Why teachers need wellbeing support at the start of the school term: study

'We can't have thriving schools if we don't have thriving staff', researcher says

Why teachers need wellbeing support at the start of the school term: study

Finding ways to better support the wellbeing of teachers can help reduce high burnout and attrition rates in the profession, according to research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The research highlighted why it was especially important to provide wellbeing support to teachers at the start of the term. 

“There are all sorts of extra challenges that come around at the beginning of a term, and even more so at the beginning of the school year,” Rebecca Collie, Scientia associate professor of educational psychology at UNSW, told HRD Australia.

“Teachers are developing rapport with a new group of students and this can take time; they're setting up new content, they're starting new lessons. And so there's a lot of extra pressure on teachers at the beginning of the school term, because everything flows from that.”

Another challenge that can arise for teachers is developing working relationships with colleagues, Collie added.

“There may be new colleagues that have come to the school or a teacher may be new to another school. Or they may have moved grades so they're having to work with a different group of teachers.”

So amid all these challenges, what can be done to improve the wellbeing of teachers?

Teachers struggling

According to mental health organisation Black Dog Institute, 46.8% of teachers considered leaving the profession in 2023. It was a significant increase from the 14% of teachers thinking of leaving back in 2021.

In addition:

  • 70% reported unmanageable workloads
  • 52% reported moderate to severe symptoms of depression
  • 59.7% reported feelings of stress 
  • 46.2% reported anxiety symptoms

Collie said there are a lot of teachers leaving the profession.

“Unless we help to improve the current working conditions, whatever efforts we do to attract more teachers to the profession, they're not going to stick,” she said. “So the attrition is problematic in that we not only want to attract new teachers, but we also have to keep the teachers that we have.”

Teacher wellbeing

Teacher wellbeing refers to both feeling good and functioning effectively at work, the research said. And this idea of “functioning effectively” involves three variables, Collie said.

“The first is vitality and that's a teacher’s sense of feeling energetic and excitement about their work,” she explained. “And then we have engagement and that's the effort that teachers put into their job each day. And then the third factor is a professional growth – so teachers’ commitment to the ongoing development of professional skills.

“And those three combined are really important because we want teachers to be faring well and that's that vitality idea. But we also want them to be engaged in their day to day work. And we want them to be continuing to develop as professionals, whether that's through formal or informal traits.”

What HR can do

Collie provided a range of suggestions for HR teams to support the wellbeing of teachers.

“Streamlining teachers’ administrative work wherever possible, removing unnecessary steps, providing templates and tools to make things quicker – those types of things can be really helpful,” she said.  

“Another one is providing clear job descriptions so the teachers know what they're doing and what is outside their role because it can be quite stressful when you're not quite sure what is within your job description.”

Collie also advised HR teams to make sure teachers have clear, accessible and up to date information about processes and policies.

“And then try as much as possible to keep consistency in these procedures and policies so that teachers aren't needing to learn new approaches on a regular basis,” she said.  

Ultimately, Collie believes the research creates an awareness of how important teachers are and how vital it is to support the wellbeing of everyone in a school.

“We can't have thriving schools if we don't have thriving staff,” she said. “And my hope is that more effort’s taken that really does have these long-lasting impacts to make it less stressful, to make sure teachers are better supported in their work so that they can be happier and healthier, but also can do a better job in terms of their teaching of students as well.”

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