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Teaching, Well at Work, Well-being

What Does Teacher Well-Being Look Like?

A starting point to make well-being a top priority in school communities

As a researcher and teacher, I’ve often wondered “How do schools and the people in them look after their well-being?” It’s this particular question that sparked my interest in researching well-being in K-12 education. Together with my colleague, Dr. Keith Walker, we’ve collaborated with teachers and school administrators across Canada to get to the bottom of what teacher well-being looks like and why it matters. 

There’s often a widely held assumption that well-being means you’re either mentally healthy or not. However, when we start to consider what well-being means and looks like, we begin to realize that it not only means more than just an “absence of illness,” but that the term itself is complex. Well-being is an elaborate term that includes attending to our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Throughout our research, we’ve heard from teachers the stress they’ve often experienced within their role and how that’s put a strain on their ability to feel well at work. For teachers, well-being at work far too often means merely surviving the challenges and hardships that this work, at times, can bring. To address some of the concerns we were hearing, our research led us to write the book Teacher Wellbeing: Noticing, Nurturing, Sustaining, and Flourishing in Schools. We wrote this book because we know that teachers want and need practices and strategies for attaining and growing their well-being, and it serves as a starting point to provide staff with small opportunities for shifting how they nurture their well-being as a priority in their work. To give you a taste of what it means to truly be well at work, let’s go over WHY teacher well-being matters and what that actually looks like at school.      

   

TEACHER WELL-BEING AND ENGAGED TEACHING AND LEARNING GO HAND IN HAND

Teachers who feel heard and valued for their ideas, have opportunities to collaborate, and feel supported by colleagues feel a greater sense of well-being within the workplace. What’s more, staff need to be able to trust they have the space to be creative and are able to take risks in learning something new – just as their students need to be able to do.

Creating opportunities for teachers to engage with their colleagues to reflect on and build meaningful teaching practices lead to teachers who are passionate and committed to the work they do, improving the overall learning experience for their students.

Teachers are well when there is a sense of community. Schools are more than just buildings — schools are communities where there are trusting, supportive, and caring relationships between every member (e.g. teachers, students, parents/guardians), which creates a shared sense of belonging. Most importantly, members of the school community work towards the shared common goal of supporting the academic, social, and emotional development of children and youth who are entrusted to them.


WHY DOES TEACHER WELL-BEING MATTER? 

Teachers are increasingly faced with the pressure to provide educational experiences that prepare students to succeed in a rapidly changing society. In addition to meeting curriculum requirements, teachers are almost always expected to lead and implement numerous initiatives to better equip students and increase educational outcomes.

While these initiatives are well-intentioned and provide moments for both personal and professional impact, they can leave teachers feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Heroically — and typically alone — teachers try to handle increasingly complex and challenging working conditions, all while trying to look after their own well-being and that of their students.


WHEN TEACHER WELL-BEING IS LOOKED AFTER IT:

→Creates a supportive working environment

A supportive environment leads to teachers feeling safe to openly discuss and share their ideas, give and receive constructive feedback, and collaborate with each other to solve any perceived challenges in the workplace.

Supportive school communities recognize the stresses associated with juggling the multiple demands that teachers often experience, while striving to encourage work-life balance by establishing clear boundaries between work and home life, coupled with supporting those who are experiencing stress and/or burnout.

→Builds resilience

Focusing on well-being can help teachers shift beyond a sense of merely surviving the challenges and difficulties in their work to seeing the ways they can thrive in their workplaces. Teachers who are well are equipped with skills and coping strategies to better manage and respond to stress.

→Encourages innovative practice

Teachers who feel secure to explore innovative teaching practices are able to provide students with deeper learning experiences in ways that promote their curiosity and creativity. What’s more, when teachers have the flexibility to try new things and adapt promising practices into their classrooms, they themselves are more engaged and excited about their work, which contributes to their own sense of well-being. 


HOW TO ENHANCE TEACHER WELL-BEING IN YOUR SCHOOL 

To support students’ learning and well-being, we need teachers who are engaged, innovative, collaborative, resilient and, most importantly, well. But how exactly do we accomplish this?

Invite your school community to start developing a common vision about what well-being looks like for them. Ask each other, “What’s already working well? Where is there opportunity for growth and change?” 

SO, WHAT NOW? 

Try this activity:

Get your team together and ask each of them to individually write down their observations of: 

  1. Moments when they and/or their colleagues are engaged and having fun at work.
  2. Things that they’re often grateful for at the end of each work day. 

After time for reflection, share observations and discuss commonalities – these represent your school’s strengths. 

As teachers begin to shift their focus towards what makes them feel well at work, they can then begin to identify what aspects contribute to their well-being — physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually — which can allow them to identify what’s going well and what can be improved in their school community. 


are you looking for a resource to learn more about teacher well-being?

Look no further! Known as the “purple book,” this rare find helps teachers reignite their passion for the profession and take charge of their own well-being.

Continue here to read the Book preview for Teacher Wellbeing: Noticing, Nurturing, Sustaining, and Flourishing in Schools

Meet the Expert(s)

Dr. Sabre Cherkowski

Associate Professor, Okanagan School of Education, University of British Columbia

Sabre Cherkowski, PhD, is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs in the Okanagan School of Education at the University of British Columbia. She teaches and researches in the areas of leadership, professional learning and development, mentoring and coaching, and diversity and education.

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