Monash and Beyond Blue partnership unlocks 5 secrets for educator wellbeing

Monash and Beyond Blue partnership unlocks 5 secrets for educator wellbeing

by Freya Lucas

April 08, 2022

The wellbeing of educators impacts how they work with children, families and their colleagues and is an important component of ensuring optimal outcomes for education communities. 

 

In 2021 Monash University partnered with BeyondBlue to find out how best to promote educator wellbeing. A series of focus groups were conducted with a spectrum of educators from early childhood, primary and secondary schools and specialist educators as well as education leaders. 

 

A systematic review was conducted to identify the interventions that had the best evidence base to promote educator wellbeing. Another project asked researchers and practitioners –  considered experts in this field – how they thought educator wellbeing might be promoted.

 

As a result of the research five different ways to promote educator wellbeing were uncovered:

 

  1. A shift in thinking about stress

 

Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress. It involves being fully present and aware of what you are thinking and feeling, without judgement or distraction. It’s about accepting what you are sensing and feeling, at any given place and time. Keeping active, eating well and creating boundaries between home and work are other strategies that can promote personal wellbeing.

Research throughout the partnership showed that many of the stressors which educators experience arose from their environment, and that it is the environment which needs to change, and not the educators. This means that educators should not believe the stress they experience is a result of a personal deficit or a lack of adequate coping.

“Strategies – like mindfulness – can help people respond to stressors, but it’s important to know educator wellbeing is often more than self-care,” researchers said.

 

  1. Positive relationships with colleagues and leaders are essential to promote wellbeing

 

Educators interviewed as part of the partnership highlighted the importance of small acts of kindness received from leaders and colleagues, such as personal hand-written cards, covering someone’s yard duty and bringing in morning tea. 

 

Checking in on each other, celebrating each other’s successes and encouraging each other to take lunch breaks were other ways to sustain educators’ wellbeing and again, point to the importance of a culture that nurtures collegial relationships.

 

  1. Unique challenges for diverse educators

 

Educators who identify as Indigenous, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse, and LGBTQIA+ experience specific wellbeing challenges, researchers found. often in relation to overt or covert discrimination. 

 

Having allies in the workplace, and being able to express themselves at work, were aspects which were needed in order for those educators to have inclusive, accepting environments. 

Recognising that social justice work is the responsibility of all educators – not just some – was another element of tackling discrimination, the researchers found.

Early career educators identified a need for effective induction programs and support, including mentors and a reduced workload. Educators on contracts reported concealing work-related difficulties and avoided seeking support, in order to secure future employment.  A help seeking environment, where staff identify their own professional development needs, is important.

 

  1. Supportive leaders positively contribute to educator wellbeing

 

Supportive leaders are those who promote an inclusive environment and where staff have input to the decision making of their schools or early childhood centres, the researchers said.  

 

They provide staff with clear directions about their expectations, check in with staff regularly to support their professional development and mental health and give choices, where possible, about their work options (e.g. what days part-time staff work).

 

Leaders were also seen as role models for self-care – for example by leaving work at a reasonable time. In the interviews conducted by the partnership team one leader encouraged staff to “leave noisily”, effectively breaking down the myth that staff should feel guilty when going home at the end of the day.

 

Leaders also pointed out that they have their unique wellbeing needs, and need to have access to resources, professional development and support in their management and leadership roles.  When leaders visibly seek help and support, they normalise and promote a help seeking culture in the school or early childhood centre.

 

Supportive leaders provide staff with clear directions about their expectations and check in with staff regularly to support their professional development and mental health.

 

  1. A systems-wide approach is needed to promote and sustain educator wellbeing

 

Taking a systems-wide approach means offering individual support to educators (such as might occur through Employee Assistance Programs and mindfulness programs) and also addressing the demands made on educators.

One-off wellbeing sessions or programs do little to promote educator wellbeing, the researchers emphasised. 

“Instead what is needed is a culture that prioritises wellbeing through policy, supportive leadership, being transparent about decisions regarding work demands and increasing resources.  Ongoing surveys of staff wellbeing are needed to continually monitor wellbeing, and set targets.”

Wellbeing workplace champions might be created in schools or early childhood centres to ensure teacher wellbeing remains on the agenda and is embedded across different workplace  activities.  Educators need to be involved in the creation of workplace wellbeing policies, with policies for example, around when to send work emails.

 

To read this work in its original format please see here

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