagues was linked with greater professional growth, suggesting that a sense of belonging with co-workers cultivates a positive attitude towards the profession and motivates teachers to enhance their expertise.
Relatedness with colleagues was also linked with lower turnover intentions, highlighting the importance of strong collegial networks for teacher retention.
Time pressure was associated with lower vitality, but it was also associated with greater engagement. Although this latter finding seems counterintuitive, it has been supported in prior work and likely occurred because a sense of urgency can be motivating in certain circumstances.
However, time pressure over the longer-term may have negative impacts. In fact, time pressure was also linked with greater turnover intentions in this study—indicating that while it might result in higher engagement at work, it may be problematic for retention.
What Can Schools Do?
The study results highlight key factors that are implicated in teacher well-being and turnover intentions, and provide insights into the practices that schools can implement to support teachers.
In particular, school leaders may want to apply the following strategies:
- Encourage teachers' self-initiative and self-empowerment by offering teachers the freedom to decide how they will carry out their work, encouraging teachers to provide input in decision-making processes and school policies, and providing reasons for why work tasks are assigned.
- Promote a sense of closeness and connection between teachers and students by implementing school-wide social-emotional learning programs, making positive interactions a focus of the school mission, and developing a professional learning focus on boosting positive interactions in the classroom.
- Streamline teachers’ workloads wherever possible, such as by decreasing the number of administrative tasks and face-to-face teaching time required of teachers. Encouraging teamwork and cooperation among teachers within schools can also be beneficial for sharing responsibilities.
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