The well-being of students is recognized as a crucial aspect of their academic success and the fact that it is not just the responsibility of the parents but also the responsibility of schools to ensure that their students are healthy, happy, and thriving. But whilst most schools are investing heavily in student well being programs not many are investing as much of their time and resources towards developing robust staff and teacher well being programs.
A survey of over 3,000 education staff in UK found that in 2021, 77% of teachers experienced poor mental health due to their work and 72% were stressed. If overlooked, these symptoms of stress lead to burnout in teachers, causing many to leave their jobs entirely (Source: Education Support, UK). The mental health and well-being of teachers is, therefore, crucial to the overall success of a school. Teachers are responsible for shaping the minds of our future generations, but often at the expense of their own mental and emotional health. I would, therefore, delve deeper into the importance of, and actions to be taken by, schools to promote the well-being of their staff.
Having been a teacher myself, I can vouch for the fact that teaching is one of the most rewarding professions, particularly if one has been there long enough and seen their students grow up and make meaningful contributions to shape society. However if you have have been there long enough it also reflects on your resilience, as teaching can be a very demanding profession, and the stress of the job can take a toll on a teacher's mental health. According to a survey by the American Federation of Teachers, 61% of teachers reported that their work was always or often stressful. An Australian study published in the Journal of Social Psychology of Education last year conducted an 18-month study prior to the COVID pandemic surveyed 749 Australian teachers to explore their experience of work-related stress and burnout. Results showed over half of the sample reported being very or extremely stressed and were considering leaving the profession, with early career teachers & primary teachers reporting the highest stress and burnout levels.
Looking at a teacher in the UAE, there is emphasis on professional development requirements and keeping up with latest research and teaching strategies like using principles of universal design in their classroom planning and teaching. Whilst this is undoubtedly brilliant for the education system, the constant pressure (at least for the transition phase of a few years) can lead to anxiety and burnout.
Whilst teacher competence and their professional development positively impacts students, research also shows that teacher well-being has a direct impact on student achievement. A study by the University of British Columbia found that when teachers were experiencing high levels of stress, their students were less likely to perform well academically. In contrast, when teachers had high levels of well-being, their students were more likely to be engaged in learning and achieve higher grades. Therefore, promoting the mental health and well-being of teachers is not only important for the individual teacher but also for the success of the school and its students. I must reiterate that continuous professional development of not just the direct teaching staff but the entire education community is imperative for a meaningful education system. We should as educationists attempt to counter Mark Twain’s famous words “I don’t let my schooling interfere with my education”. Schools have now shifted focus to a wholesome development of their students and must in such a pursuit not forget to ensure that teachers feel supported by the management throughout their ongoing journey of professional development and improvement.
So the big question is what can schools do to promote well-being for their staff and teachers?
1. Foster a positive school culture The school environment can have a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of teachers. Schools can foster a positive school culture by promoting open communication, encouraging collaboration, and recognizing the contributions of teachers. We often underestimate the role of positive reinforcement, and a positive school culture leads to increased job satisfaction, lower stress levels and a sense of belonging.
2. Provide opportunities for professional development Professional development is an essential aspect of teacher well-being. Being upto speed in a rapidly changing world is non negotiable for teachers as they directly impact the future of their students! Teachers have to be forward looking and constantly updating themselves on what comes next. The onus of professional growth should not rest solely with the teaching staff. Schools should provide opportunities for teachers to attend conferences, workshops, and training sessions that can help them grow in their field.
3. Encourage work-life balance Teachers often have to work long hours and take work home, leading to a lack of work-life balance. Schools can promote work-life balance by providing time management training & provide flexible work arrangements, thereby limiting the amount of work that teachers take home. This can help prevent burnout and improve overall well-being.
4. Offer wellness programs Schools can offer wellness programs that promote physical, emotional and mental health. This can include yoga classes, meditation sessions, physical fitness programs, and healthy eating initiatives. Stress management workshops with specific exercises incorporated is another important effort, as are counselling services also on offer for the staff.
5. Address the root causes of stress schools often provide palliative strategies but shy away from addressing the root causes of stress in the workplace. This can include addressing issues such as excessive workload, lack of administrative support, and inadequate resources. By identifying and addressing these issues, schools can create a more supportive and less stressful work environment.
We could safely say then, that if schools of today desire to become schools of tomorrow then their resource allocation should not ignore the professional and emotional development of its teaching staff. Needless to add, the mental health and well-being of teachers lays the foundation of the success of a school. By prioritising teacher well-being, schools can create a more supportive and successful learning environment for all.
Author : Dr Ayesha Saeed Husaini, Founder/Director at Manzil Center for people with disabilities
Dr. Husaini – Founder Director is one of the rare Directors in the region with a Ph.D. in Special Education, from the University of Sheffield, UK. Her thesis on ‘Inclusion in the UAE' gives her a unique grounding on the needs of UAE society and how best to include individuals with disabilities. She also has a Doctor of Letters Honorary Degree from the University of Sheffield, UK. Her Psychology Honours Thesis in the disability arena ranked First in Delhi University, and she also got a University Ranking in her Master's Degree in Social Work. She has a Post Graduate Diploma in Industrial Relations & Personnel Management and has recently been awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters by The University of Sheffield in recognition of her achievements in supporting the educational needs of individuals with disabilities. She has over 20 years of experience in the inclusion arena and has won several special education, social impact, and business awards. She continues to work closely with the UAE Government & serves on Dubai's Community Development Authority PWD Advocacy Committee as well as Abu Dhabi’s AccessAbilities Expo Advisory Board. She has signed MoUs with the Ministry of Education & Ajman Chamber of Commerce to roll out inclusion mandates. She is also the Head of the Advisory Board for ILM Consultants, an organization focusing on workplace inclusion, and serves as the Governor of Inclusion on the Boards of several schools in the UAE.