Every person’s wellbeing is important in and of itself. Teacher wellbeing isn’t just about making school systems more economically efficient, or enhancing students’ performance on standardized assessments. Whether you are a student, a teacher, a principal, or an administrator, you have the right to be well and to live well simply because of your inherent worth as a person.
Yet teachers do play a shaping role in the lives of their students. Learning happens best when teachers and their students are well – happy, healthy teachers who feel well and whole in their work provide strong support for happy, healthy children and youth. This book acknowledges that we need to consciously attend to and support teacher wellbeing.
Too many of our teacher colleagues across the world suffer from sources of stress that put an enormous strain on their ability to feel well in their work. This situation also invades their personal and family lives in ways that can be devastating.
Too often, teachers are pushed to account for merely the academic achievement of their students, leaving aside the many social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of learning and development that are essential to students’ wellbeing. However, teaching and learning are fully human endeavours, and learning well cannot be separated from living well.
This research-informed, theoretically grounded book will coach you — alone, or with a group of your colleagues — to determine what wellbeing looks like in your classroom, in your school, and for yourself. The aim is to offer you new perspectives, research insights, reflection moments, and activities for gaining a sense of ‘flourishing’ wherever you can in your work. We achieve this by helping you notice what makes you feel whole, engaged, and connected, while encouraging you to pay attention to ways you can grow more of these feelings in your work.
WHAT THIS BOOK CAN OFFER YOU.
Teacher Wellbeing affirms the agency that teachers have in reimagining a new way forward. This book supports you as you shift your mindset towards thinking about the work of teaching as including a strong sense of wholeness and aliveness. Teacher Wellbeing is an interactive book that will guide you as you notice, nurture, and sustain holistic flourishing in your work and in your life.
In addition to providing a theoretical framework for promoting evidence-based practices that foster wellbeing, this book also enables you to create a Living Map of Flourishing — that is, an artistic representation of a path that you can follow to enable you to thrive in your teaching. By creating your own map, you’ll become an expert in building your own knowledge on how to be the teacher you’re meant to be.
We call this a ‘Living Map’ because it isn’t static, just as schools aren’t static systems, but rather are living ecosystems of people and their experiences. Your ‘Living Map’ will become a place for recording your learning, generating knowledge, and tuning into new understandings that you’ll form as you work through the activities in the book. By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll have a custom-built plan that’s unique to you, yet influenced by nuanced theoretical approaches, stories, and practices derived from research.
Teacher Wellbeing also provides interactive activities to prompt reflection and collaboration, including:
1. Heart Prints.
You know about footprints and handprints, which are the impressions we leave as we pass through various spaces in our life. Similar but different, ‘Heart Prints’ are strong emotional impressions that are left on us, and that we leave on others, when we engage from a place of authenticity, wholeness, vulnerability, love, and compassion. ‘Heart Print’ reflections are opportunities to help you tap into experiencing a sense of gratitude and appreciation through noticing moments of your own goodness. Essentially, these are moments of pause that allow you to rest, reflect, and make sense of what you’re reading in ways that affirm the essence of who you are as a teacher, and that encourage and inspire you to stretch towards a greater sense of wholeness and wellbeing in both your work and in life.
2. Shifting Ground.
Feeling the ground shift beneath your feet can feel scary and can cause you to be thrown a bit off kilter. But it’s in these times – times when you’re a little disturbed or placed in unease – that you might actually find opportunities for new learning and renewal. ‘Shifting Ground’ moments are creative activities that serve to shift the ground a little and perhaps even shake things up or provoke you. These moments are designed as reflective, creative, and re-creative experiences.
OUR APPROACH TO FOSTERING WELL-BEING.
Our book is designed to encourage and coach you towards giving greater attention to what’s working well, since we know that the things we pay attention to are destined for growth. Our research shows that educators work best when they focus on and build up their strengths —their passions, purposes, and sources of vitality. Teacher Wellbeing thus draws from a strengths-based model of thinking and reflecting on action-oriented change. This model is called Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Drawing on AI, we coach you as you shift towards an abundance mindset rather than a deficit-based way of thinking.
Appreciative Inquiry isn’t about denying real-life experiences of struggle and suffering. Rather, it’s about placing a more intentional focus on wellbeing as an essential aspect of your work as a teacher, and then paying attention to how you perceive your work as a means to promote and encourage self-care, positive growth, and a sense of thriving for yourself and others in particular situations you may experience.
Systems and pressures may shape what we are and aren’t able to do. Yet we are nonetheless in charge of interpreting the many different stories we hear ourselves telling about ourselves and about the world around us. How we author our own reality reflects what is most important to us. By focusing on what’s working well, we can strengthen what’s working well; by focusing on a flourishing future, we can indeed move forward towards a flourishing future.
Our theory on ‘flourishing’ emerged from research in the fields of positive psychology, positive organizational scholarship, and school improvement. As we reflected on the potential of these findings for the work of teachers, we connected our ongoing research on ‘flourishing’ with our knowledge about learning communities. This approach resonated with the teachers we spoke with on the ground, and even so with our own teaching practices.
As you begin to uncover your beliefs and actions, you’ll see which aspects of your life and work are authentically aligned with who you’re intended to be. You’ll find yourself setting up opportunities to use your strengths throughout the day, and will come to carry out activities that allow you to better understand your strengths alongside your colleagues, all while advancing along a journey towards ‘flourishing.’
Teacher Wellbeing is organized into a sequence of steps:
Paying attention to how we use language to describe our experiences is an important step towards developing your agency in shaping your own wellbeing. When we can take notice of how we talk to ourselves and to other people about our experiences, we can then take small steps towards more compassionate approaches to relating to ourselves and to those we work and live with.
We provide ‘Heart Print’ and ‘Shifting Ground’ activities that prompt you to engage in storytelling — that is, noticing your role in shaping your own experiences and those of your community. As you look into your own beliefs and assumptions about how and why things work (or don’t work), you’ll need courage. Some find this courage in community — in engaging with others in the process of reimagining teaching as a whole, appreciative, and positive experience. Your community may be your colleagues, your educator friends, or an imagined community of fellow readers of this book.
As you begin to take stock of moments of laughter, compassion, hope-building, and other indicators of wellbeing in your work and in your life — and as you reflect on these through guided activities while documenting your thoughts on your ‘Living Map’ — you’ll begin to develop your own theory of ‘flourishing’ that is unique to your circumstances.
To support you as you build your own individual approach, we share research results and stories from a range of academic disciplines including philosophy, psychology, and education, among others. Your research-informed knowledge base will enable you to both grow and nuance your pursuit of wellbeing.
Your wellbeing has a relational component. Developing your capacity to grow is a collective phenomenon that involves the whole educational community. We offer research-based stories, theories, practices, and activities that you can use to reflect on what it means for you to grow and thrive within a ‘flourishing’ learning community.
We don’t think teachers need to wait for others to set the conditions necessary for their wellbeing. No one should wait! But as you pursue ‘flourishing,’ we encourage you to strive to find collaborators with whom you can share your journey. Collaboration provides an opportunity to create meaningful relationships and a sense of both individual and collective achievement — and let’s not forget that meaning-making and achievement are both central to ‘flourishing’ as a teacher. We provide practices to cultivate and sustain relationships built on trust, care, connection, purpose, and enjoyment.
‘Flourishing’ is a fluid and aspirational destination – not a fixed point. Your challenge is to learn to be well in the moment, and to learn how to recognize and ask for more supports as you move towards achieving a greater sense of wellbeing.
We offer a two-fold conclusion to Teacher Wellbeing. First, we offer practices for self-care and for showing greater empathy towards others. In sharing these practices, we call for all educators to overcome inertia and to foster healthy educational leadership.
Second, we note that the formal school leader — the principal — plays an essential role in making room for a climate that values and honours the building of collaborations, relationships, and capacities. Our epilogue offers strategies for principals and administrators that support the wellbeing of teachers, and that in turn support the wellbeing of all staff and students within the ‘flourishing’ learning community.
HOW TO GET YOUR HANDS ON A COPY OF TEACHER WELLBEING: NOTICING, NURTURING, SUSTAINING, AND FLOURISHING IN SCHOOLS.
Teacher Wellbeing can be found at most places books are sold.
Keep an eye out for further resources from Dr. Sabre Cherkowski and Dr. Keith Walker that dive into how principals and vice-principals can create the right conditions for school communities to flourish.